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A Force of Nature

The South Cape May Meadows

“Essentially, we are developing methods inspired by nature that protect people from the forces of nature.”

-Moses Katkowski, marine conservation coordinator

In late October 2012,  the East Coast braced itself as Superstorm Sandy made landfall. In New Jersey, Governor Christie declared a state of emergency, and a mandatory evacuations were issued up the coast. Residents pulled their boats out of the water and  thousands of cars lined the Garden State Parkway fleeing our coastal towns. Sandy devastated the coast from the Carolinas to New England. The heavily developed coastlines of New Jersey and New York were hit the hardest with homes, boardwalks, and businesses destroyed.

While most shore towns were quite literally underwater, several communities in Cape May seemed to withstand the storm surges and flooding better than others. The communities that fared better are bordered by The Nature Conservancy's South Cape May Meadows preserve.  The preserve's beaches, dunes, and wetlands absorbed much of the rain, wind, and surging ocean waters and protected nearby communities from the wrath of Sandy.

The Meadows:  One of nature's great comebacks

 Long a globally renowned birding spot attracting about 300,000 visitors a year,  218-acre South Cape May Meadows preserve deserves that reputation more than ever as it hosts species in a variety and numbers not seen in years. The preserve is the result of a 2004 restoration project to return the area to a productive natural state that would provide habitat to wildlife and reduce coastal flooding in nearby communities.

“We worked with the Army Corps of Engineers and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to do a project that was part engineering, part conservation science and art,” says Bob Allen, director of conservation. “We restored part of a stream that hadn’t been seen in 100 years, rebuilt the beach and dunes to be stronger, and strengthened a few of South Cape May’s old roads to encourage the wetlands to hold stormwater run-off.”

Looking Ahead

In the weeks, months, and years following Superstorm Sandy we all must continue to help by working together to make things better and reduce some of the risks that large storms present. The Nature Conservancy believes in restoring our ocean and coasts, and using natural infrastructure to defend us from natural hazards and disasters . The Meadows is a shining example of the benefits nature can provide to coastal communities during events like Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy. The Nature Conservancy is developing methods to reduce the risk of coastal hazards and providing information to aid coastal decision makers as they look into the future of what our coasts should look like.

Restoring the valuable coasts of New Jersey and beyond will take a combination of methods, some new and some old. Living Shoreline projects can create more habitats like tidal marshes and oyster reefs that protect our coasts from sea level rise, coastal storm impacts, and erosion. Living Shorelines are not the answer everywhere, but they are part of the solution. Beaches, dunes, and tidal marshes are all part of a natural, healthy coastal environment. Each habitat type plays a key role in determining how a storm affects our coast. We must recognize the value that these habitats play and utilize their amazing capabilities when thinking about how to restore our oceans and coasts in New Jersey and beyond.

“Essentially, we are developing methods inspired by nature that protect people from the forces of nature,” says Moses Katkowski, marine conservation coordinator for the Conservancy.  “The end result is more wildlife habitat and safer communities.”

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