Tag Archives: coast

The view from above – an aerial tour of Hurricane Sandy recovery and restoration sites: Day 3

I’m Rick Bennett, Regional Scientist for the Northeast Region. This week, I am part of a team taking to the air to tour some of the locations that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Each evening, I will be sharing a little about what we saw, the projects on the ground and how we are working to ensure the coastline and the surrounding communities are #StrongAfterSandy.  (Lia McLaughlin/USFWS)

I’m Rick Bennett, Regional Scientist for the Northeast Region. This week, I am part of a team taking to the air to tour some of the locations that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Each evening, I will be sharing a little about what we saw, the projects on the ground and how we are working to ensure the coastline and the surrounding communities are #StrongAfterSandy. (Lia McLaughlin/USFWS)

Today started by flying over Cape May National Wildlife Refuge and surveying more of the New Jersey coast. We looked at beach restoration projects close to communities including Middle Township, where beaches are vital for wildlife and the state’s booming tourism industry – the fifth largest industry in the state by employment. In addition to providing recreational opportunities, these beach restoration projects will strengthen habitats that support an array of fish, wildlife and plants and act as buffers against coastal storms.

Then we moved further down the Atlantic coast to see the roughly 4,000 acres of coastal wetlands to be restored at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware.

Restored marshes at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge will provide benefits to several adjacent and nearby communities such as Milton and Milford in Delaware and create additional habitat for red knots, American oystercatchers, and piping plovers. The restored marsh will also improve the communities’ ability to withstand future storms and sea level rise, improve wildlife habitat, and improved access.

After Prime Hook, it was time to survey two more projects further south on the Delaware shoreline – one at Hail Cove on Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge and another at Glenn Martin National Wildlife Refuge.

An important stopover for migrating waterfowl, Hail Cove – part of Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge – is considered among the top five Maryland waterfowl areas. With the construction of 4,000 feet of enhanced shoreline that’s been planned for the site  – intended to reduce erosion from the Chester River – over 400 acres of marshland will be directly protected, stabilizing habitats and buffering nearby communities from storms. Incidental benefits of a neighboring salt marsh include storm surge protection, water quality improvement, fisheries production, carbon sequestration and wildlife related recreation.

“Living shorelines” utilize plants, sand, and a limited use of rock to provide shoreline protection and maintain valuable habitat. The 20,950 feet of living shoreline that will be constructed at Glenn Martin National Wildlife Refuge will dissipate wave energy and slow erosion, protecting more than 1200 acres of high tidal high marsh. This marsh is vital to the continued habitat health of Smith Island’s soft crab fishing industry and for protecting the villages of Ewell, Rhodes Point and Tylerton. The refuge supports one of the largest concentrations of wintering waterfowl in the Chesapeake Bay, as well as important habitat for fisheries and non-game wildlife.

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The view from above – an aerial tour of Hurricane Sandy recovery and restoration sites: Day 1

I’m Rick Bennett, Regional Scientist for the Northeast Region. This week, I am part of a team taking to the air to tour some of the locations that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Each evening, I will be sharing a little about what we saw, the projects on the ground and how we are working to ensure the coastline and the surrounding communities are #StrongAfterSandy.

I’m Rick Bennett, Regional Scientist for the Northeast Region. This week, I am part of a team taking to the air to tour some of the locations that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Each evening, I will be sharing a little about what we saw, the projects on the ground and how we are working to ensure the coastline and the surrounding communities are #StrongAfterSandy.

Today we flew over and surveyed salt marsh restoration efforts on the Long Island coast. Long Island’s coastal wetlands were drastically affected by storm surge shortly after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey.

Salt marsh restoration efforts throughout the Long Island National Wildlife Complex are targeted at Wertheim and Seatuck National Wildlife Refuges, and Lido Beach Wildlife Management Area.

Tree removal has already been completed and the removal of other debris will clear the way for a boardwalk that will restore access to refuge visitors and educational groups. The reinvigorated marsh will be engineered to discourage invasive vegetation and support the more than 200 species of birds that inhabit the marshes at various parts of the year, while also reducing erosion and decreasing the impact future large storm events will have on the nearby towns of Islip, Brookhaven, and Hempstead, New York – as well as neighboring communities.

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This coastal marsh restoration project restores wetlands, which provide habitat to fish and wildlife and gives protection to shorelines, buildings and coastal communities from storm surge and flooding.

Research Specialist Christina Cerino measures a captured bird for the SHARP survey. Credit: Charlotte Murtishaw/USFWS

Looking SHARP: Students, salt marshes, and that elusive sparrow

Charlotte and ZucchiniABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charlotte Murtishaw is a Student Conservation Association and Hurricane Sandy youth story corps intern, serving as a communications specialist for the Service’s Hurricane Sandy recovery program. She grew up in New Jersey and currently attends Barnard College in New York, where she’s an American Studies major focusing on postwar media and culture as well as environmental history (independently and in conjunction with each other). You can find her biking, swimming, and hiking around the Pioneer Valley this summer, usually on the way to the next best bookstore.


