Tag Archives: Hurricane Sandy resilience project

Eric Schrading and Katie Conrad at Gandy's Beach

People Behind a Stronger Coast: Eric Schrading and Katie Conrad

It’s a windy day at Gandy’s Beach, on the Delaware Bay side of the New Jersey coast, and everyone is having a hard time keeping their hats on. The waves are choppy, kicking up plenty of surf – the perfect weather for witnessing the benefits of the living shoreline oyster reef recently built here.

“When a wave hits, there are a lot of nooks and crannies in the reef that dissipate the wave throughout the whole structure or deflect it to the sides or down,” explains Eric Schrading, supervisory biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s field office in New Jersey. “But none of that energy is forced into one particular direction, and that’s what the key is behind these – there’s a variety of directions that the wave energy can be dissipated.”

Schrading is standing on the shore with fellow FWS biologist Katie Conrad and Nature Conservancy partner Moses Katkowski. They are some of the key players behind the living shoreline project at Gandy’s Beach to repair and build coastal resiliency in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The project is funded with $880,000 from the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013.

The living shoreline oyster reef, located just offshore, creates a natural defense system against the ongoing erosion and flooding that plague this coastline and community. Historical records indicate the Gandy’s Beach shoreline has eroded by 500 feet since the 1930s – and, with climate change bringing more frequent and intense storms and rising seas, the rate of erosion is likely to pick up.

“All the wave energy goes up on the beach or, where there’s little beach, it hits the marsh mostly at the roots,” explains Schrading. “So it just keeps hitting over and over again, and creates this scalloping effect where it takes away the soil underneath the vegetation, the vegetation then slumps in and you have continued erosion.”

Since 2014, the partners – along with help from dozens of volunteers – have built more than 3,000 feet of living shoreline oyster reefs along the coast at Gandy’s. Once in place, the structures recruit new oysters and eventually build up to be a self-sustaining reef system.

“We’ve been surprised at how many oysters have been recruited since we started this project,” says Conrad. “We put out pilot reefs in the summer of 2014 and they accumulated a lot of oysters.”

Hurricane Sandy dealt a massive blow to Gandy’s Beach and surrounding areas, so making this coastline more resilient to future storms is crucial. The living shoreline protects about one mile of sandy beach and adjacent salt marsh and is projected to reduce incoming wave energy by up to 40 percent.

“Maybe with major hurricanes these structures themselves won’t do much, because everything’s going to be under water, the structures will be 12 feet underwater,” acknowledges Schrading.

“But on days like today you see their value because you have a strong fetch that comes across the bay, and the first thing that it hits is the sandy beach or the marsh areas. But if you have these living structures in place, it basically takes that energy out of the wave before it hits the beach – it reduces a lot of wave force, which causes erosion in the first place.”

This is the fourth in a series of photo slideshows highlighting the people who have been working to defend their coastal ecosystems against storms in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. In previous weeks we have looked at Matt Whitbeck and Miles Simmons, combating climate change in the Chesapeake BayJulie Devers, assessing fish barriers and culverts in Maryland, and Kevin Holcomb and Amy Ferguson building living shorelines at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

You can view the continuation of this series and other news regarding our restoration and recovery projects on our website.

Randy Dettmers shares a bird caught during a mist netting demonstration at Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge with a local high school student .

People Behind a Stronger Coast: Randy Dettmers

A few undergraduate semesters spent writing code in dark and dreary basements provided enough evidence for Randy Dettmers that computer science was not the career path he was destined to follow. This valuable lesson paired with his general interests in biology and conservation blossomed into a career revolving around the protection of wildlife species, where his interests were able to take flight.

Randy Dettmers shares a bird caught during a mist netting demonstration at Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge with a local high school student .

Dr. Randy Dettmers introduces a local high school student to bird conservation techniques at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

Today Dettmers is a senior wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service focusing on neotropical migrants, songbirds, and raptors. He’s been with the Service since 1999, and has spent all 16 of those years with the Migratory Bird program.

As the designated landbird biologist, Dettmers’ job is to follow population trends of landbirds. He tracks which species are declining most rapidly and heading toward the point where they may need to be considered for endangered species listing.

