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The Cape May PMC - One Year after Superstorm Sandy

October 29, 2013 marks the one year anniversary of the largest and costliest coastal storm to affect New Jersey, the New York City Metropolitan area and Long Island since the March 1962 Nor'easter that prompted the creation of the USDA-NRCS Cape May Plant Materials Center.

It took 50 years for a storm of greater magnitude to affect the coastline, but Superstorm Sandy, a meteorological phenomenon, hit in late October 2012. The damage from this storm dramatically increased the need for additional coastal plants for restoration. The PMC’s activities advancing the plant sciences and availability of coastal plant materials are as relevant now as they were 50 years ago.

A truncated sand dune after superstorm Sandy

Truncated sand dune after superstorm Sandy


This healthy backdune shown below sustained
little damage from the storm.

This healthy backdune sustained little damage from the storm


Sea oats evaluation in Avalon, New Jersey

Sea oats evaluation


PMC involvement with dune restoration is in the selection of plant materials, development of planting and maintenance technology, and demonstration plantings to foster community acceptance for healthy dune systems. The Cape May Plant Materials Center has been the “go to” facility for technical assistance on dune and shoreline stabilization and restoration along the Mid-Atlantic coast.

‘Cape’ American beachgrass was the Center’s first released dune stabilization plant in 1972. Interestingly, 41 years after its development, it remains the only beachgrass cultivar currently in commercial production. This release has historically been produced by about 15 growers from North Carolina to Massachusetts. However, as a result of the increased demand, an additional 12 new growers received ‘Cape’ foundation plants from us this past winter.

While American beachgrass is the primary dune plant for initial stabilization on newly constructed dunes, it is not the only plant specified for dune restoration projects. Other Cape May PMC releases that are commonly specified in Army Corps of Engineers and various state dune projects include: Avalon saltmeadow cordgrass and ‘Atlantic’ coastal panicgrass. Atlantic is the only plant that has been successfully seeded on sand dunes.

Based on this success, the PMC has working to develop seeding technologies for previously released dune species such as Monarch Germplasm seaside goldenrod, Dune Crest Germplasm coastal little bluestem and the shrub cultivars, ‘Ocean View’ beach plum and ‘Wildwood’ bayberry. Also included in these trials are unreleased plant species such as training wild bean, beach pea and partridge pea. This is an effort to broaden plant diversity, increase plant sustainability and to economically improve ecosystem services of dune systems.

An additional plant development effort is the pending 2015 release of a northern Mid-Atlantic strain of sea oats for New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. This project is gaining interest in light of climate change and the need to be proactive in adapting plant recommendations in a changing environment.

The National Park Service-Gateway National Recreation Area in NYC/NJ was heavily damaged by the storm. As a result, they requested PMC assistance through National Headquarters. As a result, we have contracted with the NPS to provide local genetic coastal plants for the revegetation of their damaged shorelines and dunes.

While the storm dramatically changed the Atlantic Ocean coastal dunes, the back bay tidal shoreline has also been adversely affected. Coastal stabilization efforts have been given a “shot on the arm” from this storm as many more folks realize the protection that healthy dunes, shorelines and tidal wetland marshes provide. The need for additional plant materials and innovative applications of both new and existing plant materials and techniques such as “living shorelines” has never been more evident.

Lastly, the Cape May PMC has supported the New Jersey Marine Science Consortium (NJ Sea Grant and various academic institutions) by providing information for their Restorations: Dune it Right FAQ Web page on assisting communities with dune restoration. This effort led to the NJ Marine Science Consortium recently received a grant entitled "Superstorm Sandy Rapid Response" to provide educational assistance to communities on restoring coastal areas.

The Cape May PMC will provide in-kind services for assisting in the creation of a comprehensive dune restoration manual; presentations at a series of workshops; and a coastal restoration workshop to be conducted in Summer 2014 at the PMC.