Tag Archives: #strongercoast

marsh restoration

Using Nature to Build a Stronger Coast

Five years ago this week Hurricane Sandy devastated communities along the Atlantic Coast with record storm surge, fierce winds and torrential rain. This year’s destructive storm season only underscores how vulnerable our coastal areas are and the important role of nature in helping to protect communities and ensure a future for fish and wildlife. In this blog, Wendi Weber, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Director, shares her vision of a stronger East Coast – one that uses natural infrastructure for the benefit of people and wildlife.

marsh restoration

Planting marsh grasses at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland. Credit: Dagny Leonard, The Conservation Fund

What would the East Coast be like without any wetlands, marshes, or estuaries? What if the coastline were just open water slapping against concrete seawalls, bulkheads, and rock barriers?

This is exactly the kind of coast that researchers explored in a recently published study of how wetlands help protect coastal communities from flood damage.

Using computer models to estimate the property damage that would have occurred during Hurricane Sandy if all wetlands on the East Coast didn’t exist, the study found that wetlands prevented $625 million in damage during the storm.

They found that wetlands resulted in an average of 11-30 percent reduction in property damage. And even areas without wetlands benefited from their presence nearby – places such as Hamilton Township, New Jersey, which would have experienced 139 percent more property damage from Hurricane Sandy if not for the wetlands located between the township and the coastline.

The study is notable because it is one of the first to link the direct property damage costs of a hurricane to the presence of natural infrastructure. But it’s also notable for what the authors couldn’t reasonably include in this study – the economic value of ALL the benefits that wetlands provide, year after year and storm after storm.

Benefits such as: nurseries for the fish and shellfish we eat; filtration of the water we drink and swim in; habitat for birds and other wildlife; natural beauty that fuels the ecotourism and outdoor recreation industries that local economies depend on; and so much more.

These benefits add up to one conclusion – investing in nature is worth every penny.

The destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy presented an opportunity to focus science and resources on building a stronger coast through natural infrastructure. What does that coast look like?

It’s a coast where natural infrastructure benefits people and wildlife. Where marshes act like sponges to absorb rising water – and provide habitat for birds, fish, and shellfish. Where undammed rivers help reduce flooding to nearby communities – and fish swim up from the ocean to historical spawning grounds. Where oyster reefs and other living shorelines buffer coastal zones from wave erosion – and create new habitat for marine life.

It’s a tough and resilient coast, one that will undoubtedly sustain damage from storms and other natural forces but will bounce back more quickly than a coast without natural infrastructure. It’s built to last over time.

We are well on our way to creating such a coast.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous partners in government, universities and nonprofits have been working hard to make it possible, and five years after Hurricane Sandy some incredible work has been done – beaches restored, dams removed, river miles opened up, living shorelines built, and marshes restored.

Up and down the coast, people have been sharing their stories with us of what this work means to them.

Harry Bailey Claire Bailey Reeds Beach

Harry and Claire Bailey at their home on Reed’s Beach, New Jersey, along the Delaware Bay. Credit: Steve Droter

Harry Bailey of Reed’s Beach, New Jersey, who built his home with the help of his two sons, said, “No one seemed to care about the beach before. Storms came and destroyed the beach and no one came to fix it. These organizations came in, now the beach is built up, the horseshoe crabs are back, and birders from all over the world come here to see the birds.”

parker river great marsh steve droter

Volunteers and conservationists Geoff Walker and Peter Phippen gather photographic evidence of erosion and invasive phragmites along the banks of Plumbush Creek at the Great Marsh, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Steve Droter

Lisa O’Donnell of Essex, Massachusetts, which sits on the largest contiguous salt marsh in New England – the Great Marsh – said, “Essex is built in and around the marsh; it’s unique in that respect. So clearly the marsh is part of our fabric it’s how we identify ourselves, and it’s also a very important environmental asset for the town. Environmentally and economically, it’s crucial to us.”

Melissa Baile Eastern Neck

Melissa Baile grew up crabbing around Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Now she is president of the Friends of Eastern Neck, where she leads conservation and volunteer activities such as the winter bird count. Credit: Steve Droter

Melissa Baile, president of the all-volunteer organization Friends of Eastern Neck in Rock Hall, Maryland, said, “The community here respects the refuge, and appreciates what it brings to Kent County, to Rock Hall. A lot of the local community come out and use it to walk, to fish, to kayak. I think people are starting to realize that you need these kinds of places, and they just don’t happen. You have to protect them.”

kayaking Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed

The rivers of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed are a popular recreation hub for paddlers, anglers, and hunters. Credit: Loren Kearns

And in Rhode Island, where restoration of the Pawcatuck River is engaging community and creating a ripple effect for smaller projects, such as a town park built on a former brownfield site, Denise Poyer of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association said, “The more resilient we make this watershed and the rivers in the watershed, the more of a beneficial impact it’s going to have on our coastal areas.”

Severe weather has always been a factor for coastal communities, but now storms are happening with greater frequency and intensity. The deadly storms of the 2017 hurricane season are harsh reminders of our coastal vulnerability. Hoping for a solution that prevents damage entirely is foolhardy, but developing strategies that minimize the damage is necessary and possible. Protecting and restoring natural infrastructure – alone or combined with hybrid and gray infrastructure – can help reduce the impacts of storms and sea-level rise and help communities recover more quickly.