“My job is to identify the species that are headed in the wrong direction and try to develop management plans to get those species heading in a better direction,” he says. Dettmers also fosters relationships with the Service’s various conservation partners, federal and state agencies, and NGOs. These groups help implement management activities to supplement those developed by the Service.

Randy Dettmers conducting a Bicknell's Thrush survey on Mt. Osceola in New Hampshire's White Mountains.

Dettmers conducts a Bicknell’s thrush survey on Mt. Osceola in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Credit: USFWS

Currently much of Dettmers time has been focused on the Bicknell’s thrush, a bird that breeds in the mountains of New England and Eastern Canada and migrates to the Dominican Republic and Haiti during the winter months. Significant deforestation in the Caribbean has severely limited the wintering habitat available to this species. Studies have documented Bicknell’s thrush population declines of 7% in the White Mountains of New Hampshire from 1993-2000 and 15% in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia from 2002-2009.

“In the Dominican Republic, the estimates tell us that they have about 10 percent of the forest cover that they did historically, and even less than that on the Haiti side of the island.”

While parts of the Bicknell’s thrush habitat in New England and Canada currently remain protected through national forests and state parks, Dettmers’ has been working with the Dominican government to expand that progress in the southern portion of the bird’s range.

“We’ve developed a conservation plan that addresses continuing to protect a lot of Bicknell thrush habitat and the breeding ground,” he says.

credit Chris Elphick

Scientists track a Nelson’s sparrow and a saltmarsh sparrow at Barn Island in Conn., part of the Hurricane Sandy-funded tidal marsh bird resilience research project.  Credit: Chris Elphick/Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

In addition to his work with the Migratory Bird program, Dettmers also serves as the project officer for a $1.5 million Hurricane Sandy-funded project involving the Service’s Migratory Bird and Refuges programs, as well as five universities across the Northeast. The project goal is to monitor the response of birds that breed in salt marshes that have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Project partners also monitor the birds’ response to the coastal resilience work being done across the region, especially on national wildlife refuges.

“The project is looking at how both the abundance and reproductive success of saltmarsh birds changed from before to after Sandy, and is in the process of tracking how birds respond to the coastal resilience work being implemented in saltmarshes,” Dettmers says.

In between managing projects that conserve neotropical bird populations, Randy finds time to lead demonstrations in bird banding techniques. A recent bird education mission took Dettmers to Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge. Here, he led a trip for nine local high school girls, teaching bird banding and mist netting techniques with fellow wildlife biologist, Mitch Hartley.

Students help dismantle bird nets at the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

Dettmers teaches students how to dismantle bird nets at the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

“We look for opportunities to give demonstrations of how we go about catching birds and banding them, and how we use the information to understand their life history and the things that are affecting the populations,” says Dettmers. He says he believes it’s a worthy experience for a child or high school student to see a bird up close, in the palm of their hand. And through his research and expertise, he has made this experience possible for many curious young scientists.

In his 16 years as wildlife biologist, Dettmers has applied his knowledge of wildlife and conservation to make a difference for many bird species.

“I get to focus on trying to identify species with populations that are declining, and for most of them, we still have time to do something about their decline before they get to the point of maybe becoming an endangered species.” – Dr. Randy Dettmers

Seeds of Success Interns at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware

Building a Stronger Coast — One Seed at a Time

Seeds of Success, a native seed collection program led by the Bureau of Land Management, is helping to restore and strengthen coastal areas vulnerable to intense storms and sea-level rise predicted with a changing climate.

Seeds of Success: Bureau of Land Management Intern in North Carolina Field

Seeds of Success: A Bureau of Land Management intern on the lookout for native seeds in a North Carolina field. Credit: Amanda Faucette, Conservation Botanist, North Carolina Botanical Garden

Seeds of Success (SOS) collects wildland native seed for research, development, germplasm conservation and ecosystem restoration. The ultimate goal is to ensure the availability of genetically rich, regionally adapted native plant materials to restore, rehabilitate and stabilize lands in the United States through the multi-stage process of native plant material development (NPMD).  NPMD begins with these wildland seed collections being utilized for plant production and seed increases.  In this way, when environmental restoration projects need native species to plant in a given region, they are able to source genetically and ecologically appropriate materials, which ultimately supports the goal of allowing native plant communities to flourish and fish and wildlife habitats to thrive.

