Tag Archives: Coastal resiliency

Aerial view of Long Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Highlights from America’s Biggest Conference on Coastal Restoration

There’s nothing a scientist likes more than sharing information – seeing the latest developments and getting feedback on their own work. And the recent Restoring America’s Estuaries Summit delivered just that.

In December 2016, 11 members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region attended the Restoring America’s Estuaries Summit in New Orleans. Together with partners, they chaired three full, oral sessions – an entire day’s worth of presentations – dedicated to showcasing Hurricane Sandy resiliency projects.  Topics covered sediment enrichment, wildlife impoundments, living shorelines, ditch legacies, our largest coastal resilience project and more.

Two FWS biologists – Laura Mitchell and Susan Adamowicz, Ph.D. – explain why this conference matters and what the future of coastal restoration looks like.

Aerial view of Long Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Aerial view of Long Island National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS

Q: Why is the Restoring America’s Estuaries Summit important?

Smiling faces at RAE summit 2016

USFWS staffers Paul Castelli, Laura Mitchell and Kevin Holcomb at RAE 2016. Credit: USFWS

Laura: Restoring America’s Estuaries (RAE) provides incredible networking opportunities as well as concurrent sessions jam-packed with cutting-edge coastal research, innovative restoration techniques and policy discussions.  The summit brings together a host of professionals involved in conserving and improving estuarine resources across the United States.

Susan: In 2014, USFWS biologists from the Northeast Region introduced our Hurricane Sandy Resiliency projects to the RAE community as concepts or early plans. This time we returned to the 2016 RAE Summit as leaders of some of the largest and most innovative salt marsh projects on the East Coast.  We had lots of practical experience to share, and we were also eager to hear feedback and lessons learned from other projects. In addition to our three oral sessions, we had a number of posters that provided additional information on our projects.


Dredging at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS

Q: What are some of the coastal resiliency projects that you find particularly exciting?

Laura: The Prime Hook NWR resiliency project is exciting, for a number of reasons.  First, it is the largest marsh restoration project on the East Coast. Second, the project combined multiple coastal restoration techniques, including barrier beach/back barrier platform restoration, thin-layer deposition of dredge material for marsh restoration, and restoration of miles of formerly blocked tidal marsh channels. Additionally, the refuge used innovative planting techniques, such as aerial seeding of native tidal marsh plants and using seed drills to restore native dune vegetation.

Susan: We have a total of 31 Hurricane Sandy-funded resiliency projects from Virginia to Massachusetts. This includes innovative work across the region, such as salt marsh integrity assessments, which are helping establish a baseline of current conditions for salt marshes across 15 different wildlife refuges. This is the first time we’ve had a single protocol to evaluate salt marshes. Through assessments like this, we can identify high quality salt marshes in order to protect and maintain them into the future.  We are also looking at where the future footprint of salt marshes might be and are exploring ways to facilitate marsh migration.

RAE 2016

USFWS staffers Matt Whitbeck and Susan Adamowicz at RAE 2016. Credit: USFWS

Q: Are there any new trends, topics or research in coastal restoration that you’re keeping an eye on right now?

Laura: I’m excited about the development of rapid assessment methods (including remote sensing) to determine which marshes are keeping pace with sea-level rise and which are not. There’s also thin-layer deposition of dredged material to enhance tidal marshes that are suffering elevation deficits, to extend their longevity – for instance, we’re using this technique in Rhode Island to raise marsh elevations.

Susan: We are always on the lookout for new restoration/resiliency techniques that may be useful to salt marshes in the Northeast. We also are looking for ways to reduce “human-induced stressors” such as excess nutrients, stormwater runoff, or low-lying roads that act as dikes.  Removal of these stressors, either alone or in conjunction with resiliency techniques, will provide salt marshes with a better chance at self-sustainability given low or moderate rates of sea-level rise.

RAE 2016

USFWS biologist Susan Guiteras at a poster session for RAE 2016. Credit: USFWS

Q: What do you think will be the top priorities for restoring coastal areas in the next few years?

Laura: I think enhancing “green infrastructure” at the water’s edge, such as living shorelines, permeable surfaces and bioswales, and relocating hard infrastructure will be hot topics.

