Todos Santos Pages
Environment & Ecology

todos santos pueblo magico

Las Tunas Dune Lot Owners Beware!
Why 1000's of Todos Santos Residents Oppose Building on the Dunes!
Las Tunas Dune Lot Building Restrictions!

Preserve the Todos Santos Dunes - Call to Action!
Negative Impact of Proposed Dune Housing Development
Open Letter to
Mexican President Fox
Contact List of Mexican Government Officials
Click on above documents to view with Adobe Acrobat software - download it here

"Coastal Dunes" - by John McNerney (text and photos)

Part I

The sand dunes that front the shoreline of the Pacific coast and the east cape region of Baja California Sur are known as coastal or barrier dunes. This type of dune, such as those found behind the beaches in Todos Santos, act as a buffer against high surf and summer storms, protecting low lying inland areas from flooding. Equally important, these dunes provide a sand reservoir that replaces sand eroded from the beach. The benefits that these dunes provide are often not recognized much less valued monetarily. The purpose of this article, and following installments, is to help people understand their critical function in the natural environment and, with this understanding, perhaps alter their recreational and developmental activities, which often lead to the destruction of these dunes.

baja east cape dune damage
Coastal Dune Damage on East Cape of Baja

Coastal dunes are significantly different from sand dunes in desert areas. Desert dunes shift continually in the direction of prevailing winds and have little to no vegetative cover. Coastal dunes, however, are covered in specialized grasses that have the unique ability to survive in shifting sand, continually producing new stems and roots through cycles of burial and exposure. This net of grasses stabilized the dunes and when damaged or removed by human interference, the dunes will begin migrating inland, covering everything in their path and allowing the sea to flood low lying inland areas.

The preservation of this natural coastal environment will only increase in importance in the future, given global climate change, the attendant rising of sea levels and the growing incidences of powerful storms. A coastal dune system, left in its natural state, will slowly migrate inland as the sea level rises and continue to protect inland areas.

environment mexico
East Cape dune damage

In recent years government regulatory protection of coastal dunes has been enacted in many parts of the world, especially those coastal areas developed for recreation over the past century when housing and hotels replaced the dunes. Dunes are the sand reservoir for the beaches and when they are removed, the beaches follow suit. Beach erosion, with the subsequent loss of recreational areas, has severely affected local economies and taxpayers are now funding large-scale coastal dune restoration projects.

baja mexico ecology
More East Cape damage

Local Mexican environmental groups, such as "Sociedad de Historia Natural Niparaja" of La Paz, are working with government officials to enact regulations in Mexico to prevent similar destruction of Baja's coastal dunes.

In a follow up article, we will review simple ideas to protect our coastal dunes, as well as describe areas that have already undergone degradation due to developmental and recreational abuse. If you would like more information on coastal dunes, visit your favorite search engine (we like Google) and search on the terms "barrier or coastal dunes."

Part II

In the last issue, I addressed the structure, function and need for preservation of the sand dunes that lie along our coastal areas. Here are two ways we can all help to protect this valuable resource.

Able to withstand the most violent storms, coastal dunes can quickly disappear due to human activities. Driving 4-wheel vehicles and ATVs on and across the dunes destroys the grasses holding the dunes in place. These paths to the beach can eventually serve as openings for the ocean to move inland. If you must drive to the beach, there are numerous bocas (openings) where arroyos run to the ocean and provide less destructive motorized access to the beach.

Electing not to build a home or promote development on coastal dunes is of importance, not only to protect the coastal environment, but to also protect one's potential investment. The beach erosion photo in last issue (see above) showed a partially destroyed house built on a coastal dune. This home was part of a shoreline development called "Las Barrancas" in the East Cape region north of Cabo Pulmo. A severe storm with high surf swept away up to 20 meters of developed beach front property, resulting in partial to total destruction of a number of homes, leaving others perched on newly formed sand cliffs overlooking the beach.

Property owners are now erecting bulkheads and seawalls in an attempt to prevent further erosion of their remaining land. Such structures, as experience in other coastal areas has shown, have proved to contribute to or accelerate local coastal erosion.

This cycle of construction and destruction has been repeated in coastal areas worldwide. The only successful solution has been to protect the existing dunes and restore those that have been destroyed. Eventually, the sea always wins.

Todos Santos is located on the Tropic of Cancer in the southern portion of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico just one hour
north of Cabo San Lucas and one hour south of La Paz. Long known as a cultural, artistic and agricultural center, the
town is a desert oasis, 1 kilometer from the Pacific Ocean at the foothills of the Sierra de La Laguna mountains. Since
the mid 1980's, the area has become a tourist / retirement destination and home to numerous art galleries, artists,
fine restaurants, elegant hotels, unique vacation rentals and local festivals.

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last update: April 28, 2007