Seeds of Success: Michael Piantedosi

Michael Piantedosi, NEPCop/Seed Bank Coordinator of New England Wild Flower Society collects Asclepias syriaca at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Newington, New Hampshire. Credit: James Lucas, Seeds of Success Intern, New England Wild Flower Society

Since being established in 2001, SOS has added more than two dozen agencies to its list of collaborators and project partners — including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The program recently launched the first large-scale, coordinated seed banking effort in the eastern United States as part of the $360 million in federal Hurricane Sandy mitigation funding the Department of the Interior is using to restore and rebuild national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other federal assets on the Atlantic coast. SOS East targets 30-50 foundation species found in habitats most impacted by Hurricane Sandy, designed to increase the capacity of coastal habitats and infrastructure to better withstand storms.

Under the SOS East program, the New England Wild Flower Society, North Carolina Botanical Garden, Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank (part of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation), Chicago Botanic Garden, and the Cape May Plant Materials Center, are collaborating to provide seed from native, locally adapted plants for restoration of sub-tidal habitats and dunes, wetlands, salt marshes, near-coastal freshwater habits, coastal forests, and inland rivers and streams. Much of the vegetation in these habitats was inundated by salt water, smothered sand, or washed out to sea during Hurricane Sandy.

Bureau of Land Management Intern collecting Pluchea odorata (Sweetscent) at Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Galloway, NJ

BLM Intern collecting Pluchea odorata (Sweetscent) at Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Galloway, New Jersey. Credit: Clara Holmes, Seed Collection Coordinator, Mid Atlantic Regional Seed Bank

During the next two years, SOS East will work directly with the Service, providing native seeds to supplement Hurricane Sandy habitat resiliency projects.  In its first collection season, teams have made over 700 wild seed collections. Currently 28 federally funded Service Hurricane Sandy restoration projects from Maine to Virginia are using native plant materials gathered through SOS. Among these is the Hyde Pond Dam Removal on Whitford Brook in Mystic, Connecticut.

“Following dam removal, project partners will sow these seeds collected from local, native plants on bare soil to help hold the soils in place, preempt colonization by invasive, non-native plants, and provide habitat for pollinator insects, birds, and other wildlife,” says Service fish and wildlife biologist Lori Benoit.

Benoit says the New England Wild Flower Society will make a significant contribution to restoring the wetlands and forest surrounding the Hyde Pond Dam site.

Another Service project reaping the benefits of the SOS East project is salt marsh restoration and enhancement at Seatuck and Wertheim National Wildlife Refuges, and Lido Beach Wildlife Management Area in Long Island, N.Y. Collaborating with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank (MARSB), project partners will sow native low and high salt marsh plant species.

Seeds of Success Interns at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware

Seeds of Success interns harvesting marsh grass seeds at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware. Credit: Susan Guiteras/USFWS

In addition to benefiting coastal natural resources, SOS partners provide opportunities for recent college graduates to get involved in the program by hiring interns, through Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation Land Management Program, to help out with seed collection. These interns get the opportunity to venture out into the field in search for seed, often accessing remote coastal areas. A team of SOS interns in Delaware spent time collecting native seeds for many plants, including those that will be planted at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge as part of tidal marsh restoration. This is one example of intern participation in an SOS partner project, collecting native seeds that will help to ensure that the restoration plantings include local ecotypes, which can be important for plant survival and success.

“Using locally-collected seeds will give the new plants the best chance for success, as they will be well-adapted for local growing conditions,” says Bart Wilson, the Service’s marsh restoration coordinator at Prime Hook.

To date, SOS has accumulated more than 16,000 native seed collections in its national collection. Each seed has played its own role in bringing native species back to life in areas where their populations have been depleted. Acting as thousands of little building blocks, these seeds and the people who collect, distribute, and nourish them into living species are working together to impact ecosystems effected by Sandy as well as habitats all over the country.

To learn more about this program, visit:
Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank

Bureau of Land Management Seeds of Success Program 

New England Wild Flower Society: Seed Collection for Coastal Restoration Projects after Hurricane Sandy

North Carolina Botanical Garden news release: Seeds of Success Grow in the Eastern U.S. (pdf)