 

Emma Shelly probably wakes up earlier than you.

Every morning, the University of Connecticut PhD student gets out of bed at 4:30 and hops in the car. She leaves her home near UConn, and drives nearly an hour to Barn Island Wildlife Management Area in the coastal town of Stonington, Ct., picking up her assistants along the way.

The early start does have its perks for the group, though.

“The mornings are really beautiful,” says research specialist Christina Cerino. “You catch a lot of good sunrises.”

Site leader Emma Shelly, flanked by her research specialists Chistina Cerino (L) and Jeanna Mielcarek (R). Credit: Charlotte Murtishaw/USFWS

Site leader Emma Shelly, flanked by her research specialists Chistina Cerino (L) and Jeanna Mielcarek (R). Credit: Charlotte Murtishaw/USFWS

Emma and Christina are both in their second summer working for SHARP–the Saltmarsh Habitat & Avian Research Program. The program was founded by a group of academic, governmental, and non-profit collaborators to provide critical information for the conservation of tidal-marsh birds. It evolved from more than a decade of saltmarsh sparrow surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, states and other partners on national wildlife refuges throughout the Northeast, ultimately expanding to more than 900 current sites. The Refuge System’s Inventory and Monitoring (I&M) program is supporting development of standardized data collection methods and a database that will help SHARP participants evaluate population and habitat status and develop targets for future conservation needs.

Last year SHARP gained additional resources through a Hurricane Sandy grant from the Department of the Interior for a comprehensive tidal marsh bird project. The money not only continues to support SHARP efforts to gauge the effects of climate change on threatened species like the saltmarsh sparrow and clapper rail, but also engages youth and graduate students with Sandy projects. Opportunities often involve hands-on field experience collecting data, such as the work at Barn Island.

Because the project had already gathered so much data on tidal marsh birds and their habitat before Hurricane Sandy hit in October, 2012, researchers are able to make easy comparisons between healthy habitat and current conditions, such as sea levels and bird populations. But SHARP isn’t just for the birds. With more than 20 sites stretching from Maine to New Jersey, the program is a chance for students in environmental fields to get hands-on experience in conservation, as well as dabble in their own research. While she works on SHARP as a crew leader, Emma also gathers information for her Ph.D., on the mating preferences of the notoriously polyamorous saltmarsh sparrow.

In the field, Emma, Christina, and another research specialist, Jeanna Mielcarek, set up fine mist nets to catch incoming birds, and band the female saltmarsh sparrows with identification tags. They take weight, wingspan, and other measurements at the same time, and comb the marsh for nests to flag and track.

Other animals pop up in the salt marsh, which is among one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world, ranking up there with the tropical rainforest. Jeanna finds a praying mantis, and retrieves a bright goldfinch from the mist net. At Barn Island, anything goes.

“We catch a lot of birds we aren’t targeting for,” Christina says. “There are surprises every day.” Blackbirds, she said, are grabby and nippy; male sparrows are more aggressive (but she hastens to clarify all observations are anecdotal).

Christina got her start last summer under UConn professor and site leader Chris Elphick. “[Christina] came out as a volunteer last year and learned some basics and this year has picked up a lot more,” said Elphick, who’s been birding since childhood. “We have to stagger experience a little bit so we’re training people we can hire next year as the more experienced person.”

SHARP is a breeding ground for burgeoning biologists and conservationists. Though the main corps is made up of graduate students, UMaine assistant professor and principal investigator Brian Olsen emphasizes that exposing students to hands on experience is built into the framework of the project.

“We try to slide in an undergraduate or two as well to train somebody up, so we usually have at least one person who’s never done anything on the crew and then that mixes in with the experienced hands,” Olsen said.

In Emma’s case, that meant assisting as a field tech last summer before being promoted to her leadership position.

“I was really grateful to come out here the year before to learn the ropes and how to set up the arrays and do all the bird handling and things like that,” she said.

Now, she’s in charge, arranging the schedule and making decisions while shouldering her personal research. “You work really hard, but you don’t have anyone breathing down your shoulder about it, so it’s all up to you to be self-motivated.”

On-site, it doesn’t seem like anybody needs much extra motivation. “This is sort of what I want to do as an actual career, wildlife conservation,” Christina said.
Why?

“Everyday you’ll do something new. Every day there’ll be something exciting that happens, even small things, and it’s never boring. You do feel satisfied with your job, even if you’re tired and muddy and really hungry at the end of the day, you still had a great time out in the marsh and got to interact with animals.”

A salt marsh sparrow nest, full of newly hatched babies, is nestled in the tall grasses at Barn Island WMA. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

A salt marsh sparrow nest, full of newly hatched babies, is nestled in the tall grasses at Barn Island WMA. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

 

View a video clip about the SHARP surveys at Barn Island

Read more about USFWS-funded avian science and the SHARP program

View more photos from the SHARP Barn Island survey

 

SCA intern Charlotte Murtishaw is part of the Service’s Hurricane Sandy youth story corps, which provides communications experience to college interns as a part of our agency’s commitment to engaging youth in conservation.