Cape May NWR
Cape May Cape May National Wildlife Refuge © USFWS

Stories in New Jersey

Post-Sandy: Natural Habitats Vital to Protecting Coasts

Recent research points to the critical value of natural habitats in protecting people from devastation by coastal storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Natural habitats can protect people from coastal storm devastation

Today, New Jersey faces a changing climate, with accelerating sea level rise and more frequent and intense weather events that place our coastal regions at increased risk. Superstorm Sandy alone resulted in over $50 billion in damage, with more than half—$37 billion—in New Jersey. In addition, our state is plagued by “sunny day” flooding, which can occur at high tides and during nor’easters – storms that can be less intense, but still create significant flooding issues. To help address these challenges, we need to increase the ability of our coastal communities to adapt to and bounce back from the changes we are experiencing. Nature plays a big part.

The Nature Conservancy is working in New Jersey to promote the use of nature-based solutions like healthy marshes, beaches and dunes, oyster reefs and floodplains, along with traditional man-made infrastructure, in our state to reduce flooding risks and other storm hazards for coastal communities. To make the strongest case possible, we are providing planning tools and technical assistance to shore towns with a “Coastal Resilience Tool-Kit”, and working to quantify the economic, ecological and social benefits of New Jersey’s coastal habitats through on-the-ground test projects.

Superstorm Sandy Dunes and wetlands of TNC's South Cape May Meadows Preserve protects local community from Superstorm Sandy flooding.

Online Mapping Resources

Working with partners, The Nature Conservancy has created a free online portal offering decision-making tools, project descriptions, case studies and other information to support communities as they evaluate coastal management options. The Restoration Explorer provides modeling and mapping insights, allowing town planners to identify what types of shoreline enhancement projects will work in different locations based on engineering criteria and real-world conditions.

Funding & Capacity Building Incentives

To help keep our valuable marshes in place, The Nature Conservancy is working with New Jersey towns to build their capacity to pursue living shoreline projects. Living shorelines use native vegetation and natural materials to stabilize coastal areas, while often also providing recreational benefits for people and habitat for wildlife. The Nature Conservancy offers grants of up to $35,000 to partners considering living shoreline projects to combat erosion and other coastal hazards. Early grant recipients include the American Littoral Society, for the Slade Dale Living Shoreline in Point Pleasant, and NY/NJ Baykeeper, for the Ware Creek Oyster Reef Living Shoreline at Naval Weapons Station Earle in Middletown.  We also host educational webinars and workshops about these tools to help “demystify” the process for building living shorelines.

Testing Natural Solutions

What benefits can natural solutions like restored marshes, oyster reefs, living shorelines and even dunes offer to coastal communities? We are testing, monitoring and measuring the positive impacts of different nature-based projects, and promoting replication of successful tactics in additional areas.

Investments in nature pay off.
The Value of Nature in New Jersey Investments in nature pay off.
South Cape May Meadows Preserve
South Cape May Meadows The restored South Cape May Meadows preserve served as a model for the protective role of nature during Superstorm Sandy, significantly reducing flooding and storm surge. © TNC

South Cape May Meadows Preserve
After decades of deterioration, The Conservancy restored the South Cape May Meadows preserve in 2007, revitalizing the beach, dune and wetland, and installing an innovative water management system. The restored preserve served as a model for the protective role of nature during Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy, while providing year-round wildlife, economic and social benefits.

New Jersey’s Marshes 
Marshes play an outsized role in protecting the homes and businesses behind them during storms, but many of New Jersey’s marshes are shrinking due to sea level rise. With partners, The Nature Conservancy has piloted projects in Avalon, Stone Harbor and Fortescue to give drowning marshes a boost. At sites where the marsh vegetation was dwindling, we sprayed a thin layer of clean sediment from dredged boat channels over the terrain to give native grasses space to take root! If successful, this would be a win-win for both the marshes and the neighboring towns who depend on clear, open boat channels for navigating. Monitoring of the success of the marsh projects is ongoing.

Measuring marsh grasses growing on thin spreading site.
Thin Spreading Measuring marsh grasses growing on thin spreading site © TNC

Oysters in Gandy’s Beach
Employing insights from The Nature Conservancy’s work in the Gulf of Mexico, in 2016 we installed a half-mile oyster reef breakwater at our Gandy’s Beach preserve, as a means of combatting erosion and creating habitat for marine life at the site. As of December 2017, we have seen about 50% reduction in wave energy during the tidal cycle, and sand has been building up behind the structures. The reef has been colonized by about 1 million oysters, is filtering more than 1 million gallons of water per submerged hour during summer months and is helping 4,330 new fish mature every year. Blue crab, black drum, northern kingfish, weakfish, summer flounder, black sea bass, and white perch have all been recorded at the site. 

Gandy's Beach Preserve
Gandy's Beach Preserve Monitoring oyster growth on the Gandy's Beach oyster reef breakwater. © TNC