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Sea, Sand and People. An Environmental History of Coastal Dunes

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DUNES (Sea, Sand and People. An Environmental History of Coastal Dunes)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2020-04-30

Coastal dunes are unique ecosystems located between the sea and the land and can be found almost in all latitudes. They have several environmental functions, such as dissipating storm wave energy, filtering pollutants, sequestering carbon, purifying water and supporting a variety of socio-economic activities. Because of their instrumental value, the goods and services provided, dunes are now regarded by humans as ecosystems that must be preserved. But, it was not like that in the past.
For centuries dunes were considered unproductive and dangerous elements. The sand blown by the wind was taken inland, invading fields, silting rivers and destroying villages. In the eighteenth century, a strategy was developed to fight the dunes: trapping them with trees, with the double purpose of preventing the destruction of arable land and increasing their economic value converting them into forest areas. Different governments, in different countries, supported the immobilization of the shifting sands. The strategy, developed in Europe, was taken to other places in the world. These works caused profound changes in vast coastal areas transforming arid landscapes of sandy dunes into green tree forests. The initiative still has an impact as most of these green areas are kept as national parks. In some cases, their existence and legal status as public property prevent the urbanization of these territories. They are now important buffer-areas to coastal zones under extreme pressure as they become very appealing and sought for economical and touristic reasons.
Due to the demographic and urbanistic pressures on coasts worldwide and the consequences of global climate change, dune restoration has become a priority. In the past people were trying to immobilize the drifting sands, nowadays they are more interested in rehabilitating these environments, but the methods used are almost the same: fencing and planting vegetation. However, most coastal managers lack historical awareness and ignore previous works. By approaching dune management as an entirely new issue, they miss all the trial and error attempts, feedback and serendipity of former interventions.
Combining knowledge from both Humanities and Social Sciences and Physical and Life Sciences, DUNES project’s purpose lies (1) in learning from past experiences and adapting that knowledge and expertise to fit today’s challenges; and (2) in bringing people together around ambitious common goals.
How? By recovering historical evidence and cross it with scientific data to create new knowledge and support dune local-based management practices. And, also by producing compelling histories about these hybrid landscapes, highlighting them as both natural and cultural assets, as a result of long-term interaction with humans. These outcomes will assist policy makers and stimulate environmental citizenship in designing and implementing new strategies concerning the future European integrated coastal management.
"Since the beginning of the project until now, the work performed and the results achieved are:

1) Recruitment and organization of an interdisciplinary team.
2) Construction of a GIS database (using Esri technology). This database comprises information regarding historical sources of different nature (e.g. text, image) and all data considered relevant about dunes.
3) Analysis, review, classification and insertion in the database of the information gathered.

4) Work presentation at:
a) “Sea, Sand, People. An Environmental History of Coastal Dunes”, Freitas, ERC Summit 2019, Apr., at International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (Portugal).
b) “Drifting Dunes: fixing sands across the empires (1850-1950s), Freitas, 3rd World Congress of Environmental History, Jul.2019 ICEHO (Brazil).
c) “DUNES Open Archive”, R. Matildes, poster, IX Encontro da Rede BRASPOR, Oct.2019 (Portugal);
d) “Condicionantes naturais e antropogénicas na evolução dos campos dunares transgressivos”, Tudor, IX Encontro da Rede BRASPOR;
e) “Between the land and the sea: dunes as natural and cultural heritage”, Freitas, Keynote Speaker at CONCHA 2nd Workshop. Sea and Animals: History, Culture and Marine Conservation, Oct.2019 (Portugal).
f) “Because it is not only the sea: human intervention in beach-dune ecosystem of São João da Costa da Caparica”, Palma, II International Meeting. Histories of Nature and Environments: Shaping Landscapes, Nov.2019
g) “DUNES. Sea, Sand and People. Quando a História, a Ciência e o Ambiente se juntam”, Freitas, Ciência e Oceanos. Cruzamentos e Diálogos, Dec.2019 (Portugal);
h) ""On the Battle of Dunes: fiction, history and science for scaling public awareness"", Freitas, Environmental Dialogues Workshop, RCC and NYU Abu Dhabi, Jan.2020 (UAE);
i) ""Dunas. História, Ficção e Ciência"", Freitas, lecture at LARC, Fev.2020 (Portugal);

5) Activities of science communication and project dissemination:
a) Creation of the project web page;
b) Feeding of social media networks;
c) Text production to newspapers, newsletters, blogs:
c1. “Dunes: Sea, Sand and People. An Environmental History of Coastal Dunes”, Público, Fev. 2019, 15;
c2. “Dunes. Sea, Sand and People”, OCEANICA. Newsletter of the UNESCO Chair “The ocean’s cultural heritage” 11, Jul. 2019.
c3. “Dunas: a história para lá das areias”, Fundação Francisco Manuel dos Santos Blog, Aug., 2019"
Going beyond the state of the art meant to solve one of the first challenges of the project: putting together an interdisciplinary team, with researchers from both Humanities and Social Sciences and Natural Sciences, to work about coastal dunes. Then, training these researchers in the basic concepts and methodologies of History and Natural Sciences. Afterward, setting collaborative tasks and milestones for the following months.
The team has been working in collecting historical sources, identifying libraries and archives of interest, primary and secondary sources, on sand drift episodes, localization of dune fields, local traditions and uses, property issues, experts, institutions, afforested areas; and identifying and collecting scientific studies / data about dunes, sand forests and coastal management.
The data collected has been inserted in the GIS database, specifically developed to the project, that is going to be used as a working tool during the research and after as a dissemination instrument. This database is unique since it gathers multi-proxy information from different temporal scopes and origins about specific dunes in many parts of the globe.
Until the end of the project, DUNES expects to broaden the present day knowledge, providing answers about the threatening sands that become protected dunes, by linking local histories to global networks. This will be achieved by crossing data and establishing connections between scientific quantitative data with human activities/contexts/impacts. General syntheses will be built about case-studies, comparing differences and similarities, establishing connections, presenting explanations, in order to propose comprehensive narratives about human and dunes interactions in a global perspective. These syntheses will be disseminated through a book and some papers, submitted to international open-access peer-reviewed journals. Dissemination will include public lectures for different audiences and pedagogical materials for schools, a website and other social media networks.
Hybrid dunes in Barril Beach, Portugal
Forest in the dunes and coastal erosion in Maceda Beach, Portugal
Human uses of the dunes in Cape Cod, USA
Dune intervention in Barril Beach, Portugal