The Environmental Impact of Super Storm Sandy

The shores of New Jersey are summer hot spots for tourists. Most participate in boating, fishing and beach-going. However, that may not be so safe this summer.

According to a report from the National Hurricane Center, “Whole communities were inundated by water and sand, houses were washed from their foundations, boardwalks were dismantled or destroyed, cars were tossed about, and boats were pushed well inland from the coast.”

The report also said that the fishing industry suffered due to damage to docks, marinas, restaurants, and fish processing plants. “BoatUS, the American Association of Boat Owners, estimated that Sandy destroyed more than 65,000 boats and caused marine-related damage of about $650 million to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut,” it said.

James Nickels, marine scientist for the Urban Coast Institute at the University, said environmental damage from Sandy is vast. “Large areas of coastal flooding and dune destruction, inundation of saltwater into freshwater lakes along ocean, release of quantities of oil, fuel, pesticides and other chemicals were some of the problems. There was failure of sewer infrastructure and pumping stations which released large amounts of sewage and untreated waste water. Another issue is the forming of new inlets with the ocean from coastal lakes and bays. Large quantities of debris spread throughout water ways and marshes,” said Nickels.

He also said that major clean-up of debris has taken place since Sandy. “The breaches in the barrier islands have been closed. Most sewage systems are back to operating normally. Debris clean-up is underway and making good progress. Work has recently been started to find and remove debris from local waterways as a result of Sandy.”

BoatUS Assistant Vice President of Public Relations Scott Croft said in a press release, “The combination of boats stored ashore at low elevations and record high surge levels caused hundreds, if not thousands, of boats to float away into neighborhoods, parks and marshes.”

The issues beneath the water may be just as important as those on top of the water. Dr. Ursula Howson, assistant biology professor at the University, is currently working on a project with micro-organisms in Barnegat Bay.

“We have seen unexpected increases in zooplankton in the water column. This might be the result of nutrients being stirred up from the bottom as a result of the storm or as a result of tidal surge. The nutrients in the water column help the phytoplankton to grow, which then feed zooplankton,” said Howson.

Howson said there are other problems that scientists may not be able to confirm for a while. “One danger may be a greater influx of salt water into coastal freshwater systems – when dunes are lost there is a greater over wash of salt water from the ocean into coastal freshwater lakes,” said Howson. This could hurt fish and other animals that are not adapted to fresh or salt water, she said.

George Murphy, 22, of Brick Township, believes this summer will be tough for boaters. Murphy, who worked in a marina for several years and is a recreational boater, said, “Just navigating the Barnegat Bay this summer, let alone the Manasquan, is going to be hazardous, from all the debris still in the water.”

Nickels echoed the statement, saying that water depths have changed and many navigation markers and buoys were either destroyed or moved off station during and after Sandy.

Sarah Hurst, 22, of Point Pleasant, works for Tow Boat USA, a boat recovery company. She said the salt water deteriorated trees and foundations of houses in some flood areas, which could lead to collapsing of trees and making rebuilding very difficult.

Nickels said that when he helped with the clean-up of debris, he saw houses, boats, cars, dumpsters, trees, mannequins, toys, beds, docks, and other items in Barnegat Bay.

He recommends that if students wish to get involved, they can help with beach clean-up and restoration projects such as dune replenishments.

Lindsay McNamara of Clean Ocean Action said that the organization has developed a new program called, “Wave of Action” program is a long term volunteer effort to assist the people, businesses, habitats, and waterways impacted by Super storm Sandy through monthly clean up days. The first three “Waves” occurred on December 8, January 19, and February 23 and had over 4,500 volunteers to 87 clean-up sites in many towns affected by Super storm Sandy from Cape May, NJ, to Hampton Bays, NY, said McNamara.

The most common item found at these clean-ups has been lumber from boardwalks, docks and houses. But beach sweepers are finding other items as well.

“We have even found couches and other outside furniture. We also found keepsakes in Normandy Beach. It was showed the reality of how bad the storm really was,” said McNamara.

McNamara said that students who wish to get involved can go visit onto the Clean Ocean Action website to learn about the next beach sweep scheduled for April 27.

Nickels believe another issue is dune and marsh replenishment. He said, “It will take some time before all the marshes have debris removed. When dunes are finally replaced they will require extensive work to replant dune grasses so that the wind doesn’t remove them.”

However, Nickels said that reports indicate that most areas should be safe by Memorial Day.