TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – Tybee Island’s multi-million, multi-year renourishment project is near completion after crews finished planting a second set of dune vegetation on the north end of the island.

Tybee Island City Manager Shawn Gillen says there are tens of thousands of pieces of dune vegetation on the island, many of which are naturally growing.

As always, there is a fine of up to one thousand dollars, if you are caught messing with the dunes or the vegetation, but Gillen says there is a reason behind that. It revolves around the importance of the vegetation or — more specifically — the sea oats.

Gilen says sea oats grow deep roots that protect the newly finished dunes from storm surge.

“Their root systems go deep, so these things act like rebar in cement,” he explained. “The root systems go down to the base level and holds that dune together as it gets hit by wave action.”

If dune disturbances go unchecked on an island with more than 1.2 million visitors each year, the results can be disastrous.

“If you get too many people walking in the same spot, it will start to wear the dune out. But really, you’re killing off the vegetation.”

Sand fencing, according to Gillen, is another defense the island is taking advantage of to prevent damage from massive storm surge. The city is experimenting with additional layers of fencing and with placing it at different angles to see what works best.

“That sand fencing is there with a purpose to knock down the sand, establish additional dunes and help those dunes grow naturally,” said Gillen.

Tybee Island has been using a combination of county, state and federal funding from the Army Corps of Engineers to finish what he calls a ‘full renourishment’ of the beach.

So far, crews have pumped 1.3 million cubic yards of sand onto the beach. Gillen says the beach is now larger and there are dunes in areas where there were none or where there was a gap.

After turtle nesting season, the city will use SPLOST funds to build bathrooms, changing rooms, and showers near the pier on the island’s south end.