Posts tagged ‘Hurricane Sandy’

Piping Plover: Potential Beneficiaries of Sandy’s Wrath

Piping Plovers © Francois Portmann

Piping Plovers © Francois Portmann

Amid all the destruction and havoc caused by Hurricane Sandy last October, there is potentially good news for the federally threatened piping plover and other shorebirds that area beaches. The National Park Service (NPS) has found a nearly twofold increase in suitable shorebird nesting habitat at NPS’s Rockaway Beaches since Sandy impacted the area.

 

On that October night, Sandy wiped out and pushed back beach grass and other vegetation at the Rockaway beaches. The result: increased areas of dry, sandy beach habitat that shorebirds such as the piping plover need for productive nesting, according to NPS biologist Hanem Abouelezz. Looking at aerial satellite images of the area before and after the storm, Hanem found a 94.7% increase in potentially suitable shorebird nesting habitat within NPS-maintained beach areas such as Fort Tilden, Breezy Point, and Jacob Riis Park.

 

Breezy Point Tip Pre Sandy © National Park Service

Breezy Point Tip Pre Sandy © National Park Service

For years, intruding vegetation at Rockaway beaches forced piping plovers and other shorebirds to nest closer to the shore, leading to eggs being lost due to tidal flooding. New data collected by Hanem and her team suggests piping plover nesting may already be benefitting from the post-Sandy habitat changes. Whereas last year 54% of piping plover eggs monitored were lost due to tidal flooding, this year none were lost. The bird is even finding success nesting in formerly inhospitable areas. Piping plovers successful fledged at Fort Tilden this year for the first time since NPS started monitoring the area.

 

Breezy Point Tip, Post Sandy © National Park Service

Breezy Point Tip, Post Sandy © National Park Service

In addition to aiding the piping plover, post-Sandy habitat could also benefit nesting populations of least terns, common terns, American oystercatchers, and other shorebirds that similarly prefer flat, sandy beaches for nesting. However exciting the news is, it is too early to tell whether the change in habitat alone will lead to increased shorebird breeding productivity in the area. A variety of factors are involved in shorebird breeding success, including predation, interspecific competition, weather patterns, and human interference.

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

 

Hurricane Sandy Impacts: Staten Island

Seth Wollney, naturalist and program associate at the Staten Island Museum, sent us an email describing the damage Sandy has caused to certain areas in Staten Island, including Wolfe’s Pond Park and Great Kills Park among others.

 

Greetings,

 

Due to the low elevation of Staten Island’s east and south shores, the Island was one of the hardest hit areas of the city during Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29th this year.  While much media attention has been given to our “forgotten borough” in terms of the human impacts, there are also substantial effects to our beach front.  The Lenape name for the island “Aquehonga“ can be translated as “where the sand cliffs end”.  If the Lenape witnessed the island after Sandy that name might not have been given to describe the island.  While there still are cliffs, or bluffs as we commonly refer to these features, at such locations as Mt. Loretto Unique Area or the north-west facing Conference House Park, there were approximately 3.7 kilometers of bluffs or sloped beach front flattened in one way or another by Sandy along the island’s east and south shores.

 

The loss of certain sections of bayside bluffs is going to mean the loss of at least one established bank swallow colony at Great Kills Park and relocation of a colony at Mt. Loretto Unique Area.  Many local and city birders are familiar with the “salt flats” at Great Kills as a waterfowl, shorebird, and gull location, but few realized that there was a healthy colony of bank swallows at the bluffs just west of the flats during the late spring and summer for the last decade. Sandy’s actions have caused these bluffs to erode, extending the sloped beach inland about 45 feet from where the colony (bluffs) used to stand, up to the sidewalk-parking area. Likewise, a smaller but active bank swallow colony located on the bluffs at Mt. Loretto Unique Area was also wiped out, but as these bluffs are still standing there is hope the swallows and a pair of belted kingfishers will return to this location next summer.

 

The entirety of Crooke’s Point, which makes up Great Kills facing the Raritan Bay, was impacted to some degree during Sandy.  Continue reading ‘Hurricane Sandy Impacts: Staten Island’ »

Hurricane Sandy Impacts: Rockaways Beach Clean-Up

Last weekend, NYC Audubon staff member Barbara Lysenko and her husband Tom took part in a NYC Parks post-Sandy clean-up event at Beach 30th Street in the Rockaways.  They gave us a first-hand account of  what they encountered, both at the clean-up site and along the way through Broad Channel:

 

On Sunday, November 25

 

Park sign covered in sand (up close)

All of our concerns came true as we got closer to the hard-hit areas. Passing by our beloved Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, seeing all the scattered trash and the closed signs hit me hard. Driving through Broad Channel we witnessed boats in the street, stores closed and gutted, homes destroyed and without power, boat docks wrecked and mounds of items on the street that a month ago were deemed prize possessions.