Susan: Since Hurricane Sandy, we’ve come to understand that barrier islands and coastal marshes are naturally designed to be resilient and to protect our shores.  Continuing to remove prior alterations and restore more natural processes such as tidal flow, sedimentation and healthy vegetation will help maintain good quality marshes.  Where coastal systems have been highly altered, we see the need for larger/more extensive resiliency efforts.

Just as we, as a nation, are turning to the restoration of our built infrastructure (roads and bridges), we also need to be mindful of the natural infrastructure – coastal wetlands and barrier islands – that protect our shores and coastal communities.

Coastal marshes at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Credit: Kelly Fike/USFWS

Nature as protection for coastal towns in Massachusetts

The Great Marsh is a diverse ecosystem of barrier beaches, dunes, and bodies of water aptly named to recognize its nearly 10,000 acres of salt marshes — making it the largest marsh system north of Long Island, New York. Some of the largest migratory fish runs make their way through these shorelines, and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is a vital stop along the Atlantic Flyway Migratory route for numerous rare birds.

For surrounding towns, the marsh also provides critical protection for people and property.

The Great Marsh borders five Massachusetts coastal towns: Essex, Gloucester, Ipswich, Newbury, and Rowley. This coastal wetland acts as a natural buffer against the sea, and the towns surrounding it are recognizing the value the marsh has for public safety, tourism and revenue.

These towns have come together, joined by scientific experts, nonprofits, and partners, to create a community resiliency planning effort to facilitate strategic meetings as they work to create a long-term plan to mitigate the marsh’s vulnerabilities to flooding, storm surge and sea-level rise.

The Great Marsh

Scientists are looking for answers on how climate change will affect tidal estuaries in the Plum Island Estuary, also known as the Great Marsh.

The need to address these vulnerabilities is becoming increasingly necessary as the predicted threats of climate change begin to shape the coastline. Many coastal residents came face to face with these vulnerabilities in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy made landfall.

“A challenge,” said Taj Schottland of the National Wildlife Federation, “or area of opportunity, is the complex ownership and management [of the] landscape. All of the surrounding towns and partners own or manage land in the Great Marsh.” In order to work on the multiple projects being funded to increase resiliency in the marsh, they “had to reach out and engage stakeholders and investors.”

The integration of community planning alongside risk assessment of predicted increased future climate impacts is setting the Great Marsh community apart by linking ecological resiliency with community resiliency and emphasizing the use of nature as protection.

The Great Marsh, and other communities along the Atlantic Coast, are using nature-based measures to enhance their coastline.

Take, for instance, the challenge of erosion — one of the biggest threats to the local barrier beaches. Sea-level rise and increased storm surges are causing higher tides, leading to salinity problems in the marsh system. The deterioration of barrier beaches also threatens the security of the local community — according to Schottland, many of the neighborhoods that are built along this marsh will become inundated by 2030 if sea levels continue to rise as anticipated.


Salt marsh erosion is affecting communities all along the coast, including in Delaware Bay (pictured) as a result of sea-level rise. Extreme storms and floods are predicted to increase in the Northeast as a result of climate change. (Credit: Katie Conrad/US Fish and Wildlife Service)

A common solution to these sea-level changes would be to install gray infrastructure such as a man-made bulkhead. That could lead to “bad consequences as it degrades over time,” said Schottland. As an alternative, wildlife managers at Great Marsh are using nature-based measures such as beach nourishment and the planting of native vegetation.  By using sustainable solutions and working collaboratively, the entire North Shore community is able to benefit.

The creation of the community resiliency planning effort is only one example of the innovative solutions being brought to the Great Marsh. The restoration and reinforcement of over 325 acres of stable marshland and eelgrass vegetation is nearly complete through the use of beach nourishment and the planting of native plants.

Additional projects include the creation of a hydrodynamic model which will collect data usable by all the surrounding towns and partners to better understand sediments, salinity, and waterflow. Another collaborative effort will result in a risk analysis of the nearly 1,500 hydro-barriers such as dams and bridges in the area.

While many of the goals for restoration and resiliency are expected to be met by June 2017, these nature-based solutions and collaborative efforts will require monitoring and continued commitment from the community.

This strategy of adapting nature-based solutions in coastal resiliency extends outside of the planning done by the task force and has become a tool for innovation in the surrounding towns.

