Jacksonville Beach, with its warm weather and pristine, white sand beaches, continues to attract droves of tourists each year, stimulating the beaches’ and the city’s overall economy. March 2018 alone marked the best month in the history of Jacksonville’s tourism, according to Jax Chamber, with the beaches playing on outsized role in the boost. And that’s as good an argument as any for keeping local shorelines in tip top shape.

Duval Dunes—a partnership between Fletcher High School’s Marine Science Club and the Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute of Florida, whose mission is to educate locals and visitors on the importance of keeping our beaches clean and healthy—will host its inaugural kick-off event on Memorial Day to spread awareness for the preservation and protection of the beaches’ dunes.

Sand dunes are essential for protecting our beaches, as they act as a barrier, preventing land-based objects from floating into the ocean while simultaneously preventing the ocean water from flooding into the city during heavy storms or hurricanes, according to Duval Dunes official website. The dunes were a tremendous help during recent storm events, Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

“We all saw during hurricanes Matthew and Irma how the dunes and sea oats helped protect our towns,” says soon-to-be senior at Fletcher High, Alex Blaudow, 17. Blaudow is not only active in the Marine Science Club, but was responsible for the Duval Dunes partnership.

“Each baby sea oat has the potential to protect up to six-square feet of dune, so the more we can get growing, the better off we’ll be for the next storm. That’s why we’re working hard to get the word out that people need to stay off the dunes.”

According to Blaudow, the partnership with the Public Trust will help ensure that the hard work her and his fellow Marine Science Club endure, even after they leave Fletcher.

“We partnered with the Public Trust so the effort can grow over time and keep going even after we graduate. We thought it would be good to have a non-profit group who could process donations then give any money received directly to the Marine Science Club to buy baby sea oats,” he says.

Kevin Brown, environmental science teacher and sponsor of the Marine Science Club said that several students have even presented at council meetings to educate the public.

“Since 2010 the club has been doing annual beach cleanups, planting sea oats and filling in holes left by people on the beach to help during sea turtle season,” he said.

The Duval Dunes kick-off event will have educational speakers, including Kevin Brown and John November from the Public Trust, among other Marine Science Club members. AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) environmental student projects will be displayed and there will be an opportunity to donate to the Marine Science Club and purchase more sea oats for area beaches.

All are welcome to join and there will even be a children’s section with coloring tables, games and marine-related activities!

If you can’t attend, rest easy, there are still many ways to help protect the dunes in our community, according to some tips listed on DuvalDunes.org. A few useful nuggets from the website:

-Use the wooden stairs and boardwalks instead of walking through any dunes.

-Keep an eye on children and/or pets to make sure they’re not playing over them.

-Don’t dig any deep holes. They’re dangerous to both sea turtles and people walking by.

-Remember that picking up sea oats (even the seeds) is illegal in Florida and you could be fined up to $500! (That’s beach bar money, folks.)