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 Bay, Julie 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.