Tag Archives: Hurricane Sandy resilience project

Wreck Pond culvert and fish passage

Improving Habitat and Protecting Communities at Wreck Pond

This guest post was written by Zack Royle, Habitat Restoration Coordinator for the American Littoral Society, as part of our #StrongerCoast campaign. Here, Zack describes the work being done to restore a coastal pond in Spring Lake, NJ.

On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey. The strong winds, driving rain, and (perhaps most critically) high storm surge caused wide-spread destruction. Roads and residences were flooded in the small Jersey Shore community of Spring Lake. The storm also cut an inlet into Wreck Pond, a 73-acre coastal pond situated on the town’s southern border. That may have marked the first time a natural inlet connected the pond to the Atlantic Ocean since the original inlet was replaced by pipe during the 1930s.

Wreck Pond culvert and fish passage

A view from Spring Lake Beach, NJ, of the completed 600 foot fish passage culvert and 800 foot pipe that connect Wreck Pond to the Atlantic Ocean. Photo Credit: American Littoral Society

In the past, Wreck Pond was known as a fishing and recreational hotspot. Locals speak fondly of catching large “stripers” from the 1st Avenue and Railroad Bridges, and tell stories of kids swimming and playing in the warm waters. Old-timers also speak of the river herring (alewife and blueback herring) runs. In early spring, hundreds of river herring would migrate into Wreck Pond, travelling up its tributaries to spawn.

However, Wreck Pond became notorious in recent years for pollution and flooding. Even a small rain could push out enough bacteria to force a beach closure, while strong storms often resulted in damaged homes and property around the pond.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) funded and partnered with the American Littoral Society to restore and improve the Wreck Pond inlet. Because the natural opening made by Hurricane Sandy was filling fast, it was decided that the natural inlet created by the storm would be too costly to maintain. Instead, project partners pursued the installation of a box culvert specifically designed for fish passage.

As in other areas along the Atlantic Coast, the number of spawning river herring in Wreck Pond had drastically decreased, with evidence pointing to the current pipe as a contributing factor since it limited fish passage, particularly after it was extended in the early 2000s.

“I have been sampling Wreck Pond for river herring since 2006 when the original pipe was extended out to 800 feet and have seen a decrease in abundance,” said Captain Al Modjeski, Habitat Restoration Program Director for the Society. “I am sure there are multiple reasons behind the decrease, but by adding the secondary culvert, we will be able to improve access for fish and hopefully begin restoring river herring local populations.”

Fish sampling at Wreck Pond

Capt. Al Modjeski and a volunteer collect fish from a fyke net during a spring fish sampling event in search for adult river herring. Photo credit: American Littoral Society

As an added bonus, the box culvert was designed to not only facilitate better fish passage, but also improve water quality through increased tidal flushing while reducing the risk of flooding for local residents. Recognizing these benefits, additional local, state, and private partners joined the project to secure further funding and add additional project components such as dredging and living shorelines.

“Basically, what came from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy was our [Spring Lake’s] ability and the ability of all government agencies involved to include Federal, state, county, local, and non-profits to collaboratively address community needs and work together to quickly find solutions that would improve the resiliency of the communities associated with Wreck Pond and maximize benefits from governmental funding,” said Spring Lake Borough Administrator Bryan Dempsey. “We were able to plan, fund, and implement a restoration project that helped people, improved agency interaction, and allowed for common goals to be reached more efficiently and effectively.”

In November 2016, the box culvert was completed. Its ability to provide flood mitigation was quickly tested early the next year when a large Nor’easter hit the region on March 14. Despite the significant rainfall and high storm surge, the pond did not overflow into the surrounding neighborhood and no properties were damaged by Wreck Pond flooding.

Wreck Pond culvert section

One of several sections of the 5.5’ x 8.5’ x 600’ culvert installed that connects Wreck Pond to the Atlantic Ocean. Photo Credit: American Littoral Society

The ecological impact of the culvert is currently being assessed. The Society has monitored river herring in Wreck Pond since 2014 and there are prior surveys from 2006 to 2008 that provide older reference. While it will take time to quantify a change in river herring abundance or fish community assemblage post construction, early results appear to show an increase of species entering Wreck Pond, with large schools of Atlantic menhaden and snapper bluefish seen near the pond-side culvert entrance. In addition, pinfish, needlefish, and larger fluke appear to be more abundant.