In Essex, one defining asset is the Essex River which leads to the Essex and Ipswich Bay. When the town was faced with having to dredge the river and remove the buildup of silt, the common practice was to dump the silt far offshore.

But Essex town administrator, Brendhan Zubricki — who has been an active part of the community planning effort since its inception — went in search of a nature-based solution. He and the town have been working with the Army Corp of Engineers and Massachusetts Coastal Zoning Management to create a feasibility study on how to reuse the organic material to build up new and current marshes.

As a town, he said that they “are most interested in using the natural environment to mitigate these natural effects [of coastal storms] by not having to build anything except green infrastructure.”

Coastal marshes at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Credit: Kelly Fike/USFWS

Coastal marshes at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Credit: Kelly Fike/USFWS

Restoring Stone Harbor for birds and community

A piping plover at Stone Harbor Point with dunlins in the background. Photo from Creative Commons, Flickr user John Beetham.

A piping plover at Stone Harbor Point with dunlins in the background. Photo from Creative Commons, Flickr user John Beetham.

Larry Niles holding two red knots. Photo courtesy of his blog, arubewithaview.com.

Larry Niles holding two red knots. Photo courtesy of his blog, arubewithaview.com.

Today we’re sharing updates from our partners NJ Audubon and Larry Niles, a private wildlife biologist blogging on the ongoing Stone Harbor Point project to restore 20 acres of habitat for piping plovers, American oystercatchers, red knots and other shorebirds.

NJ Audubon received a grant through National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program for the project, which is also supported by our agency, the Wetlands Institute, Conserve Wildlife Foundation, NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, Richard Stockton College of NJ Coastal Research Center, and the Borough of Stone Harbor.

At long last, the work began last Wednesday, when the first equipment slowly made its way to the Stone Harbor Point site. The point helps protect the Borough from damaging coastal storms and sea level rise, and the project will use local sand harvesting (no dredging or trucking in sand) to elevate and improve habitat quality for coastal birds and to reduce coastal flooding.

Boomer Heun, the supervising contractor and operator of every machine out here, stands in front of a bulldozer. Photo courtesy NJ Audubon/Larry Niles

Boomer Heun, the supervising contractor and operator of every machine out here, stands in front of a bulldozer. Photo courtesy NJ Audubon/Larry Niles

Last week, the team finished one of the three nesting and roosting habitats for piping plovers, oystercatchers, least terns and black skimmers. The habitat areas are about 2 to 3 feet above the surrounding area, keeping them safe from the infrequent but inevitable high tides that sweep the point during bad winds storms or New and Full moon tides. These floods have contributed to a failure of Stone Harbor nesting bird population.

The same elevated areas will provide roosting habitat for shorebirds that migrant through the area in the fall and the spring migrants that feed on horseshoe crab eggs on Delaware Bay. It’s not well known that, at times, most of the shorebirds, including the red knot, fly to Stone Harbor Point to find roosting habitat safe from the ground predators that roam throughout the Delaware Bay beaches and marsh at night. In some years the entire population of rufa red knots roost on Stone Harbor Point. The roosts have failed recently during the same extraordinary tides that destroy nests. Our work will help both groups of birds.

American oystercatchers at Stone Harbor Point. Photo from Creative Commons, Flickr user John Beetham.

American oystercatchers at Stone Harbor Point. Photo from Creative Commons, Flickr user John Beetham.

This part of the project aims to help people, too. As part of our team’s commitment to the community of Stone Harbor, we will fortify natural dunes that protect the southernmost part of the town. Nearly a quarter of all the sand we harvest from our borrow site at the tip of the point will be used to increase the height and width of an important dune that forms the best defense of the town’s south face. It’s our sincere hope this project will help this town face the dangers of coastal storms.

The trucks have been moving about 3,000 to 4,000 cubic yards per day! Photo courtesy NJ Audubon/Larry Niles

The trucks have been moving about 3,000 to 4,000 cubic yards per day! Photo courtesy NJ Audubon/Larry Niles

Even though the cold wind makes life difficult and continues to wear away at the habitat areas, it also helps. The deep freeze helps firm the sand making it more resistant to the punishing winds. The frozen beach also provide firm footing for the all terrain dump trucks. With loads of over 30 tons, a hard frozen sand roadway improves fuel efficiency by 50% and saves valuable time.

Keep up with the project at NJ Audubon’s site!