DUNES ~ Sea, Sand and People is an Environmental History project focused in the relation between people and coastal dunes. Covering the last three centuries and using a transdisciplinary approach, our team will travel across borders and centuries to find out who were the pivotal actors that changed the course of history of coastal dunes.


Dunes are now protected environments, being a top priority for coastal managers, because of their important role as coastal defenses. But, it was not like that in the past.
For centuries dunes were considered unproductive and dangerous. 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 against 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.



Our project aims to explore human-environment relations in coastal areas worldwide, since the eighteenth century until today, through the study of dunes as hybrid landscapes. Based on selected case-studies and comparative approaches, the project will focus on the origins, reasons and means of dunes afforestation; the impacts of the creation of new landscapes to local communities and ecosystems; and the present situation of dunes as coastal defenses and rehabilitated environments. We want to identify

1) actors and perceptions;
2) technologies, knowledge transfer and environmental adaptations;
3) states’ discourses and public resources;
4) social and environmental impacts from a long-term perspective.
The final purpose is to produce an innovative global history of coastal dunes, combining knowledge from both Humanities and Social Sciences and Physical and Life Sciences.



Supported by an interdisciplinary team and based on within-case studies and comparative approaches, this study emphasizes human-nature interactions, situated in diverse geographical and cultural contexts, examining its effects at local and global levels, both in societies and landscapes. Issues like perceptions, fears, property, local economies, traditional and technical knowledge, land reclamation, forest exploitation, state power, risks and vulnerabilities, climate change, coastal management policies and nature restoration will be addressed.

It is our purpose with this project to develop new knowledge with relevant impact within the fields of Environmental History and the scientific areas working on coastal systems. DUNES will provide important information for coastal managers and authorities with responsibilities in coastal governance. It will contribute to the increasing awareness of the general public, fomenting citizenship participation in decisions concerning the seashores’ future and help to disseminate the idea that the future of the world coasts depends on today’s actions.



This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme
(Grant agreement nº802918)