Tag Archives: #StrongAfterSandy

At Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Mother Knows Best

A new video from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers an overview of the coastline and salt marsh restoration at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge on Delaware Bay. “Building a Stronger Coast: Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge” is a behind-the-scenes look at how engaged partners and visionary science came together to improve conditions for wildlife and the local community.

After Hurricane Sandy breached the beach at Prime Hook, spilling salt water into an area long managed as a freshwater marsh, refuge staff decided to work with Mother Nature to build a stronger coast.

“We know that we’re going to see more-frequent intense storms,” said Refuge Manager Al Rizzo, “so we didn’t want to put it back into a situation that was vulnerable to the next storm.” Credit: Citizen Racecar

The $38-million project, supported by federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery, rebuilt 4,000 acres of marsh and one mile of dune and barrier beach over 18 months. The restoration, one of the largest and most complex of its kind on the Atlantic Coast, enhances habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. It also makes the coast more resilient to future storms and sea-level rise.

A suction-cutterhead dredge expands the width and depth of one of the primary channels in the marsh. Credit: USFWS

The refuge is an important stopover site for migratory shorebirds, including federally threatened rufa red knots, which rest and refuel there during their long migrations along the Atlantic Coast. Delaware Bay also has the world’s largest population of horseshoe crabs, which spawn in the spring. The birds can eat their fill of the crab eggs, then be on their way north.

For decades, refuge staff managed the marsh as freshwater habitat for ducks and geese by blocking tidal flow from the bay. Hurricane Sandy flooded the marsh with sea water, killing the freshwater plants.

After closely studying state-of-the-art computer models, managers decided restoring the marsh to its natural state was the way to go. It is open once again to the ebb and flow of the tides, which will let salt-marsh plants and wildlife return.

“The project is an investment that is already paying off,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), who is featured in the film. “The dunes are holding up, the marsh is rebounding, and wildlife is thriving. I hope other areas of our country — and the world — can learn from this success.” Credit: Citizen Racecar

The restored marsh will buffer the effects of storms and sea-level rise, protecting private property and public infrastructure, such as roads. Acting like a giant sponge, the marsh will absorb water to reduce flooding. It will also offer recreation, such as fishing, hiking, and wildlife watching. A new low, wide dune and barrier beach offer a natural defense against rising water.

Managers will use storm-tide sensors, placed in the marsh, to gauge the project’s success. The sensors measure wave height, speed, force, and extent during storms. The information will help scientists create better models for storm surge and flood forecasting, as well as understand how restored marshes spread out storm-tide and wave energy.

“Federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery has provided us with a window of opportunity to protect this fragile marsh, while also helping protect our coastal bay-front communities from flooding,“ said Delaware Sen. Gary Simpson (R-Milford), who is interviewed in the video. Credit: Citizen Racecar

Returning the coastline to a more natural state makes it a healthier place for both wildlife and people to live — proving that sometimes, Mother really does know best.

View the video here.

A Pisten Bully is much nicer than it sounds!

These machines could move mountains.

It’s hard to imagine that big, powerful machines like the Komatsu Excavator and Pisten Bully are used to preserve a delicate marsh ecosystem.  But elevation loss from rising seas and sinking land is a challenge facing many coastal marshes.

During large storms, marshes act like buffers, absorbing major surges of floodwater. Over time, sand and sediment can get washed away from these areas. A lack of sediment and healthy vegetation reduces the marsh’s ability to absorb water,  leading to floods in nearby towns. We strive for a healthy balance of water and sediment, the perfect conditions for healthy salt marsh vegetation.

That’s where the land movers come in! The large Pisten Bully spreads the sediment used to gradually increase the elevation of the marsh while the Komatsu Excavator distributes a fine layer to support growth of vegetation. Remu pontoons help distribute the weight of this mammoth machine and keep the soil from compacting. Lasers located on the buckets measure out the proper gradient, or slope, of the ground as they go.

Biologists aim to restore the marsh’s natural hydrology, or water movement, by building up sediment and creating  natural meandering channels. Channels draw off excess water, and specialized coir logs, made from coconut husks, trap and build up sediment in lower areas. With the growth of healthy vegetation this spring, this work will make these marshes stronger against storms. The mud and roots may look bland now, but in no time this marsh will be booming with high grasses and saltmarsh sparrows.

The race is on! Despite the excavator’s pontoons, heavy machines can damage the freshly sprouted grass. Staff must work quickly to establish roughly six inches of sediment before new marsh grasses spring up from mud. Biologists will be busy monitoring the hydrology and sediment movement throughout the marsh as vegetation grows.

Marsh restoration in the wake of Hurricane Sandy is a top priority for staff at the Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Restoring the marsh provides people with the security of a resilient coast that can hold up against storms and provides vital habitat for countless unique wildlife and plant species.  It’s mighty work for these mighty machines.

People Behind a Stronger Coast: Nancy Pau and Susan Adamowicz

Susan Adamowicz, Ph.D. and Nancy Pau have been working with local communities to defend coastal ecosystems against storms in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The two biologists are key players behind invasive species removal and high salt marsh restoration projects at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

Local communities and landowners play a major role in the success of these projects. Pau cites local conservationist and Town of Newbury selectman Geoff Walker as an example.

“There is only so much we can do on protected lands to address resiliency issues,” she says. “A lot more can be done off refuges through decisions made by landowners and towns, especially as towns think about resiliency projects of their own. Having people like Geoff involved, people who understand the big picture of the marsh and how dependent the towns are on the natural ecosystems, is really great. He can speak to the issues that are important to the town.”

Collaboration between biologists and landowners is important when it comes to protecting vulnerable natural areas from storms and sea-level rise. Adamowicz says the high salt marsh habitat is crucial to helping people and wildlife alike withstand and recover from events like Hurricane Sandy.

“Healthy shoreline ecosystems provide much-needed protection for our human communities,” says Adamowicz. “The restored salt marsh will buffer waves and swallow up storm surges.”

Healthy salt marshes also serve as nurseries for fish that support offshore fisheries and support birds such as the saltmarsh sparrow, black rail and black ducks, which rely upon this unique habitat.

This work will allow future generations of wildlife and people to call the shoreline home — and that benefits everyone.

 

All photos by Steve Droter