Natural Strength: Thoughts on the Mayor’s plan to increase the resiliency of New York City’s coastline

Summer intern Darren Klein reports.


In 2007, Mayor Bloomberg released PlaNYC, a broad initiative intended to strengthen the economy of New York City, address climate change, prepare for increasing population size, and generally enhance quality of life for New Yorkers. After Hurricane Sandy battered the City last year, PlaNYC was updated to include an outline for improving the resilience of the City as it faces a future in which powerful storms and other extreme weather events are likely to occur with greater frequency. A major component of the latest version of PlaNYC is called the Comprehensive Coastal Protection Plan, which has been designed to strengthen the coastline of the City and prevent the kind of storm surge and flood damage that crippled the City after Sandy.


The Comprehensive Coastal Protection Plan calls for the combined use of “hard” and “natural” infrastructural elements. NYC Audubon is strongly supportive of the planned use of natural elements including wetlands, oyster reefs, living shorelines (a combination of reefs, maritime forests, and tidal wetlands), sand dunes, and beach nourishment. In addition to making effective contributions to wave and floodwater attenuation and to shoreline stability, the use of these elements will also provide valuable ecosystem services and create new habitat for the birds and other wildlife of New York City.


There are situations, however, where the use of “hard” elements such as sea walls, tide gates, groins, and offshore breakwaters may be more appropriate than natural solutions. It is the view of NYC Audubon that these tools should only be used in coastal areas that are already highly developed. In less-developed areas, hardened elements contribute to the more rapid erosion of sand; as waves strike these relatively smooth, hard surfaces, their energy is reflected back out to sea, pulling sand away from the shore. This can lead to the destabilization of coastal areas, and puts inland areas at greater risk from storm surge and flooding. The Comprehensive Coastal Protection Plan states that solutions will be tailored to match existing patterns of geomorphology and land use, and so it seems that the inappropriate application of hard infrastructure is unlikely.


In the coming weeks, NYC Audubon, in collaboration with Audubon New York, will be sending a statement to Mayor Bloomberg, thanking him and expressing support for the incorporation of natural infrastructure in this vision for the future of New York City.


You can read more about PlaNYC here.


- Darren Klein


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