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ASBPA Best Restored Shore Award Highlights Coastal Restoration Projects

Posted October 22, 2020

A DredgeWire exclusive – Carrie Gentile, staff writer

Outstanding shoreline efforts that are combating sea-level rise and storm surge were praised during the 2020 American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) National Coastal Conference held virtually October 13-16. Three northeast restoration projects won the association’s second annual Best Restored Shore award, recognizing projects that apply natural and nature-based solutions.

“Our aim is to inspire you to pursue superior shoreline restoration projects,” Best Restored Shores Co-Chair Shannon Cunniff said during the “Bouncing Back Better: What it takes to be a Best Restored Shore Project” virtual session.

“Two years ago, we created the award with the intent to honor stellar shoreline restoration projects and to build awareness of value of climate change resilient and that benefit ecosystems and communities. It can mean maintaining wetlands, developing innovative coastal buffers and even reducing storm and flood impacts by recreating lost ecosystem services,” Cunniff said.

Stratford Point Living Shoreline in Connecticut, Gandy’s Beach Preserve and Cooks Beach projects in New Jersey took home this year’s honors.

Stratford Point Living Shoreline, a research project headed by Sacred Heart University biology professor Jennifer Mattei with members of her lab, has grown into the largest living shoreline in New England. The living shoreline is part of a peninsula in near the mouth of the Housatonic River. It comprises artificial reef balls; smooth, cordgrass marsh; high marsh; coastal dunes and coastal forest/grassland mosaics. Its purpose is to establish a shellfish reef, establish natural protections against wave energy and disrupt coastal erosion.

“People’s initial reaction to erosion is to build a wall,” Mattei said. “We now know that sea-level rise and increased storm intensity undermine sea walls. Walls erode and collapse, and reconstruction is costly. We’ve been working on how to break the waves, allow sediment to settle.”

The solution, as Stratford Point Living Shoreline demonstrates, is to re-establish the missing habitat to protect the shoreline, hold the sediment and increase resilience, she said.

Into its third year, the restoration is holding. A shellfish reef of blue mussels and oysters is forming and the reef and grasses withstood this year’s tropical storms.

The reef project at Cooks Beach on Delaware Bay involved 85 volunteers and partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Stockton University, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Atlantic Capes Fisheries, and Wildlife Restoration Partnership LLC. It’s one of eight beaches that has been restored on Delaware Bay since the 2012 Superstorm Sandy, said Captain Alek Modjeski, habitat restoration program director for the American Littoral Society (ALS).

Volunteers and employees of the various agencies moved 2,700 bags of whelk shells from the beach to the intertidal, where they were set along a 200-foot-long, double-wide reef, about 150 feet offshore.

The result is a restored habitat for spawning horseshoe crabs.

“It’s also one of the best beaches for the red knots,” Modjeski said, noting that, in the 2019 migratory season, 94% of the 31,000 birds tracked landed at the restored beaches to fill up on horseshoe crab eggs.

Gandy’s Beach is also located on Delaware Bay and provides habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife. Its shore has been increasingly vulnerable to coastal erosion and was considerably impacted by storm surge from Hurricane Sandy. Historical records indicate the Gandy’s Beach shoreline has eroded by 500 feet since the 1930s. This project includes the building of a shell-based living shoreline one mile offshore.In 2019, Sovereign Consulting worked as a contractor and partnered with various agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nature Conservancy. More than 1300 oyster castle blocks and 2300 oyster bags were placed as an adaptive management strategy

“We are extremely proud of being able to characterize this large coastal site, design a solution, and implement the design in a little over 6 months.” said Doug Janeic, natural resource program manager at Sovereign. “From design to construction, this project is a great example of a team effort consisting of federal agencies, non-profits, academia, the private sector, and volunteers.”

After each of the three projects were presented. Cunniff asked about lessons learned, and each presenter noted the importance of collaborating and educating local, state and federal agencies.

“Educate the stakeholder. Involve them early and often,” said Modjeski. He noted partnering with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helped expedite the permitting process with the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies.

Mattei said Connecticut streamlines the permitting process as the state is motivated to have more living shorelines constructed, but said each federal agency wanted to weigh in with their ‘pet projects.’

“It would have been easier if we could all have sat in a room at the same time so we could have answered all the questions at once and could have shared all the species that will be helped with the project.”

Lastly, Janeic praised U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in New Jersey. “They are great to work with…very proactive and will to try new things.”