Community Foundation of New Jersey

Hurricane Sandy’s Impact on the Environment

April 1, 2013

We’ve seen the devastating impact Hurricane Sandy has had on countless New Jerseyans, their homes, and their communities.  But just what impact did the storm have on our state’s natural environment?  What wildlife was impacted the most?  And what is the likelihood that different habitat will return?  We put those questions and more to leaders in New Jersey’s environmental community.  Here’s some of what they had to say:

Michael Catania, President of Conservation Resources

“The devastation of Delaware Bay beaches, which serve as the breeding grounds for horseshoe crabs and the feeding grounds for spring migratory shorebirds, is far and away the biggest impact of the storm on wildlife habitat. Most of these beaches were totally swept clean of the sand needed for horseshoe crab egg-laying, and are now cluttered with debris that will be an additional obstacle. And without access to horseshoe crab eggs, several species of migrating shorebirds (especially the red knot, which is about to be listed on the federal endangered species list) which use these beaches as a critical stopover on their way to Arctic nesting grounds, will be seriously impacted. And without these beaches, ecotourism and local economies that depend on visiting birders and eco-tourists will also be adversely affected.

CRI is working with a number of other NGOs and public agencies to quickly restore these beaches by clearing rubble and in some cases replenishing sand so that adequate nesting area for horseshoe crabs will be available.  This may involve the use of volunteers as well as contractors, and a concerted effort is already underway to prioritize the beaches in need of restoration and to coordinate the efforts with a number of organizations and agencies.”

Jeff Tittel, Director of the Sierra Club in New Jersey

“Humans were the species most impacted by the storm.  Most animals have the sense to build their nests in safer places than the Barrier Islands.  Unfortunately, the areas of the coast that have been the most overdeveloped saw the biggest impact.  Those areas that had natural systems in place like coastal wetlands and dunes fared better than areas where homes were built right up to the edge of the beach.  Overdevelopment puts more people in harm’s way.  Protecting natural systems helps lessen the impact.

Going forward, we have a chance to correct mistakes of the past and do it better and smarter.  That means protecting dunes and natural features, building further back from the water’s edge, and using green buildings and energy efficiency.  Protecting the environment means we’re protecting people and property from flooding.

As we restore the shore, we’ll actually make better habitat for some species.  Our concern in some of the Bayshore beaches is whether the horseshoe crab will come there in spring and have a place to lay eggs.”

Mike Anderson, Director of the Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary

“Relatively speaking, most of our migrant birds had already left the state [before the storm] and a lot of the birds that would winter here had not yet arrived.  Of the small subset of species that are here year-round, there was not a major impact.  A lot of the raptors that use the salt marshes to feed on small prey, however, will find that there is not enough food as the marshes have flooded and the prey is gone.

A lot of the trees that came down were weak and had cavities occupied by woodpeckers and other species.  It’s possible we will see a dearth of nest sites or roosting sites.  We might see a dip in the population of these birds for the next couple of years, but then it will likely increase dramatically because the same storm will have created new cavity sites in other trees.”

Eric Stiles, President & CEO of New Jersey Audubon

“The key word is ‘resiliency.’  How can we redesign to allow for greater resiliency going forward?  If you have a big dune or natural berms on the beach, those communities are much more resilient to these types of storms.  Plus, those types of dune systems are great habitat for various bird species.  So, in this case, we’re not looking at trade-offs.  We’re making an area more resilient ecologically and economically.

Another key example is targeting areas that might be flood-prone.  They might not be developed now, but they are critical for flood control or when you have a storm surge.  They might also be nurseries for fish or critical stop-overs for migrating birds.

In order for a green infrastructure to exist, we need areas for water recharge, areas for flood control, water for fish, parks for people to enjoy the outdoors.  As we go about redeveloping the coast, part of that is investing property in the green infrastructure.”

Anthony Mauro, Chairman of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance

“[Quality of habitat] affects migration patterns, spawning areas, food chain, and food availability for both fish and wildlife. They can influence reproduction rates, health, population dispersion, etc.  Since the health of an environment is dependent of the health of habitat, including complex relationships between plant and animal life, it is of major concern. One missing link in a food chain has a rippling effect on environmental balance.

We are hoping that federal funding for fisheries and habitat damage, along with federal funding for rebuilding the landscape, can also be used for much needed environmental impact studies, especially in the area of saltwater since the state, recreational anglers and commercial fishermen have been negligent in keeping funding levels in line with federal reporting requirements and sensible fisheries management. New Jersey has fallen so far behind that it will take years to change momentum – and this is before the devastation caused by Sandy.

Some of the species we are concerned about include waterfowl, sea bass, summer flounder, and tautog.”

Greg DiDomenico, Executive Director of the Garden State Seafood Association

“The impact on a particular species in the Mid Atlantic [would be] temporary due to the conditions caused by the storm.  We know that the disturbance from the storm can reach the sea floor at least as deep as 100 feet and suspend sediments into the water column.”

To learn how to help protect New Jersey’s natural environment in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, contact CFNJ at 973-267-5533.