You may not know it by looking at the weather forecasts but the North Atlantic is right in the middle of hurricane season. While places like Florida are very aware of this and have been for decades, residents of New York and New Jersey have new found reasons for concern during hurricane season. Prior to Irene in 2011 the last hurricane to come within 150 miles of New York City was all the way back in 1986. Now that we’re almost a year away from the wrath of Sandy questions are arising about what can be done to make any future hurricanes less destructive. There have been proposals for dams blocking off all of New York harbor, but the easiest and cheapest solution to be implemented has been sand dunes, and they have worked incredibly well.
The town of Ortley Beach on the Jersey Shore was one of the worst hit areas from Sandy. Many of the residences there were damaged beyond repair and still to this day most of the damage done still hasn’t been repaired. However, if you go a few miles south on Route 35 you will be in the town of Midland Beach which escaped Sandy mostly unscathed. Only one home saw any significant water damage there. The difference between the widespread destruction in Ortley Beach and the lack there of in Midway Beach can be attributed to sand dunes. Midway Beach’s sand dunes were started decades ago to avoid what residents considered a nuisance. Sand from the beach was being blown into the streets and residents were tired of having to clean it up. The 25 foot dunes were built up to keep the streets clean but decades later they ended up saving the homes of almost everyone.
So how does one build up such a defense on the shore? For a dune to form it needs to have some kind of anchor for the sand. That role is being filled by picket fencing and discarded Christmas trees. What is also needed are plants for the top of the dunes to keep them in place. The interesting thing for species of beach grass is that they will grow higher as the dunes grow. planting them now when the dunes are small will ensure that they have deeper roots to keep more sand where it is supposed to be. The biggest thing that a strong dune system needs though is time. They work best when the ocean wind builds them up naturally instead of just dumping a big pile of sand at the beach and calling it a day. I sincerely hope that we don’t get another storm like Sandy ever again but we shouldn’t be naive enough to forget the lessons it taught us. Through intelligent long-term planning and investments in things like dunes, we can prevent a great deal of destruction the next time we’re in the path of a hurricane.
I don’t want the Jersey Shore looking like this ever again.