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Tales of the Coast
Corps and the Coast

Beach Ecosystem Restoration

Beaches are dynamic ecosystems dominated by sand, wind and waves, yet they can host many types of wildlife. Beach nourishment can aid environmental restoration by providing habitat for birds, shellfish and sea turtles. These and other organisms nest and feed on beaches; therefore, a wide, sandy beach creates or restores beach habitat that has been damaged by erosion.

Beach fill material is chosen to mimic native sand as closely as possible. This benefits environmental restoration because closely matched beach fill helps accommodate the needs of sea turtles and birds for nesting, egg incubation, and hatching success. During design and construction, care is taken to avoid creating steep berm on the backshore because this can force nesting wildlife to lay eggs too close to the water.

Healthy beach and dune systems are important for many organisms, including rare and endangered birds and sea turtles. Maintaining nourished beaches provides important wildlife habitat areas that are threatened by erosion.

To learn more about how beach nourishment can support ecosystem restoration, see How Beach Nourishment Projects Work. (pdf, 2.54 MB)

The Lower Cape May Meadows (The Meadows) in southern New Jersey is an internationally renowned bird migration area within the Atlantic Flyway and the site of many rare coastal habitats. This complex of freshwater wetlands, forests and fields and an ocean dune and beach system hosts the migration of over one million birds each year. The Meadows is also home to a large variety of wading birds, songbirds, raptors, waterfowl and shorebirds, including the Federally threatened piping plover. Cape May Point State Park and The Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), are located in this area.

Since the mid-twentieth century, The Meadows has experienced significant erosion leading to habitat loss and dune breaching, which in turn resulted in salt water inundation of sensitive ecosystems. The salt water intrusion lead to the death of trees, shrubs and freshwater wetland vegetation and allowed for the proliferation of Phragmites australis, a highly invasive plant that can develop monotypic stands which choke out other vegetation and provide little value to wildlife.

In response, the Corps Philadelphia District initiated an ecosystem restoration plan after careful study and evaluation. Beachfill activities pumped approximately 1,406,000 cubic yards of sediment from an offshore borrow source onto the beach and dune complex between September 2004 and March 2005. Phragmites control efforts began in the fall of 2005, and construction related to internal hydrology, water control structures and endangered species habitat was completed in the spring of 2007.

As a result of these efforts, Phragmites dominance has decreased and plant diversity has flourished, particularly native flowers and state-listed plants. Foraging habitat in the wetlands is improving, and the population of rare and threatened birds is increasing as nesting habitat expands in the marshes and on the beach. This project remains in the monitoring and adaptive management phase, which will continue through 2012. With the support of many key partners, including divisions of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Mosquito Commission, the Corps has successfully implemented restoration of this vital and vibrant wildlife area.

 

Beach Ecosystem Restoration

The Corps and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources restored the beach at Mispillion Inlet, DE in 2009 to improve the habitat for horseshoe crabs and shorebirds. Erosion caused by a damaged breakwater was threatening this important beach habitat. In response the Corps and its partners used locally obtained sediment to restore the beach and repair the breakwater.

Improving Coastal Habitats

The population of Federally listed piping plovers at The Meadows reached 11 nesting pairs in 2008 and 2009, up from a ten-year low of only two pairs. Most of the chicks feed almost exclusively at the plover ponds created on the back side of the dune that were constructed to restore some of the site's lost wetland habitat.