Coastal Sand Dunes

Michigan is home to the largest collection of coastal freshwater dunes in the world, earning us a reputation as one of the most beautiful places in America.

Michigan’s coastal dunes draw millions of visitors and drive our coastal economies, but development, sand mining and invasive species threaten our continued enjoyment of these unique ecosystems. We have the largest collection of freshwater dunes, and we know Michiganders would like to keep it that way – every stretch of our 300,000 acres-worth of dunes is important.

But some real estate interests and planning commissions have inadvertently weakened longstanding protections. It is now easier to build roads through coastal dunes and construct buildings and water barriers that harden these dynamic features in place.

MEC is working to protect our dunes through research that helps us understand the dunes and what they mean to Michigan so we can advocate for policies that protect our dunes for future generations to enjoy.

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Our Work

Since 2013, MEC has sought out the most knowledgeable experts to improve our understanding of Michigan’s dunes – how they came to be, how they change and evolve naturally, and what is at risk if we continue to lose dunes to new development and continued mining.

Our own expert staff work with these experts, our allies and partners to improve Michigan’s management of coastal dunes. The collaboration provides resources and information, such as these reports designed to help the state and coastal communities to engage in true, science-based management of dunes.

These reports holistically map our dunes through GIS technology, repeat photography and personal perceptions. Then, our experts draw upon those maps to offer recommendations best for dunes protections, smart development and beautiful shoreline landscapes. 

Program Goals

  • Create a complete digital map of all of Michigan’s coastal dune features so we know what is at risk and what is worth protecting, and how dunes develop and change over time.
  • Assemble and provide information about the economic benefit of protected dunes, as well as the social and cultural value they provide Michigan communities and the state.
  • Build a stronger constituency of people who appreciate our dunes so we can work together to protect these globally rare assets.

How we work

  • With Michigan State University's Department of Community Sustainability
  • With Michigan State University's Department of Geography
  • As always, with our member groups
  • As always, at the Capitol

Learning to Live in Dynamic Dunes

MEC's and MSU's report mapping out peoples' perceptions of dunes and mapping out dunes' changes over time through repeat photography

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Valuing Michigan’s Coastal Dunes

Joint report mapping dunes' GIS and economic data to support management partnerships

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Bringing the Latest Science to the Management of Michigan’s Coastal Dunes

MEC's report on the importance of science for effective dune management.

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