Carters Beach Dune Restoration Project

In 2017, the Carters Beach Community Liaison Committee initiated a dune restoration project to restore Carters Beach’s ability to adapt to climate change impacts such as sea level rise, extreme weather, and erosion. Carters Beach is a 1.5 km white sand beach located on the southwestern shores of Port Mouton Bay in the Region of Queens Municipality, Nova Scotia. The dune restoration project was initiated after several assessments highlighted the vulnerability of the beach’s dune system and biodiversity to climate change impacts and increased human activity. Furthermore, a prior study involving a 20-climate model ensemble investigated projected climate indices and subsequent hazards in Queens Municipality and Carters Beach was identified as particularly vulnerable to coastal erosion. To restore Carters Beach’s natural ability to adapt, preserve biodiversity, and mitigate the impacts of human activity, the dune restoration project implemented roped off areas, educational signage, access to toilets and information for community members about restoration. Restoration efforts occurred from the spring of 2017 to 2022. From 2018 to 2022, volunteers from the community along with students from NSCC Kentville transplanted marram grass into the dune structures. Monitoring of the restoration efforts revealed that signage and roped off areas were relatively successful in deterring human activity and marram grass had high survival rates even when exposed to extreme weather conditions. The Coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021 posed several challenges to dune restoration due to increased beach traffic and has prompted intentions to increase signage and public education about restoration. In April 2021, Carters Beach was identified as an eventual designated “nature reserve” by the provincial government. This designation would provide legal protection for Carters Beach ensuring the natural landscape, dune system, and biodiversity are safeguarded and able to continue adapting to climate change.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Carters Beach in the Region of Queens Municipality contains the highest dunes on Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast. While the beach is a popular destination due to its white sand and blue waters, the dunes have many important functions. The dunes protect inland development and act as a defence against climate impacts for example flooding and strong winds during storms. The dunes are also a significant habitat for biodiversity and several species at-risk including the Piping Plover, short-eared owl, and scaly jellyskin lichen.

Several studies have assessed the vulnerability of Carters Beach to climate change and human activity. The Municipality of Queens’ 2014 Municipal Climate Change Action Plan investigated increasing annual temperatures, annual precipitation, frequency and intensity of storms, and sea level rise under historical trends and for 2020, 2050, and 2080 projections. Trends and projections were based on a climate ensemble of 20 models including Canadian models CGCM3T47 and CGCM3T63. Based on these predictions, storm surges, flooding, erosion, drought, forest fires, and hurricanes were identified as important hazards with certain regions having increased vulnerability. Carters Beach was found to be vulnerable to sea level rise and coastal hazards particularly erosion. While Carters Beach is vulnerable to future climate change impacts, the dune system has been historically adaptive. A 2011 study by the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables revealed some of the dunes have been adapting to environmental change since the 1920s. However, a 2017 assessment noted that recently the dunes have experienced increased blowouts and loss of vegetation from 2010-2017. The risks that climate change pose to Carters Beach combined with increased human activity could be detrimental to Carters Beach’s ability to adapt to climate change.

Identifying Actions

In 2015, the Nova Scotia Department of Environment (NSDE) Protected Areas organized the Carters Beach Community Liaison Committee. The committee was comprised of community volunteers who were tasked with determining how to manage Carters Beach. In 2017, geomorphologist Dr. Robert Taylor conducted a visual assessment of Carters Beach to determine if the dunes required management to increase their resilience against human activity. The assessment concluded that the natural environment could support dune restoration, but only if human activity was mitigated. The following recommendations were made in this assessment: providing well-serviced toilets, rope off sensitive areas, implement educational and direction-related signage, study the carrying capacity of the beach, inform the public about local restoration activities, and plan for pre- and post-project monitoring. In 2017, the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry (NSDLF) presented urgent concerns about management of Carters Beach to the Municipality of Queens Council. This prompted the Carters Beach Community Liaison Committee to apply for a permit from NSDLF to begin carrying out restoration activities.


The overall goal of the dune restoration project was to increase the ability of Carters Beach to adapt to climate change through preserving biodiversity, increasing shoreline mobility, and limiting human activity. Restoration activities were led by community members and a student group from Nova Scotia Community College Environmental Technology Program in Kentville and supported by community volunteers, committee members, and interns from the Harrison Lewis Coastal Discovery Centre. After receiving the permit to conduct restoration, efforts began in 2017 with implementing rope fencing and educational signage. The physical barriers and signage were intended to educate the public on the importance of dune restoration and evoke responsible use of Carters Beach. In 2018, restoration efforts continued and included transplanting marram grass from well vegetated areas of the beach to areas with the most human activity. Marram grass has a complex root system which anchors the plant in unstable conditions and in turn stabilizes the dunes they are planted in. From 2018 to 2022, marram grass was transplanted to more areas with heavy human activity.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

An important aspect of dune restoration has been monitoring the success of the implemented restoration activities. Educational signage and fencing have been relatively effective to deter human activity, with fenced off areas experiencing up to 3 m of marram grass migration. However, it was noted that in beach areas with missing signs there was less marram grass regrowth. To monitor the success of marram grass transplantation and regrowth, ground surveys were completed each year. In 2017, despite 20 dune breaches from multiple storms, the existing marram grass was able to recover in 15/20 dune breach sites. The 2018 ground survey revealed the transplanting efforts were 65-100% successful depending on the area. The survey also noted some grass developed several shoots and there was significant sediment retention where transplantation occurred. The 2019 ground survey revealed transplanted marram grass had a 91-98% survival rate. Despite, Hurricane Dorian eroding the beach and destroying roped off areas, four out of six transplantation sites showed 81-100% marram grass survival. The Coronavirus Pandemic in the summer of 2020 posed challenges to dune restoration as large numbers of Nova Scotians were visiting Carters Beach, many of whom were unfamiliar with the sensitivity of Carters Beach and the importance of dune restoration.

In 2021, TransCoastal Adaptation compiled and used this project to inspire their Making Room for Movement: A Framework for Implementing Nature-based Coastal Adaptation Strategies in Nova Scotia. Carters Beach dune restoration, along with five other projects in Nova Scotia were used to inform development of the coastal adaptation framework, specifically to highlight new adaptation techniques and long-term adaptation planning.

Next Steps

Carters Beach and its dune system can adapt to climate change if human disturbance does not hinder its development and resilience. The increased number of beach goers in 2020 and 2021 has proved to be a challenge for restoration and highlights the importance of educating the public about coastal vulnerability, restoration, and adaptation to climate change. Next steps for dune restoration include improving parking infrastructure, directing people along the path of least disturbance on the beach, and increasing the number and type of signage to education beach goers about responsible use of the beach.

In April 2021, Carters Beach was identified by the Nova Scotia Government as a site for eventual designation as a nature reserve. This designation would mean Carters Beach is legally protected under the Special Places Protection Act which would safeguard the beach, ecosystems, and natural features while also allowing ongoing education and research.