Places We Protect

The Humble Power of Oysters and Coconuts

Large-scale, innovative project in southern New Jersey will reshape existing coastline, reduce flood risk and improve habitat for coastal birds.

"Living Shoreline" Breakwater Installation

The first four oyster reef breakwater structures have been installed off the shoreline at Gandy’s Beach.

CLICK HERE to view an infographic and learn how living shoreline breakwaters work.

The shoreline and tidal marshes near Gandy’s Beach and Money Island act as a natural buffer from storm effects to the homes, businesses and roads in that area of Downe Township, Cumberland County. But over time they have eroded badly—in fact, the Gandy’s Beach shoreline has shrunk by nearly 500 feet since 1930. Superstorm Sandy hit the region’s coastal ecosystems hard in 2012, further diminishing their protective value and leaving the communities vulnerable to significant flooding.

Natural features, like oyster reefs, marshes and living shorelines, can play an important role for coastal communities that are dealing with challenges like storm-related erosion and flooding.

Nature-based Solutions

We've teamed up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and Rutgers University Haskins Shellfish Research Lab to install the first four oyster reef breakwater structures off the shoreline at Gandy’s Beach in southern New Jersey.

The two-year project, funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for $880,000, involves planning, engineering, construction and monitoring of nearly 3,000 feet of oyster reef and COIR biolog shoreline to help reduce local erosion problems and provide quality habitat for species like horseshoe crabs and red knots.

Castles and Coir Biologs

The reef was constructed from a combination of materials, including “oyster castles,” stackable, interlocking blocks of concrete, limestone, crushed shell and silica that encourage oyster larvae to settle, as well as bagged oyster shells collected as part of a shell recycling program with Dock’s Raw Bar in Atlantic City. Since the program began, the Conservancy has gathered 38 cubic yards of shell from Dock’s, keeping the shell from entering state landfills. Local school children from Rutgers University Project PORTS assembled the shell into 7,500 bags, which serve as building blocks for the breakwater along with the oyster castles.

  • View a slideshow to learn more about the first stage of this on-the-ground restoration effort.

Coir is a fiber that comes from the husk of coconuts. It is one of the few natural fibers that is not only waterproof, but resistant to damage by saltwater. Coir biologs have a compact center of coconut fiber within an exterior of coir mesh netting that holds everything together. Biologs are strategically placed to help stabilize areas prone to erosion, like steep hillsides, shorelines and other areas exposed to waves or currents.

Benefits of Breakwaters

The oyster reef breakwaters provide a multitude of benefits, including filtering water, providing habitat for key commercial and recreational fisheries and diminishing the energy of waves as they move towards shore, which means less erosion for the coastline.

The team will monitor the integrity of the initial structures through the cold, ice and storms of the upcoming winter and apply the findings to future oyster reef installations in the same area in spring.

“We hope this will serve as a model for local and state governments, land owners and Bayshore residents to see the value of a renewed living shoreline in action,” says Moses Katkowski, Coastal Projects Manager for the Conservancy in New Jersey, “and that it will be a model we can replicate where needed in other areas of the state.”






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