Author Archives: margiebrenner

Work at one of the restored beaches, Kimbles Beach. A wheel loader fills the rubber-tracked dump truck. Credit: Eric Schrading/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Investing in a more resilient future

This week marks the second anniversary of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  The plan outlines specific goals to help states, cities, and towns build stronger communities and infrastructure; protect critical sectors of our economy as well as our natural resources; and use sound science to better understand and manage climate impacts. Investments in Hurricane Sandy recovery, in particular, exemplify how the plan’s goals are translated to action on the ground to make communities more resilient to increasingly intense future storms predicted with a changing climate.

At Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, the Disaster Relief Recovery Act of 2013 funded coastal marsh restoration that helps build resilience to the 4,000-acre  tidal marsh and beach barrier system that protects nearby communities in Milton and Milford, Delaware. In this photos, heavy equipment sprays a thin layer of sediment along the marsh grasses, building the foundation for a more resilient coastline.

Restoring marsh hydrology at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware, part of a $38 million marsh restoration project funded through the Department of the Interior by the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013. Credit: David Eisenhauer/USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is leading 31 resilience projects awarded $102 million through the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act in 2013 in response to Hurricane Sandy, to restore coastal marshes, wetlands and shoreline, create open connections to rivers and streams for fish passage, and reduce the risk of flooding from future storms. These projects from Virginia to Maine are planned or underway to be completed in the next several years, and will help build a stronger Atlantic Coast that protect our coastal communities and sustain people and wildlife. Many of these resilience projects also engage youth and veterans and create local jobs which support the economy while strengthening our natural resources, fulfilling several other Climate Action Plan goals.

The photo mosaic below provides some examples of this work — from Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge marsh and beach restoration, which began this  month and will restore approximately 4,000 acres of back-barrier tidal marsh along the Delaware Bay, providing wildlife habitat and enhanced storm protection for nearby residents — to a New Jersey beach restoration project completed last spring that restored five beaches on Cape May’s inner shoreline, enhancing natural defenses that protect habitat for federally listed species such as the rufa red knot and buffer against storm surge for surrounding communities.

More information about Hurricane Sandy-funded recovery and resilience projects

Shells and students: Building living reefs in southern New Jersey

What do thousands of southern New Jersey students, millions of young oysters and Gandy’s Beach have in common? They all benefit from Project PORTS — Promoting Oyster Restoration Through Schools — an education and community-based oyster restoration program, run out of Rutgers University’s Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory.

Whew...shell bags are heavy! 1st grade friends from the  Boys and Girls Club of Vineland, N.J., help carry a shell bag they built to load on the trailer.

Whew…shell bags are heavy! First grade friends from the Boys and Girls Club of Vineland, N.J., help carry a shell bag they built to load on the trailer. Credit: Project PORTS staff

Since 2007, Project PORTS has engaged school communities in a real world oyster restoration project, constructing a living oyster reef more than 5 acres in size near Gandy’s Beach in the upper Delaware Bay. To date, this reef located approximately one mile offshore, has provided habitat for more than 20 million oysters and counting, says Jenny Paterno, a recent Rutgers master’s program graduate, lab technician and project leader for Project PORTS.

In 2013, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was awarded nearly $900,000 from Hurricane Sandy resilience funds through Department of the Interior towards a Gandy’s Beach shoreline protection project, which will improve the ability of the beach to withstand future storm surges and coastal erosion while helping to stabilize the decreasing oyster population. A portion of this work engages youth in oyster education and conservation at the Gandy’s Beach oyster reef breakwater project site.

Since this past March, the Service’s New Jersey Field Office has partnered with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Project PORTS to involve several thousand local students who are building nearly 15,000 shell bags. The bags will be placed by hundreds of local volunteers this fall just off the shoreline at Gandy’s Beach in Downe Township.

Waves crashing at Gandy’s Beach before living shoreline construction. Hurricane Sandy flooded Delaware Bay and eroded salt marsh habitat.

