Protecting Michigan's 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. With fewer than 300,000 acres of coastal dunes, every acre is important.

The proliferation of natural gas fracking -- which uses sand to extract gas from underground cracks -- has renewed interests in mining after a forty-year moratorium on new sand mining permits. In recent years, real estate interests have weakened longstanding protections and made it easier to build roads through coastal dunes.

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 been seeking 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.

We 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:

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.
  • Partner with other organizations to stop irresponsible development, sand mining and other activities that undermine these last remaining acres of dunes.

Recent Progress

  • Organized the first #HowYouDune Summit. MEC and our partners convened a gathering of over 60 scientists, natural resource professionals, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts to better understand the science and economic implications of our coastal dunes.
  • Dune Survey ( During the #HowYouDune Summit we announced the launch of a survey to understand what our coastal dunes mean to residents, visitors and coastal economies. The results provide vital new information about how residents and visitors use and value our freshwater dunes for recreation, relaxation, scenic enjoyment and more.
  • Supporting local efforts to protect dunes. MEC has commented on DEQ permits for the sand dune mine in Ludington State Park, and a massive new marina development proposal in Saugatuck.

Valuing Michigan’s Coastal Dunes

GIS information 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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The Sands of Time

Help us track how Michigan's coastal dunes have changed over time!

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