Thin Spreading Over New Jersey Salt Marsh
New Jersey Salt Marsh Measuring marsh grasses growing on thin spreading site © TNC

Stories in New Jersey

A Lifeline For Rising Seas

Coastal conservation projects help New Jersey salt marsh habitats stand up to a rising sea.

They are one of the first signs that we’re approaching our beloved Jersey shore—the expanses of salt marsh that line our state’s coast. These rich habitats provide aesthetic beauty, support a variety of wildlife and help protect our homes and businesses from flooding during storms.

But sea level rise and a changing climate has many of New Jersey’s coastal areas under stress, and some of our precious marshes are, quite literally, drowning. 

New Jersey
Salt Marsh New Jersey's sinking salt marshes in Cape May County. © TNC

Giving our Coastal Marshes a Boost

We are using the unwanted sediment from navigational dredging to build up the elevation of targeted salt marshes. The “beneficial reuse” process employs water cannons to spray 3 to 6 inches of clean dredge material across low-lying and degraded sections of marsh, helping the wetland better keep pace with sea level rise.

The project, in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers, Green Trust Alliance and others, was funded by a $3.42 million grant from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program.

The first project was piloted in 2014 near Stone Harbor in Middle Township, Cape May County, with beneficial reuse “thin spreading” performed to support healthy marsh vegetation and to create sand bar habitat for the endangered black skimmer. Additional marsh restorations were undertaken in Avalon, Middle Township and Fortescue for a total of approximately 90 acres of salt marsh restoration.

Thin spreading project
Thin Spreading Scientists measuring marsh elevation on the marsh to measure the success of the thin spreading project. © TNC

Protecting People and Nature

The marsh restoration efforts allow us demonstrate the benefits of salt marshes in helping to reduce flood risk to local communities, while we test an innovative restoration technique. Improving the health of these marshes allows them to better respond to sea level rise and other coastal hazards while providing habitat for wildlife, recreation for people and a multitude of benefits for coastal communities.

Signs of Success

Monitoring the projects’ effectiveness is ongoing and full results will take years to evaluate, but there are already encouraging indications. As part of the Ring Island marsh enhancement activities in Middle Township, The Nature Conservancy worked with partners to create elevated nesting habitat for state-endangered birds. In 2017, more than 15 black skimmer nests were counted within the habitat area, compared to zero in 2016 and 2015, and the number and productivity of least tern nests increased exponentially. Charismatic American oystercatchers are also using the site; their nests tripled from two to six in just one year.