Zack Royle, Habitat Restoration Coordinator for the Society, has noted that “several young-of-year alewife were recently caught near the culvert by seine, presumably preparing to make their egress into the Atlantic Ocean. This is exciting news and gives proof that habitat upstream is suitable for spawning and that the culvert was needed.”

tagging alewife at Wreck Pond

Zack Royle tags an adult river herring with a PIT tag during a spring fish sampling event. Photo Credit: American Littoral Society

This project has also allowed the Society to engage the community, both through educational outreach to local schools and a citizen science monitoring program, as well as through the creation of a dedicated website. The Society has provided in-class lessons to approximately 500 students from St. Catherine School, Monmouth County’s Communications High School, St. Rose High School, and Wall High School. These in-class lessons are coupled with field trips that provide students with hands on experience conducting different types of scientific monitoring.

These engagement efforts have been well received by students and community members. It is helping to connect people to their local environment, and foster an appreciation for the natural world around them and the services it provides.

“I remember old timers talk about the stripers they’d catch there when a natural inlet existed prior to the Army Corps of Engineers sealing it up,” said Michael Perry a local resident trained as a citizen scientist to help monitor Wreck Pond. “After that it turned rancid and subjected south Spring Lake to damaging floods. The new culvert has helped mitigate these problems, so it’s exciting to witness the recovery and new vitality of the estuary.”

According to a note from Communications High School teacher Jeanine Gomez to Julie Schumacher, Habitat Restoration Technician for the Society: “The kids really enjoyed you (the Society) coming into the classroom and were so excited to get in the field. The ability to get students out and in the field helped to recharge my own love of teaching.”

The citizen science monitoring program, which was developed in October 2016, currently has over fifty volunteers helping the Society monitor water quality and tide elevation. This program provides important information that can be used to better assess the health of Wreck Pond post construction.

The work is far from done. Wreck Pond and the larger Wreck Pond Brook Watershed still face several ecological challenges. The Society and USFWS are committed to building upon the success of this project to overcome those challenges. Already, the USFWS and Society are working to install a fish ladder over Old Mill Pond Dam. This will open up almost an additional one mile of spawning habitat for river.

construction of fish passage at Wreck Pond

Workers from Simpson & Brown install the sheet piling of a coffer dam needed to construct the fish passage culvert. Photo Credit: American Littoral Society

“The federal, state, county, municipal and volunteer efforts to restore the pond as a habitat for native and migratory fish plus waterfowl is unprecedented,” said Jay Amberg of Seagirt Department of Public Works.

With the culvert project and upcoming fish ladder, along with effective monitoring and outreach, Wreck Pond can once again become a healthy, ecologically vibrant coastal pond supporting a large spawning river herring population, a diverse community of fishes, and an active, engaged population of men, women, and children that can and will enjoy the natural benefits it provides.

Rediscovering Muddy Creek


Young paddlers exploring Muddy Creek. Credit: Christine deSilva/christinedesilvia.com

Paddlers have a brand new destination in Chatham and Harwich, MA, thanks to a wetland restoration project that was completed last May. The USFWS Northeast Region and its partners re-opened a previously isolated tidal wetland, providing easy access for kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. This site has quickly become a popular destination for paddlers. Throughout the summer and fall, many enjoyed the tranquility of quietly exploring the newly opened tidal marshes along the shores of Muddy Creek.


A look upriver into Muddy Creek. Credit: Susan Wojtowicz/USFWS

“This project has provided new access to a site with surprisingly little disturbance because it was so inaccessible historically. The banks to the creek are very steep, poison ivy is everywhere and there is no public boat launch,” explains Sarah Griscom, an analyst for the Town of Chatham’s Water Quality Laboratory and Science Director at Pleasant Bay Community Boating.

“There is much bird life, including osprey, great blue and green herons and kingfishers. A long stretch of the narrow creek gives you a sense of being away from civilization, with no houses or roads in view. The most striking sound is the piercing rattle of the kingfishers as they curse every intruder that paddles by their perch.”


USFWS Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber posing with partners at the project’s dedication event. Credit: David Eisenhaur/USFWS

The success of this project is not only measured by environmental benefits, which are certainly plentiful, but by overwhelming partner and community support for the project. It has been easy to gain support for a project that will provide so many amazing benefits to the community, as well as to the environment.

The project involved the removal of an embankment with twin culverts that had been in place for over 100 years, blocking the tides from entering the marshes and greatly restricting flow into the upper reaches of the narrow, 1 kilometer-long creek. Without the daily flushing of tidal ocean water, the area had become stagnant with poor water quality, ruining historic shellfish beds and blocking migratory fish (herring and eel) attempting to travel to and from the ocean.


Aerial view of Muddy Creek wetland restoration project. Credit: Town of Chatham

The embankment and culverts have now been replaced by a bridge, allowing sea water to flow into Muddy Creek once more. This will restore the estuarine and subtidal wetlands, improving water quality and enhancing the system’s natural defenses against storm surge in the future. And it has already provided public access to a site difficult to reach before the bridge was constructed.


