Dune vegetation at Ballston Beach, Cape Cod. Photo by Lydia Mann

Dune vegetation at Ballston Beach, Cape Cod. Photo by Lydia Mann

A group of high school students recently marched out onto beaches at Cape Cod, Massachusetts and applied biomimicry to shoreline restoration efforts at Ballston Beach. Sections of this beach had been damaged by a blizzard. A recent slideshow on CapeCodOnline showed the Harwich High School Environmental Studies students learning about how natural vegetation stabilizes dunes, and how they can mimic natural vegetation’s structure and patterns by placing cedar shims in the sand. Safe Harbors Restoration Coordinator, Tory Massi Safe Harbors Director Gordon Peabody, and Truro Recreation are among those who worked with the students.

Is habitat restoration considered to be biomimicry? This can be a tricky question. If we are learning from the local organisms and ecosystem and mimicking natural processes, structures, and patterns, then the answer is yes. We want to learn what functions different organisms play and how they provide those functions. Usually this is done by planting vegetation, preferably native vegetation if it’s available. Sometimes an intermediate step is needed. Use of cedar shims on this beach is a short-term effort to mimic the sand-holding function of the dune vegetation. According to Safe Harbors’ website, “Biomimicry uses the same storm wind energy which eroded the resource area to rebuild it.” If this works and they can stabilize the beach, then the vegetation should get a chance to grow back and resume its role in stabilizing the dunes and creating conditions for other dune inhabitants to thrive.

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