 

As we approached our destination by the beach, the devastation became worse. Sand was everywhere! The dunes that once existed were now gone. The surge had washed the sand onto the inland streets and facilities. The playground we were to clean had three to four feet of sand covering the jungle gyms.

 

Teams of volunteers were given shovels, buckets and wheelbarrows and were asked to start removing the sand. All of this had to be done by hand, as the playground equipment would have been destroyed by construction vehicles.

 

For three long hours, we excavated two areas that still needed attention. It was truly amazing to all 30 volunteers as we watched the playground equipment unearth and the flower gardens start to reappear.

 

We were all pleased with our accomplishments for the day.

 

As we left the playground that afternoon, we had smiles on our faces knowing that we helped to try to restore this beautiful park. However, our smiles seemed to fade as we approached all the other areas still in need of restoration or assistance: the soccer field, picnic tables and benches covered in several feet of sand, the residents still without power or homes to live in, the lack of wildlife in the area and the streets covered with debris.

 

As upsetting as this was, we knew that it would have to wait for another day.

 

Barbara & Tom Lysenko

 

 

Photos courtesy of Partnerships for Parks

Hurricane Sandy Impacts: Breezy Point Tip and Plumb Beach

We received another informative update from longtime volunteer and former NYC Audubon board President Ron Bourque, describing the impact Sandy has had on Plumb Beach and Breezy Point Tip.

 

Hello All,

 

Plumb Beach has been affected by the completion of the beach nourishment project that restored the sand that was lost since the 1992 nourishment. I had a conversation with a USACE project manager who told me that the 3/4-mile sand slurry pipeline would be removed in the next few weeks.  Bids for the construction of the rock groins and breakwater should be going out this week. How this part of the project will affect marine life remains to be seen.  Further east, the erosion of the dunes separating Jamaica Bay from the tidal lagoon has greatly altered the landscape.  The drainage channel from the lagoon to the bay remains open for the movement of horseshoe crabs.

 

Driving out to the 222nd Street parking lot at the base of the Breezy Point Tip is a slow trip due to the number of trucks and earth-moving machinery on Rockaway Point Boulevard. Despite some coils of plastic pipe, there was ample room at the parking lot for more than a dozen cars. The sand road to the ocean beach is impassible because of severe erosion, flooding and collapsed Surf Club fencing. The walk on the bay side of the Breezy Point Tip was easy because of the very broad dry sand beach–much of that sand came from wind-eroded dunes. The great storm also cut some water channels that force hikers to take to the rock jetty as a bridge to more dry beach.  The ocean beach front is unrecognizable by anyone familiar with the series of dunes that ran parallel to the beach–they are gone. (See comparison photos of the Breezy Point dunes, below.)

 

The vast sand flat does hold great promise for next year’s arrival of terns and plovers.  The very flatness of this area is an invitation for vehicles to roam far from the beach.  Indeed, I witnessed the incursion of two four-wheeled ATVs on those very sand flats and on the remaining dunes on the bay side.  They were operated by adults–physically adult at least–and had no license plates.  Without a significant increase in NPS staff, the symbolic fencing will not be adequate to prevent incursions into the tern and plover habitat.

 

Best regards to all, Ron

 

Hurricane Sandy Impacts: Four Sparrow Marsh

Long-time volunteer and former NYC Audubon board president Ron Bourque sent us the following email:

 

In many past letters/e-mails, I had advocated for the removal of the overburden of tons of wood jetsam that had accumulated on the Mill basin side of Four Sparrow Marsh over the past 75 years. The great concern was how to remove all the debris without tearing up the marsh. It would have been a very expensive operation.

 

Hurricane Sandy accomplished a Four Sparrow Marsh cleanup the likes of which one could only dream. Both the lagoon side and the Mill Basin side of the marsh have been swept clean of 99% of the old debris. Sandy has essentially swept it all under the rug. More like sweeping the debris behind the couch!  The tidal surge lifted all the floatable wood while the wind hurled it into the surrounding upland shrub/phragmites stands.

 

In the 35 years I have been visiting Four Sparrow Marsh, I have never seen it so clean. It’s extraordinary!  (See photos below,  taken November 18th)

 

I do hope the salt marsh sparrows respond well to their restored habitat. The great blue herons that normally find shelter in Four Sparrow Marsh through the fall and winter seem to have been driven out by the ferocity of the storm.

 

The record for number of great blues here on a Christmas Count was 11.

 

Best regards to all, Ron