Listen to the full piece:
When Hurricane Sandy slammed into the shore of Long Island, it devastated humans as well as ecosystems along the Northeastern seaboard. Six months later, Katherine Jacobsen went to Jamaica Bay to see how one of these ecosystems is recovering.
The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is made up of a sprinkling of islands, tucked behind the Rockaways in the Jamaica Bay. When Sandy hit, the storm surge sent water over the low-lying islands dismantling houses, docks and sand dunes.
Lincoln Hallowell is a park ranger at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. He says that he and his colleagues still aren’t sure what effect Sandy will have on the area’s wildlife.
It’s, it’s a different place.
He stands in his office and points to a map that shows the area before the storm.
You can see… it looks like there should be something there, and up until Oct. 29, there was something there.
That something was a freshwater pond that was an important stopover for migratory birds and a walking path.
In just a matter of a few hours during the storm, that disappeared.
But even though the freshwater pond and the sand dunes that kept it in place were washed away by the storm, environmentalists say that the wildlife in the area has been surprisingly resilient. But they also say the sand dunes need to be rebuilt.
Arthur Lerner-Lam is a seismologist from Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
So, Jamaica Bay was almost a buffer for some of the populated areas inland. What do we learn from that? We learn that nature in some way can be used to protect the places where people live.
The sand dunes at Jamaica Bay acted as natural shock absorbers. Sand dunes are known as soft infrastructure. That’s as opposed to hard infrastructure, like storm walls. The walls can send the waves bouncing back into the ocean. Lerner-Lam says, in a small inlet area, this means that the waves could hit each other, amplify and then crash into the hard structure again.
But Lerner-Lam says the dunes won’t survive a storm without the grasses that grow on top of the dunes.
Well, any vegetation, such as marsh grasses will actually hold the sanddunes in place, or at least the top layer in place.
In other words, the sand grasses keep the dunes from washing away.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is attempting to rebuild the dunes around Jamaica Bay in part with money allocated by Congress after the storm. But the problem is, to restore all of these sand dunes, someone has to remove the junk that Sandy left on top of them.
Gerry Tiss is off the south shore of Long Island on a Saturday morning.
The orange and blue stuff is people’s docks that were blown apart.
Tiss stands on his 4ft by 12ft skype blue wooden motor boat and points to a nearby sand dune.
It looks like a roof from that bayhouse that came from who knows where…
There’s no way that Tiss’s boat stands a chance of picking up the debris. And so he does what he can and scoops up pieces of washed up two-by-fours, plastic bags and the like.
The issues are similar, if not as bad, at Jamaica Bay.
Don Riepe is with the environmental watchdog group, the American Littoral Society.
You know, some of the pieces were too big, they have to be cut up… so you can see some of the debris left over by the storm.
Riepe and others say it’s the park service’s’ responsibility to move the trash But Ranger Lincoln Hallowell says the Park Service has its own issues.
Part of the problem is, we lost a lot of equipment during the storm that hasn’t been replaced yet.
Hallowell says even if the park service had the equipment, it wouldn’t be easy to remove the debris without disturbing the wildlife.
A lot of areas are environmentally sensitive so you don’t want to get a lot of areas with heavy equipment through there.
Environmentalists hope the debris can be removed and dunes can be rebuilt before the hurricane season starts on June 1st.
Katherine Jacobsen, Columbia Radio News.