More From Hurricane Sandy Coastline Habitat Damage Report
A rapid assessment identified nearly $50 million in immediate needs for habitat restoration along the eastern seaboard due to damage from Superstorm Sandy. We reported on the report earlier, but here are some more interesting highlights from the assessment.
The report (pdf) warns that rebuilding beaches and dunes will need to be done in a sensitive and responsible manner. In particular, the report notes, “For example, borrowing sand from inlet areas that are important as foraging sites for terns and other seabirds, and as spawning areas for a variety of commercial and prey fish, will simply transfer environmental damage to another habitat.”
In contrast to natural barrier systems, large amounts of sand that is moved onto urban coasts as a result of storm surge usually end up where the sand is not wanted. Sand that is coveted on beaches is washed away, and can end up filling navigation channels for boating, covering coastal roads, and filling yards and driveways. Beach engineering projects that result from moving sand deposited where people do not want it can be very damaging to habitats for some species of birds.
The bottom line, perhaps, is that the extensive restoration will need to be done quickly but also carefully. According to the report’s recommendations, “Best management practices for beach engineering projects need to be developed to so that the response to storms and the creation of beaches do not eliminate vital habitats for declining species of coastal birds.”
The news was not all bad, however. Although Hurricane Sandy moved millions of tons of sand and silt, some shorebird habitat was actually improved on some more natural coastal areas.
The storm-driven water physically removed woody vegetation where shrubs and small trees had grown, exposing new open sand. In some cases this exposed sand will become high quality nesting habitat for rare beach-nesting species like Piping Plover, American Oystercatcher, and Least Tern. These exposed, vegetation-free areas are also sought out by migrant shorebirds and staging seabirds, where they can rest during high tide periods while not feeding.