With the help of people like Harry, Lisa, Melissa and Denise, we’re going to continue working to build a stronger coast.

What kind of coast do you want to live on? Share your vision of a #StrongerCoast with us below in the comments.


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.

horseshoe crab Reeds Beach Delaware Bay

Building a Stronger Delaware Bay

This guest post was written by “Captain Al” Modjeski, Habitat Restoration Program Director for the American Littoral Society, as part of our #StrongerCoast campaign. Here, Captain Al describes work to restore multiple beaches along the Delaware Bay.

horseshoe crab Reeds Beach Delaware Bay

A horseshoe crab on the sand at Reeds Beach. Photo credit: Steve Droter

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy’s powerful westerly winds caused a storm surge so strong it stripped the sand right off most of the beaches on the New Jersey side of Delaware Bay. The sand was washed into adjacent marshes, exposing large sections of peat and leaving the sand well above high-tide line.

In the storm’s aftermath, conservation groups rallied together with community and state leaders, local biologists, and local contractors to deal with the environmental damage.

“It was a crisis response; we were racing against a firm deadline of the horseshoe crabs arriving on the beach,” said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society. “But we were also intent on rebuilding habitats along Delaware Bay in order to strengthen the ecology, communities, and economy of that area. We set out to build partnerships and relationships that would invest everyone in working for a healthy and resilient Delaware Bay.”

The immediate concern was that nearly 70 percent of horseshoe crab beach habitat was destroyed and its loss imperiled not only the horseshoe crabs that spawn there, but also shorebirds like the Federally listed red knot, which stop on those beaches each spring to feed on crab eggs before flying to their nesting grounds in the Canadian Arctic. The birds and crabs help fuel a multi-million-dollar annual ecotourism industry in New Jersey’s Bayshore region.

“The horseshoe crabs can’t lay eggs on these beaches because the exposed sediment is anoxic [devoid of oxygen]. If the crabs were to lay eggs here, they would just die,” said local biologist Larry Niles. “In just one day, these very important beaches went from highly suitable to unusable.”

horseshoe crabs Thomspons Beach Delaware Bay

Horseshoe crabs spawning on Thompsons Beach as restoration finishes just in the nick of time. Photo credit: Shane Godshall, American Littoral Society

Within days after the storm had passed, just over a mile of damaged horseshoe crab beach habitat was restored. With further funding from the Service and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the team was able to continue efforts and by 2017 had restored eight Delaware Bay beaches to their pre-Sandy footprints by bringing in more than 200,000 cubic yards of coarse-grained sand and removing 2,000 tons of rubble. The team also designed and constructed five inter-tidal oyster reefs to keep the sand on the beach, while beginning work to restore portions of the marsh behind those beaches.

“No one seemed to care about [Reeds] beach before,” said local resident Harry Bailey. “Storms came and destroyed the beaches, and no one came to fix it. These organizations came in; now the beach is built up, the horseshoe crabs are back, and birders from all over the world come here to see the birds.”

Harry Bailey Reeds Beach

Harry Bailey, resident of Reeds Beach. Photo credit: Steve Droter

“The economy of Cape May County is so heavily tourism dependent, and more and more people come to the bay because of the scenic beauty and the wildlife,” said Cape May-Lewes Ferry Marketing Manager Michal Porch. “It’s in our best interest to maintain the economy and peoples’ jobs by protecting and preserving the environment.”

For the construction companies involved, millions of dollars of the grant funding went directly to them and further stimulated local businesses indirectly.

“It’s what drives our economy down here,” said JR Heun of H4 Enterprises. “Without the tourism, the infrastructure wouldn’t be there for us to have our workload.”

However, this restoration may mean more to the bay communities, the residents, the businesses, and the economy of the bay than simply protecting streams of revenue.

“Our restoration did not just restore the ecologic resource value for birds and crabs, but it also restored Bay-wide faith and hope. In the face of despair, the Bay community saw it had not been forgotten and people’s lives could be restored and even improved,” said Capt. Al Modjeski, Habitat Restoration Program director for the American Littoral Society.

As part of the restoration, the Society began a paid U.S. Military Veteran Intern Program, where local veterans were hired to help with the restoration work and monitoring.

That program “has given me something to do and I’m learning as I’m doing it, so I’m enjoying it tremendously,” said U.S. Army Veteran William Anderson, regarding his internship.

reef building Thompsons Beach Shell-a-Bration

Tim Dillingham, American Littoral Society executive director, tosses shell bags to Beth Freiday of the Service during the 3rd Annual “Shell-A-Bration” at Thompsons Beach. Photo Credit: David Hawkins, American Littoral Society

The Society also held Local Leader Focus Groups to engage surrounding municipalities and community events like annual “Shell-a-Brations,” where hundreds of volunteers were involved in constructing the oyster reefs at restored beaches. Tying together all of those other efforts were yearly “Veteran’s Day on the Bay” gatherings, where the reefs were named to honor U.S. military veterans and the resolve of the Bay community to persevere against all odds.

“I think it’s very important that with this project, these organizations are helping both veterans and youth as well as educating people about the environment and how important it is to take care of it,” said former mayor of Middle Township Tim Donohue. “It’s good to get kids and families involved in the project to understand the significance of the Bay.”

Though it has been only five years since the storm, the Society and its partners hope to continue to holistically restore the Bay, and thereby help create even more sustainable and resilient natural and human-built communities that are informed by events of the past in order to be better prepared for the future.