These machines could move mountains.
It’s hard to imagine that big, powerful machines like the Komatsu Excavator and Pisten Bully are used to preserve a delicate marsh ecosystem. But elevation loss from rising seas and sinking land is a challenge facing many coastal marshes.
During large storms, marshes act like buffers, absorbing major surges of floodwater. Over time, sand and sediment can get washed away from these areas. A lack of sediment and healthy vegetation reduces the marsh’s ability to absorb water, leading to floods in nearby towns. We strive for a healthy balance of water and sediment, the perfect conditions for healthy salt marsh vegetation.
That’s where the land movers come in! The large Pisten Bully spreads the sediment used to gradually increase the elevation of the marsh while the Komatsu Excavator distributes a fine layer to support growth of vegetation. Remu pontoons help distribute the weight of this mammoth machine and keep the soil from compacting. Lasers located on the buckets measure out the proper gradient, or slope, of the ground as they go.
Biologists aim to restore the marsh’s natural hydrology, or water movement, by building up sediment and creating natural meandering channels. Channels draw off excess water, and specialized coir logs, made from coconut husks, trap and build up sediment in lower areas. With the growth of healthy vegetation this spring, this work will make these marshes stronger against storms. The mud and roots may look bland now, but in no time this marsh will be booming with high grasses and saltmarsh sparrows.
The race is on! Despite the excavator’s pontoons, heavy machines can damage the freshly sprouted grass. Staff must work quickly to establish roughly six inches of sediment before new marsh grasses spring up from mud. Biologists will be busy monitoring the hydrology and sediment movement throughout the marsh as vegetation grows.
Marsh restoration in the wake of Hurricane Sandy is a top priority for staff at the Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Restoring the marsh provides people with the security of a resilient coast that can hold up against storms and provides vital habitat for countless unique wildlife and plant species. It’s mighty work for these mighty machines.