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  • Writer's pictureAaron Salyer

The Green Frontier: Urban Dunes as Nature-Based Solutions on the Gold Coast

Updated: Mar 27

On the picturesque Gold Coast, a confluence of natural beauty and urban development characterizes the landscape, presenting unique challenges and opportunities for coastal management. International Coastal Management (ICM) has been at the forefront of addressing these challenges, implementing nature-based solutions that harmonize with the coastal environment.

This narrative unfolds through our enduring commitment to dune conservation—a critical component of the coastline's defense system. Tracing back to the innovative approaches of the 1970s, we have witnessed a significant evolution in coastal dune management practices. Herein, we explore the strategic integration of dune systems into the broader context of coastal resilience, showcasing how these natural defenses not only safeguard our cherished beaches but also exemplify the sustainable intersection of nature and urbanization on the Gold Coast.

dune vegetation on Gold Coast Australia

Forward by Angus Jackson, Founder of ICM

"The legacy of the Gold Coast's beach nourishment began with Sam Smith's daring ventures in 1973. As the second coastal engineer for the City of Gold Coast, I inherited a treasure trove of knowledge, pivotal to our second wave of innovative coastal works. Over the decades which led to the development of ICM, we continued to expand this knowledge base, protecting our cherished shores through nature based implementation, monitoring and technique development."

Note: this post is a summary of the Technical Article by Angus Jackson and Zack Lindenberg

Dune Dynamics: The Unsung Heroes of Coastal Resilience

Dunes are more than just picturesque landscapes; they're the backbone of our beaches. The natural exchange of sand between the sea and the dunes dictates the health of our coastlines. Mild conditions nourish the beach, while storms may carve away at the landscape, pushing sand offshore, creating protective bars. Yet, it's the dunes and their vegetation that mitigate this erosion, absorbing the ocean's energy and trapping windblown sand. It's a delicate balance, one we've learned to harness and respect through our work on the Gold Coast.

dune vegetation and natural interaction

dune vegetation in urban setting

Gold Coast Dune Management: A Half-Century of Innovation

Our response to the 1960s erosion crisis set the stage for dune management on the Gold Coast. The dunes left standing were few, their vegetation stripped away, leaving properties vulnerable. The solution? A combination of mass nourishment and dune stabilization that has since become our hallmark. Through research and trials, we've crafted dune fences and fostered vegetation that not only protects but also beautifies our urban beaches. It's a policy of coexistence, turning the city into a thriving coastal laboratory.

An extract from the technical report:

"Extensive fencing and arial fertilising trials of the nourished dunes was carried out during my time as the Gold Coast's Director of Beaches and Waterways in non urban areas.

To extend this into areas with private oceanfront properties (urban areas), we developed a policy in 1985 for seawall construction and dune management (Jackson 1985). This policy recognised the need for dunes to seaward of the boulder seawall.

This policy also recognised the value of a good beach to beachfront properties and included a provision that all excess sand excavated within 500m of the seawall line was to be placed on the beach and stabilised (previously sand excavated for basements was sold for construction)."

Gold Coast City dune management plan by ICM

"This policy was very effective and resulted in not only construction of an almost continuous terminal seawall but also importation of over 1.5Mm3 of sand to form a dune buffer seaward of the new walls.

This policy was expanded into 2 complementary policies (7 and 15) in 1990 to be part of the Gold Coast's Town Plan.

  • Policy #7, Foreshore Rock Wall design and construction

  • Policy #15, Management of Coastal Dune areas

Both these policies provide details on dune management with fences and native vegetation, while policy #15 explains the nature and importance of dunes:

  • stabilising dunes to minimise impacts of cyclonic winds on the natural and built environment adjacent to the active frontal dune area;

  • preventing sand losses from wind erosion

  • establishing a sustainable habitat and corridor for wildlife.

  • reinforcing the visual amenity of the City’s beaches by:

    • using appropriate vegetation in dunal areas; and

    • education and promotion of good landscape design principles in establishing new vegetation in urban areas in, and adjacent to, dunal areas.

  • facilitating safe public access through public land within dunal areas by defining access ways and public areas that can be maintained to a high standard with minimal impact on natural systems.

  • considering the visual amenity and privacy requirements of beachfront residents."

Shaping the Future: Urban Dunes in Coastal City Planning

The world is urbanizing, and the coastlines are no exception. Our work on the Gold Coast has proven that dunes can coexist with cityscapes, offering a multitude of benefits, from erosion protection to enhancing livability. As we look ahead, urban dunes will be pivotal in our climate change adaptation strategies. Well-vegetated dunes offer a dynamic defense, adapting to sea-level rise and providing time – the most precious resource in emergency management.

nature based solutions of dune vegetation on Gold Coast by ICM

A Resilient Vision: Embracing Dunes in a Changing World

The evidence is clear: dunes can adapt to and even outpace sea-level rise. They're natural fortifications that can grow with the challenges they face. Our approach on the Gold Coast – blending dune restoration with nature-based solutions – has mitigated significant sea-level rise impacts. As we navigate the future, the lessons we've learned here will be critical in fostering resilient coastal cities globally.

dune vegetation living shoreline Gold Coast Australia


We owe a debt of gratitude to the City of Gold Coast and the many hands that have shaped its shores – from past councils and teams to the consultants and contractors who've woven the fabric of our overall coastal management team.

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