Waves crashing at Gandy’s Beach before living shoreline construction. Hurricane Sandy flooded Delaware Bay and eroded salt marsh habitat. Credit: Katie Conrad/USFWS

Gandy’s Beach is gradually disappearing, losing an estimated 500 feet of shoreline since 1930, based on TNC field observations and historic aerial images. The communities of Money Island and Gandy’s Beach have experienced increased flooding during high tide events and major storms due to the reduction of surrounding salt marsh and beach buffers. This also reduces habitat for spawning horseshoe crabs and foraging habitat for migratory shorebirds such as the rufa red knot, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Katie Conrad, a fish and wildlife biologist at the Service’s New Jersey Field Office and project lead, says the work will construct nearshore oyster reef breakwaters along high energy shoreline, coir biolog living shoreline (logs of coconut fiber wrapped in mesh) on low energy sites, and hybrid living shoreline that uses both techniques in one location. “This will help stabilize approximately 3,000 feet of beach and tidal marsh shoreline, and ongoing monitoring will measure how well the oysters recruit on the different structures, so future restoration projects can benefit from what we have learned,” says Conrad.

The benefits of these living shorelines are three-fold: they help prevent erosion for wildlife and public recreational use; buffer coastal communities against impacts of future storms; and provide habitat for underwater species in the face of climate change and sea-level rise.

A student at West Avenue School proudly shows off a shell bag built for the Gandy's Beach oyster reef. Credit: Project PORTS staff

A student at West Avenue School  in Bridgeton, N.J. proudly shows off a shell bag built for the Gandy’s Beach oyster reef. Credit: Project PORTS staff

For the past year, project partner TNC has been collecting clam and oyster shells from restaurants during scheduled weekly pickups in Atlantic City, as well as a local surf clam processing plant in Millville, N.J., which delivered the shells to a management site maintained by TNC. The “cured” mollusks are then distributed to schools where students build shell bags. There is also a shell pile at the Haskin Lab in Port Norris, N.J., where they are stored or used for bagging activities with after-school groups such as scouts, homeschoolers and Habitat for Humanity teams.

Since mid-March, Project PORTS has engaged more than 650 students at several local southern New Jersey schools, teaching curious K-12 pupils about oyster anatomy, lifecycle and ecosystem benefits while building shell bags that will help prevent erosion and preserve wildlife habitat along the shoreline. Students work in teams of two or three and pull stretchy mesh bags over large diameter PVC tubes, then fill the tubes with shell to efficiently build bags.  “We were at a middle school just last week, and there were 6 classes of seventh graders who worked with us for an hour each, and built 722 bags in a day!” says Paterno.

“A class of 20, 4th graders can build 100 shell bags in a half an hour. Never underestimate the power of a fourth grader. They always impress us with their enthusiasm.” – Jenny Patnerno, lab technician and project leader for Project PORTS

4th grade students from D'Ippolito Elementary School lift their full shell tube up to complete their shell bag.

4th grade students from D’Ippolito Elementary School in Vineland, N.J. lift their tube up to complete their shell bag. Credit: Project PORTS staff

Each bag measures approximately 17-inches long by 10-inches wide and weighs around five to ten pounds per bag. So far, over 3,000 bags have been built by participating students and there are six more Project PORTS partner schools scheduled for activities through mid-June.

As a leader of classroom education and shell-building activities, Paterno recently completed her Master’s thesis on the diverse species which inhabit the Project PORTS Gandy’s Beach subtidal oyster reef, such as striped bass, weakfish, croakers and blue crab. She plans to continue her work with Rutgers and Project PORTS as a lab technician, explaining the reason she enjoys her role in the project. “I really like education and outreach while doing the science and research, so when I get to incorporate those elements together, it’s really rewarding,” says Paterno. “Some kids have never been to the bay even though they live 15 miles from it. I like to inspire kids to be outside and get interested in science — and realize that becoming a scientist is definitely within reach and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a crazy white-haired, lab-coat clad man with bubbling test tubes,” she says.

Jenny Paterno dissects and oyster with curious students at Assumption school. Credit: Cathryn Flammer/Assumption School

Paterno works with 7th grade and kindergarten students to explore the internal anatomy of an oyster at Assumption Regional Catholic School (ARCS) in Galloway, N.J. Credit: Cathryn Flammer/ARCS

Service partners along with an estimated 500 community volunteers will help construct the nearshore oyster reef breakwaters along the shoreline. The design will be broken into multiple sections and staggered, with each breakwater between 20 to 30-feet long, placing taller sections in front with the shorter breakwater behind it. “Oysters can live under both conditions in intertidal zones, sometimes covered by water, sometimes exposed to the air”, says Paterno.

Close up of partner-funded oyster castle at Gandy's Beach.

Close up of  oyster castle test site at Gandy’s Beach. Credit: Project PORTS staff

In addition to the oyster reef, man-made oyster castles will be placed along the shoreline as part of the restoration project. “The use of oyster castles, which are stackable concrete, blocks that make oyster reefs, will be used as we monitor oyster recruitment. With help from our partners, these living shorelines can help enhance oyster communities in the Delaware Bay,” says Conrad. Reef construction work is expected to start this August and both the reefs and oyster castles will be monitored for effectiveness by the Service and Rutgers staff after the project is completed.

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Project PORTS is an education and community-based oyster restoration program, which targets elementary and middle school communities in New Jersey’s Delaware Bay Shore region, promoting hands-on activities that teach scientific concepts and emphasize the importance of oysters as a resource to the region.

Read more about the Gandy’s Beach effort in an overview of the federally funded living shoreline projects led by the Service, making progress in New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.

A partner-funded “oyster castle”, an example of a living shoreline technique using blocks made of shell, limestone and concrete, is being monitored for effectiveness at Gandy’s Beach on the Jersey shore.

A Natural Approach to Building a Stronger Coast

What is a “living shoreline?” An article recently posted in the Spring 2015 edition of Fish and Wildlife News and the Service’s Open Spaces Blog details how this natural method of shoreline protection is being used to support four Hurricane Sandy recovery projects led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In the article, Brittany Bowker, a former Hurricane Sandy youth story corps Student Conservation Association (SCA) intern, provides an overview of the federally funded living shoreline projects making progress in New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.

Coir logs, an example of a living shoreline technique using interwoven coconut fibers bound together with biodegradable netting, are set in place at Gandy’s Beach on the Jersey shore to provide temporary physical protection to a site while vegetation becomes established.

Coir logs, an example of a living shoreline technique using interwoven coconut fibers bound together with biodegradable netting, are set in place at Gandy’s Beach on the Jersey shore to provide temporary physical protection to a site while vegetation becomes established. Credit: Katie Conrad/USFWS

There was a time when shoreline protection often meant installing hard structures like bulkheads or riprap to armor the coast against erosion and rising sea levels. But starting in the early 1980s, a “softer” approach — called “living shorelines” — has been transforming the conservation of these important natural areas by allowing the coast to heal itself.

By using a variety of natural materials such as sand and marsh grasses combined with some structure, this method not only protects vulnerable coasts, but also maintains their ecological continuity and stability. Living shorelines have become a new and widely used method of shoreline protection, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website.

Federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery has boosted this effort along the Atlantic Coast, currently supporting four living shoreline projects managed by the Service:

  •  Fog Point in Smith Island, Maryland, where 21,000 feet of living shoreline planned for the site will protect near by communities and coastline.

    Aerial view of Fog Point in Smith Island, Maryland, where 21,000 feet of living shoreline planned for the site will protect nearby communities and coastline. Credit: Keith Shannon/USFWS

    At Hail Cove on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, $1.5 million will help construct 4,000 feet of living shoreline. By placing sand within rock breakwaters along the eroded marsh banks, the project will create a more suitable environment for the island’s migratory birds and nesting diamondback terrapins.

  • At Fog Point, also on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a $9 million project to build 21,000 feet of living shoreline will help protect nearby communities from the effects of intense storms and sea-level rise, as well as wildlife and habitat at Glenn Martin National Wildlife Refuge. Matt Whitbeck, a biologist with the Service’s Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, says this is considered an area of extremely high wave energy, so complex-hybrid construction will be used.
  • Waves crashing at Gandy’s Beach before living shoreline construction. Hurricane Sandy flooded Delaware Bay and eroded salt marsh habitat.

    Waves crashing at Gandy’s Beach before living shoreline construction. Hurricane Sandy flooded Delaware Bay and eroded salt marsh habitat. Credit: Katie Conrad/USFWS

    At Gandy’s Beach in New Jersey, $880,000 in Sandy funds will help construct living shoreline along 4,000 feet of shore to restore its salt marsh and adjacent uplands. By enhancing these areas’ natural defenses, communities will be better protected against future storm surges.

  • At Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, $550,000 will help construct 3,650 feet of living shoreline and two acres of oyster reef to help protect the refuge as well as its surrounding communities. Kevin Holcomb, a wildlife biologist at the refuge, says this will be an opportunity “for people to see what we’re doing and how living shorelines can lessen the impacts of storm surge on their own properties.”

Finish reading this post at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Open Spaces blog!