Three Years After Sandy: Building a Stronger Atlantic Coast

Three years ago this week, Hurricane Sandy devastated communities along the Atlantic Coast with record storm surge, fierce winds and torrential rain. Earlier this month Hurricane Joaquin again reminded us of nature’s power, inundating much of the Atlantic Seaboard with heavy rains and chest-deep floodwaters and setting historic records in the Carolinas. And only days ago, Hurricane Patricia — the most powerful tropical cyclone ever measured in the Western Hemisphere with maximum sustained winds of 200 m.p.h. — threatened the coast of Mexico before weakening significantly after landfall.

Visit doi.gov/hurricanesandy to learn more about how Department of the Interior investments are helping to build a stronger Atlantic Coast three years after Hurricane Sandy.

In this age of uncertainty we have come to expect the unexpected. The science tells us that climate change will cause hurricanes and tropical storms to become more intense — lasting longer, unleashing stronger winds, and causing more damage to coastal ecosystems and communities. The question is, what can we do to help coastal areas stand stronger against the storm?

An aerial view of coastal damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in Mantoloking, NJ. Credit: Greg Thompson/USFWS

An aerial view of coastal damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in Mantoloking, NJ. Credit: Greg Thompson/USFWS

Federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery has spurred an unprecedented effort to strengthen natural defenses along the Atlantic Coast to protect communities and wildlife against future storms. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other Department of the Interior agencies are investing $787 million in hundreds of projects to clean up and repair damaged refuges and parks; restore coastal marshes, wetlands and shoreline; connect and open waterways to improve flood control; and increase our scientific understanding of how these natural areas are changing.

The Service is investing $167 million in more than 70 projects to clean up refuges, restore and strengthen coastal areas (marshes and beaches), connect and open waterways for better fish passage and flood protection and support other efforts to protect wildlife and communities from future storms. These investments support the goal of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to make communities more resilient to increasingly intense storms predicted with a changing climate. They also create jobs and provide opportunities for fishing, hiking, wildlife watching and other recreational opportunities. Here are a few projects that have been completed or are under way:

Cleanup of post-Hurricane Sandy debris, removed from coastal marshes at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in southern New Jersey made possible through Department of the Interior funding. Credit: (before) Ryan Hagerty/USFWS, (after) Virginia Rettig/USFWS

Post-Hurricane Sandy debris removal from the coastal marshes of Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in southern New Jersey, made possible through Department of the Interior funding. Credit: (before) Ryan Hagerty/USFWS, (after) Virginia Rettig/USFWS

  • In New Jersey, we’ve completed a $13 million debris removal project at E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge to clean up more than 32,000 acres of saltmarsh and coastal habitat. The project removed 1,900 tons of debris from 22 miles of coastline and employed more than 100 workers. Removing the debris allows coastal areas to recover, providing healthier habitat for native wildlife while acting as a buffer against future storms.
  • In Maryland, we’re constructing 20,950 feet of living shoreline to protect marshes at Fog Point, a coastal section of Maryland’s Glenn Martin National Wildlife Refuge in Smith Island. The $9 million project will help protect more than 1,000 acres of interior tidal high marsh, sheltered water, submerged aquatic vegetation and clam beds against the effects of future storms. It also will enhance the natural defenses of saltwater habitats important to the island’s soft crab fishery, a natural resource local Smith Island residents depend on for their livelihoods.  

Learn more about the Fog Point living shoreline project in this video.

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge marsh restoration - dredge work to drain flooded marsh CREDIT David Eisenhauer

Dredge work drains a flooded marsh in Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, part of an ongoing $38 million marsh restoration effort in Delaware. Credit: David Eisenhauer/USFWS

  • In Delaware, we’ve invested $38 million in a marsh restoration effort under way to build storm and sea-level rise resilience into the natural landscape at Delaware’s Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The project is repairing breached marshes and reconstructing severely damaged shoreline, including critical dune restoration. Restored marshes at the refuge will provide a more resilient coast against future storms and create additional habitat for birds, including American oystercatchers and federally listed species such as rufa red knots and piping plovers. Along with the restoration of coastal wildlife habitat, the project provides the added benefit of enhanced storm protection for nearby residents.
Removal of the White Rock dam in Westerly, R.I. and Stonington, Conn. open up close to 25 miles of the Pawcatuck River and associated wetlands for migrating American shad, alewife, blueback herring, American eel, and sea-run trout. Credit: USFWS

Removal of the White Rock dam in Westerly, R.I. and Stonington, Conn. opens up close to 25 miles of the Pawcatuck River and associated wetlands for migrating American shad, alewife, blueback herring, American eel, and sea-run trout. Credit: USFWS

  • In Connecticut and Rhode Island, we worked with The Nature Conservancy to remove White Rock dam. The $794,000 project will reduce flood risk to local communities, restore habitat for fish and wildlife and open up several dozen miles of  fish passage in the Pawcatuck River for the first time in nearly 250 years. It is among 13 Hurricane Sandy-funded  projects to remove dams or  evaluate them for removal in four states.

Three years after Hurricane Sandy, communities, government and nonprofit organizations are working together like never before to better understand and adapt to changing conditions. Clearly it will take time and careful planning before we see a return on many of these investments. But the Service is confident the long-term benefits of building a stronger coast will far outweigh initial costs when it comes to protecting communities, sustaining wildlife and lessening the financial impact of damages resulting from future intense storms. To that end, we are establishing systems to carefully monitor and evaluate our progress to ensure this work is effective and lasting. The nature we care about and the public we serve deserve no less.

You can track the status of our projects and investments by visiting the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hurricane Sandy website at www.fws.gov/hurricane/sandy/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: