As coastal populations expand, demands for recreational opportunities on beaches and coastal dunes grow correspondingly. Although dunes are known to be sensitive to direct human disturbance and provide irreplaceable ecosystem services (e.g. erosion control, critical habitat and nesting sites), dunes serve as campsites for large numbers of people (∼90,000 p.a.) on the ocean-exposed shores of Fraser Island, Australia. Campsites are located in the established dunes and can only be accessed with 4WD vehicles along tracks cut directly from the beach through the foredunes. Here we quantified the extent of physical damage to foredunes caused by this practice, and tested whether human-induced physical changes to foredunes translate into biological effects. Of the 124 km of oceanexposed beaches, 122 km (98%) are open to vehicles driven on the beaches, and camping zones cover 28.7 km or 23% of the dunes. A total of 235 vehicle tracks are cut across the foredunes at an average density of eight tracks per km of beach. These tracks have effectively destroyed one-fifth (20.2%) of the dune front in camping zones, deeply incising the dune-beach interface. There is evidence of accelerated erosion and shoreline retreat centred around vehicle tracks, resulting in a “scalloping” of the shoreline. No dune vegetation remains in the tracks and the abundance of ghost crabs (Ocypode spp.) is significantly reduced compared with the abutting dunes. Because current levels of environmental change caused by dune camping may not be compatible with the sustainable use of coastal resources and conservation obligations for the island (listed as a World Heritage Area and gazetted as a National Park), restoration and mitigation interventions are critical. These will require spatial prioritisation of effort, and we present a multicriteria ranking method, based on quantitative measures of environmental damage and ecological attributes, to objectively target rehabilitation and conservation measures. Ultimately, coastal management needs to develop and implement strategies that reconcile demands for human recreation, including beach camping, with conservation of coastal dune ecosystems.
Journal of Coastal Conservation / Vol. 12, No. 2, pp.67-82