Vegetated dunes are recognized as important natural barriers that shelter inland ecosystems and coastlines suffering daily erosive impacts of the sea and extreme events, such as tsunamis. However, societal responses to erosion and shoreline retreat often result in man-made coastal defence structures that cover part of the intertidal and upper shore zones causing coastal squeeze and habitat loss, especially for upper shore biota, such as dune plants. Coseismic uplift of up to 2.0 m on the Peninsula de Arauco (South central Chile, ca. 37.5º S) caused by the 2010 Maule earthquake drastically modified the coastal landscape, including major increases in the width of uplifted beaches and the immediate conversion of mid to low sandy intertidal habitat to supralittoral sandy habitat above the reach of average tides and waves. To investigate the early stage responses in species richness, cover and across-shore distribution of the hitherto absent dune plants, we surveyed two formerly intertidal armoured sites and a nearby intertidal unarmoured site on a sandy beach located on the uplifted coast of Llico (Peninsula de Arauco) over two years. Almost 2 years after the 2010 earthquake, dune plants began to recruit, then rapidly grew and produced dune hummocks in the new upper beach habitats created by uplift at the three sites. Initial vegetation responses were very similar among sites. However, over the course of the study, the emerging vegetated dunes of the armoured sites suffered a slowdown in the development of the spatial distribution process, and remained impoverished in species richness and cover compared to the unarmoured site. Our results suggest that when released from the effects of coastal squeeze, vegetated dunes can recover without restoration actions. However, subsequent human activities and management of newly created beach and dune habitats can significantly alter the trajectory of vegetated dune development. Management that integrates the effects of natural and human induced disturbances, and promotes the development of dune vegetation as natural barriers can provide societal and conservation benefits in coastal ecosystems.