Tag Archives: resilience

Three Years After Sandy: Building a Stronger Atlantic Coast

Three years ago this week, Hurricane Sandy devastated communities along the Atlantic Coast with record storm surge, fierce winds and torrential rain. Earlier this month Hurricane Joaquin again reminded us of nature’s power, inundating much of the Atlantic Seaboard with heavy rains and chest-deep floodwaters and setting historic records in the Carolinas. And only days ago, Hurricane Patricia — the most powerful tropical cyclone ever measured in the Western Hemisphere with maximum sustained winds of 200 m.p.h. — threatened the coast of Mexico before weakening significantly after landfall.

Visit doi.gov/hurricanesandy to learn more about how Department of the Interior investments are helping to build a stronger Atlantic Coast three years after Hurricane Sandy.

In this age of uncertainty we have come to expect the unexpected. The science tells us that climate change will cause hurricanes and tropical storms to become more intense — lasting longer, unleashing stronger winds, and causing more damage to coastal ecosystems and communities. The question is, what can we do to help coastal areas stand stronger against the storm?

An aerial view of coastal damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in Mantoloking, NJ. Credit: Greg Thompson/USFWS

An aerial view of coastal damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in Mantoloking, NJ. Credit: Greg Thompson/USFWS

Federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery has spurred an unprecedented effort to strengthen natural defenses along the Atlantic Coast to protect communities and wildlife against future storms. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other Department of the Interior agencies are investing $787 million in hundreds of projects to clean up and repair damaged refuges and parks; restore coastal marshes, wetlands and shoreline; connect and open waterways to improve flood control; and increase our scientific understanding of how these natural areas are changing.

The Service is investing $167 million in more than 70 projects to clean up refuges, restore and strengthen coastal areas (marshes and beaches), connect and open waterways for better fish passage and flood protection and support other efforts to protect wildlife and communities from future storms. These investments support the goal of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to make communities more resilient to increasingly intense storms predicted with a changing climate. They also create jobs and provide opportunities for fishing, hiking, wildlife watching and other recreational opportunities. Here are a few projects that have been completed or are under way:

Cleanup of post-Hurricane Sandy debris, removed from coastal marshes at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in southern New Jersey made possible through Department of the Interior funding. Credit: (before) Ryan Hagerty/USFWS, (after) Virginia Rettig/USFWS

Post-Hurricane Sandy debris removal from the coastal marshes of Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in southern New Jersey, made possible through Department of the Interior funding. Credit: (before) Ryan Hagerty/USFWS, (after) Virginia Rettig/USFWS

  • In New Jersey, we’ve completed a $13 million debris removal project at E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge to clean up more than 32,000 acres of saltmarsh and coastal habitat. The project removed 1,900 tons of debris from 22 miles of coastline and employed more than 100 workers. Removing the debris allows coastal areas to recover, providing healthier habitat for native wildlife while acting as a buffer against future storms.
  • In Maryland, we’re constructing 20,950 feet of living shoreline to protect marshes at Fog Point, a coastal section of Maryland’s Glenn Martin National Wildlife Refuge in Smith Island. The $9 million project will help protect more than 1,000 acres of interior tidal high marsh, sheltered water, submerged aquatic vegetation and clam beds against the effects of future storms. It also will enhance the natural defenses of saltwater habitats important to the island’s soft crab fishery, a natural resource local Smith Island residents depend on for their livelihoods.  

Learn more about the Fog Point living shoreline project in this video.

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge marsh restoration - dredge work to drain flooded marsh CREDIT David Eisenhauer

Dredge work drains a flooded marsh in Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, part of an ongoing $38 million marsh restoration effort in Delaware. Credit: David Eisenhauer/USFWS

  • In Delaware, we’ve invested $38 million in a marsh restoration effort under way to build storm and sea-level rise resilience into the natural landscape at Delaware’s Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The project is repairing breached marshes and reconstructing severely damaged shoreline, including critical dune restoration. Restored marshes at the refuge will provide a more resilient coast against future storms and create additional habitat for birds, including American oystercatchers and federally listed species such as rufa red knots and piping plovers. Along with the restoration of coastal wildlife habitat, the project provides the added benefit of enhanced storm protection for nearby residents.
Removal of the White Rock dam in Westerly, R.I. and Stonington, Conn. open up close to 25 miles of the Pawcatuck River and associated wetlands for migrating American shad, alewife, blueback herring, American eel, and sea-run trout. Credit: USFWS

Removal of the White Rock dam in Westerly, R.I. and Stonington, Conn. opens up close to 25 miles of the Pawcatuck River and associated wetlands for migrating American shad, alewife, blueback herring, American eel, and sea-run trout. Credit: USFWS

  • In Connecticut and Rhode Island, we worked with The Nature Conservancy to remove White Rock dam. The $794,000 project will reduce flood risk to local communities, restore habitat for fish and wildlife and open up several dozen miles of  fish passage in the Pawcatuck River for the first time in nearly 250 years. It is among 13 Hurricane Sandy-funded  projects to remove dams or  evaluate them for removal in four states.