Muddy Creek Explorers collecting water quality data. Credit: Christine deSilva/ christinedesilva.com

Griscom has observed the environmental and community benefits that the bridge construction has brought about first hand. For the past two years, she has been running Muddy Creek Explorers, a summer educational program provided through Pleasant Bay Community Boating, Inc., that teaches students ages 9-16 how to collect and analyze water quality data as well as encouraging environmental stewardship. Students work in small teams to collect data at several sites about water temperature, salinity (the amount of salt), turbidity (how cloudy the water is), and dissolved oxygen levels. At the end of each class the students graph their data, make a short presentation to the other teams and their families and compare their results to years of data collected by the Pleasant Bay Alliance citizen scientists.


This young scientist is using a secchi disk to test water turbidity in Muddy Creek. Credit: Christine deSilva/christinedesilva.com

The first season that the program was run, the bridge had not yet been constructed. During that time, Muddy Creek was very difficult to access and it was necessary to gain permission to cross private property to reach the creek. Students rowed small dinghies that were brought to the site for each class.

Griscom reflects, “For years, the upper reaches of Muddy Creek contained 10 times the nutrients found in the outer Pleasant Bay. Algal growth was extreme and caused large fluctuations in the dissolved oxygen levels. As the algae decayed the mud provided a periodic rotten egg stench. It was a stressful place for any bottom-dwelling organisms to eke out a living in the creek. The kids explored and most understood that it was not a healthy system.”


Students plot their water quality data in graphs to make it easier to visualize their results. Credit: Christine deSilva/christinedesilva.com

By the following summer, the new bridge was already in place. In fact, by working with the state Department of Transportation’s Accelerated Bridge Program, the bridge was built and installed in just 5 months, a huge relief to local motorists! This gave the Muddy Creek Explorers a much simpler way to access Muddy Creek, which was already showing signs of rejuvenation.

“In less than a few months, water clarity improved, salinity levels increased and large swings in the dissolved oxygen levels seem to have stabilized,” explains Griscom. “But time will tell. The ecosystem as a whole is in the early stages of equilibrating to these new conditions. The larger tidal range has already killed some plants along the edges of the creek, as was expected, but this will allow new marshlands to develop over time. Muddy Creek is an unfolding story.”


Muddy Creek Explorers displaying their data, Credit: Sarah Griscom

Official nutrient data for the Muddy Creek restoration project are currently being analyzed by the marine laboratory at UMass, Dartmouth. These results are expected to be released by the springtime. However, citizen science projects like those conducted by the Pleasant Bay Alliance and by stewardship programs such as the Muddy Creek Explorers can give us a good overview of the progress we are making in improving water and habitat quality in Muddy Creek. Along the way, they are providing a shining example of what can be gained when partnerships truly work together, among themselves and the community, to improve natural places for the benefit of both people and wildlife.

The Muddy Creek Restoration Project was funded in large part by federal sources, including the Hurricane Sandy coastal resilience grants from the Department of the Interior, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Habitat Conservation Program. The remainder of the funding was provided by the state Division of Ecological Restoration, the Town of Chatham, and the Town of Harwich.

For more information, please check out the following links:

USFWS Muddy Creek Restoration Project Website

Pleasant Bay Alliance

Pleasant Bay Community Boating, Inc.


Video: Time-Lapse of Hughesville Dam Removal

Update summer 2017: American shad have already returned to the Musconetcong River after the removal of Hughesville Dam! State wildlife biologist Pat Hamilton shared this “thrilling” news with NPR reporters – read the story – and then watch the video below of the dam coming down. 

Dim the lights, turn up the music and help us celebrate the take-down of Hughesville Dam on the Musconetcong River in New Jersey! The entire dam removal took nearly three months, but you can watch the sped-up version here.

Removal of the 150-foot-long and 18-foot-tall dam in Pohatcong, NJ, is a major success for all who love and care about the mighty Musconetcong. A designated “National Wild and Scenic” river, the Musky flows for 42 miles through the state and is a popular place for fishing, boating and swimming. Hughesville is the fifth dam to be removed as part of a larger partner-based effort to restore the Musky to a free-flowing state.

Removal of the dam is projected to provide $2.5 million in economic benefits – including increased access for sportfishing – and reduce flood risk to nearby communities. The project was supported by many partners and funded largely by the USFWS through the Department of the Interior (DOI) under the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013.

In September 2016, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell toured the project, calling it a “model for collaborative conservation,” and joined a roundtable discussion about dam removals.  Since completion of the dam removal, volunteers with the Musconetcong Watershed Association have helped restore the site by planting trees along the river banks to serve as a buffer and help keep the water clean.

Congrats to all the people and partners involved in making this project a success!

Hughesville Dam removal event

USFWS staff, partners and community members pose with Sally Jewell at the Hughesville Dam removal event on Sept. 8, 2016. Credit: USFWS