Wonky Wednesday | Wetlands, Barrier Islands, and Oyster Reefs: Buffering the Next Superstorm

Long Island Barrier Island
This image was taken crossing over Fire Island from the Atlantic Ocean and approaching MacArthur Airport, Long Island, NY. Photo: Ken Konrad bluesguy682000@yahoo.com

Less than a day after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, Gov. Chris Christie tweeted to his fellow New Jersey residents, “We will rebuild the Shore. It may not be the same, but we will rebuild.” Reality TV icon Snooki and her fellow cast members from “Jersey Shore” followed suit, joining a large fundraising effort to rebuild the boardwalks and amusement parks that define New Jersey’s coastal communities. Christie’s firm pledge and Snooki’s fundraising efforts are evidence of the human capacity to be resilient in the wake of Sandy.

Yet we must look to the causes of the disaster and adapt to the changing conditions of our climate and our rising oceans. Are there places that just don’t make sense for development?

Rewind human history a couple hundred years and we find that the New Jersey shoreline, now filled to the ocean’s edge with beach bungalows, theme parks, and mansions with oceanfront views, was once void of development and rimmed with vast acres of wetlands, strings of small barrier islands, and offshore oyster reefs. These ecological gems are nature’s solution to storm events, protecting the mainland from erosion and flooding.

Wetlands are the lungs of the ocean, absorbing large volumes of water runoff during rainstorms and tidal inflow. Barrier islands act as flexible walls that separate the mainland from the sea, changing shape in response to storms, tides, and winds as they minimize the force of these natural events. Oyster reefs attenuate storm energy, slowing down waves before they hit land. While these ecological barriers have slowly disappeared over the past two centuries due to fill, water pollutants, and large-scale developments, their value has only increased.

In New Jersey, along with so many heavily-urbanized coastal regions – such as the San Francisco Bay Area – the lack of sufficient natural barriers to storm surges is in need of serious attention.  New Jersey is the country’s most densely populated state, with 60% of its 8.6 million residents living along its coastline – including more than 236,000 people within 5 feet of the high-tide line. With sea levels expected to rise by 15 inches by 2050, the number of people that are impacted by heavy storms – not to mention large scale disasters like Sandy – will increase exponentially.

Hurricane Sandy is our second loud wake-up call, coming only 7 years after Hurricane Katrina. If we are to survive the future of rising seas and intense storms, our relationship to Mother Nature must change from coercion and command to adaption and flexibility. Preserving and restoring our natural buffers – wetlands, barrier islands, coral reefs and more – is one of the best tools we have available.


Five Ways to Save The Bay

Earth Day 2011Did you know that almost a decade before the first Earth Day in 1970, Save The Bay was mobilizing tens of thousands of residents to save San Francisco Bay from unchecked development and pollution? Thanks to the work of Save The Bay’s members and supporters, the Bay is cleaner and healthier now than it was when the organization was founded 50 years ago. But there is still more work to be done!

Here are five easy ways to Save Your Bay this Earth Day:

1. Become a Member: Become a Save The Bay member and help us continue working to protect, restore and celebrate San Francisco Bay. A Save The Bay membership includes our member newsletter, a welcome packet and decal, invitations to special events and more!

2. Volunteer: Join us for a volunteer restoration event and get your hands dirty! See how fun and rewarding it is to make the Bay cleaner and healthier with your own two hands.

3.  Take Action: Raise your hand and get counted among the thousands who have already pledged to stop the biggest threat to the Bay in over 50 years – Cargill/DMB’s proposal to build 12,000 housing units on restorable salt ponds in Redwood City. Show Minnesota-based agribusiness giant Cargill that we will not allow our great natural treasure to be sacrificed for profit!

4. Tell Your Friends: Help us grow our online community by spreading the word about our organization. There are over seven million people in the Bay Area, so do us a favor and tell five of them about Save The Bay!

5. Follow Us Online: We’ve got a variety of ways that you can connect with us online — pick one (or more)! Check out our blog, our Facebook page, and our Twitter account.

“Ignite the Night” at the W

If you live on Earth, you may have heard about Earth Hour, a special event tomorrow evening whereby everyone worldwide will turn off the lights to raise awareness about climate change. In the words of the organizers:

On Earth Hour hundreds of millions of people around the world will come together to call for action on climate change by doing something quite simple—turning off their lights for one hour. The movement symbolizes that by working together, each of us can make a positive impact in this fight, protecting our future and that of future generations.

So who says standing up to climate change can’t be fun? Save The Bay invites you to switch off your lights and head to the W Hotel in San Francisco to celebrate Earth Hour with a cocktail in your hand. From 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. the W Hotel will power down while you drink up, and will donate a portion of their proceeds to Save The Bay.

This is truly a win-win situation. You can delight in some delectable eats and libations while essentially participating in an environmental double-dip – protecting the Earth and the Bay!

We hope to see you there!

— Amy Ricard, Communications Associate