Three years after Hurricane Sandy, communities, government and nonprofit organizations are working together like never before to better understand and adapt to changing conditions. Clearly it will take time and careful planning before we see a return on many of these investments. But the Service is confident the long-term benefits of building a stronger coast will far outweigh initial costs when it comes to protecting communities, sustaining wildlife and lessening the financial impact of damages resulting from future intense storms. To that end, we are establishing systems to carefully monitor and evaluate our progress to ensure this work is effective and lasting. The nature we care about and the public we serve deserve no less.

You can track the status of our projects and investments by visiting the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hurricane Sandy website at www.fws.gov/hurricane/sandy/

Protecting People, Helping Fish and Wildlife

Georgia Basso, Service biologist for the Service's Southern new England-New York Bight Coastal program pictured here in

Service biologist Georgia Basso enjoys working with local youth to ignite a passion for nature. Credit: USFWS

Situated on the Jeremy River in Colchester, Conn., Norton Paper Mill is attached to one of several dams set for demolition. The mill building could be written into the pages of a Stephen King novel: fires and neglect have gutted much of the interior; the dilapidated roof is beyond repair; and surges of water shoot from cracks in the building’s foundation, becoming vertical geysers.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Georgia Basso, who is working with the Service’s Coastal Program to assess the removal of Pond Lily dam in Connecticut, says in the event of a big storm like Sandy, an obsolete structure like the Norton Mill dam could easily collapse, cause major flooding and create numerous threats for both wildlife and people.  

“Connecticut River native fish—such as alewife, blueback herring and Atlantic salmon—don’t have access to their spawning grounds because of these dams.” – Georgia Basso, Service biologist

Eastern Brook trout will also enjoy the benefits of having habitat access restored by the removal of Norton Mill dam in Colchester, Conn.  Credit: Robert S. Michelson of Photography By Michelson, Inc Brook trout

The Eastern Brook trout is one of several species of fish that will be free to move throughout the Jeremy River in Conn. – once Norton Mill dam is removed. Credit: Robert S. Michelson of Photography By Michelson, Inc Brook trout

Bolstered by nearly $102 million in federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery, the Service is working with partners to strengthen natural defenses that can help protect Atlantic Coast communities against future storms. Part of that strategy includes removing or evaluating 13 dams in 14 states. Nearly $7 million alone is being invested for on-the-ground conservation projects in Connecticut. These include five dam removal projects designed to create healthy habitats for fish and other wildlife, as well as reduce the risk of flooding to communities.  


Signs of restoration could be immediate instream – according to Service biologist Phil Herzig – once demolition is complete. Fish could be migrating within in a day or two. Atlantic salmon photo credit: USFWS

Service fisheries biologist Phil Herzig leads Sandy-funded dam removal projects for Norton Mill and Flock Process dams in Connecticut. According to Herzig, once a dam breaks, tons of built up water and sediment would be released into the surrounding areas. The damage and flooding caused could be monumental.  

Herzig says removing dams allows rivers to behave like rivers and gives fish an opportunity to live out their natural life cycle.

“Rivers tend to self-regulate if they’re healthy,” he says. “The benefit for fish and wildlife would be passage. Terrestrials as well as aquatics can move up and down without impediment.”   The result is a win- win investment to protect communities and help fish and wildlife.

Through the eyes of the interns: E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

During the summer of 2014, interns at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey focused on monitoring piping plover and other beach nesting birds, as well as conducting salt marsh inventories and forest surveys.  Along the way, interns also banded Canada geese, wood ducks, salt marsh sparrows and ospreys, collected tiger beetles, and entered and proofed lots of data!  Much of the data collected by interns this summer will serve as a baseline for evaluating Hurricane Sandy resilience restoration and enhancement work that will begin next year.  The accompanying video was put together by the 2014 intern staff to document this work. Enjoy!