New Jersey

New Jersey’s coastline is one of the most densely populated in the country and an economic powerhouse for the state.  Summer tourism contributes greatly to New Jersey’s economy as millions of visitors from around the world descend on the “Jersey Shore.” In addition, commercial fishing provides employment and supplies the country with seafood such as sea scallops, oysters, clams, and flounder. The Port of New York and New Jersey, and the Port of Philadelphia and Camden are two of the largest container ports on the east coast of the United States generating thousands of jobs and about $30 billion to the regional economy.

However, the foundation for a thriving coastal economy in New Jersey is based on the integration of human needs with a healthy coastal environment. New Jersey’s ocean and bays, beaches, dunes, and salt marshes play an important ecological, as well as economic, role. Beaches support threatened and endangered nesting birds and are a main attraction for summer tourists; coastal habitats in New Jersey are critical for many of migratory birds, and are a nursery for ecologically and economically important fish and crabs. The Delaware Bay is known worldwide for the horseshoe crab migratory shore birds phenomenon. In addition, the coastal habitats of New Jersey provide a critical buffer between coastal communities and the waters that surround them. Planning efforts focused on the restoration of coastal habitats enhances resilience measures and promotes a wide range of options for improving a community’s ability to respond to coastal hazards.

The Restoration Explorer helps to provide the initial step in the planning process of identifying potential shoreline enhancement projects to help stabilize and strengthen New Jersey’s shorelines. Communities are able to use the Restoration Explorer to examine environmental conditions for coastal restoration suitability based on their own municipality’s current ecological state. Nature-based coastal resilience techniques, such as living shorelines, have the unique ability to reduce wave energy and coastal erosion, and enhance ecological networks. By promoting healthy, functioning habitats with nature-based solutions, communities can also reduce risk to people and property from localized flooding and sea level rise. Ecological benefits can include an improvement in water quality, sediment accretion resulting in vegetative marsh regrowth, as well as upland and aquatic habitat enhancement.

Overview

The dependence of New Jersey’s coastal economy on a healthy coastal environment presents both a challenge and an opportunity for stakeholders to work together on building a resilient coast that can adapt to change while maintaining its economic and environmental values. Today, New Jersey is faced with the challenges of a changing climate, specifically accelerated rates of sea level rise and more frequent and intense coastal storms. These challenges, and others, place the habitats and the coastal communities of New Jersey at risk. Coastal communities, state and federal governments, and residents are faced with difficult choices on how best to manage an ever-changing coast. To reduce risk for the coastal environment and communities of New Jersey, proper planning and tools are needed to make better policy, management, and conservation decisions for the benefit of people and nature.

Costly storms like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene have brought public attention to the need to increase the resiliencyof our coastal communities. The economic costs of coastal disasters are already substantial. Superstorm Sandy resulted in over $50 billion in damage, with more than half—$37 billion—in New Jersey. Beyond the physical damage from the storm, other financial costs are high, including business closings, missed work days and lost income to households. Another study looking at extreme weather reported that, in New Jersey, power interruptions resulting from storms such as hurricanes, thunderstorms, and snow and ice are 10 times more common than they were 20 years ago. Future storms are expected to be more intense, more frequent and less predictable, and will be exacerbated by rising sea levels. New Jersey is considered a hot spot for sea level rise, where predicted increases in sea level are three to four times higher than the global average.

Coastal destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy storm surge along the New Jersey Shore. Photo credit: Bridget Besaw

Coastal destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy storm surge along the New Jersey Shore. Photo credit: Bridget Besaw

Overview

The Atlantic Ocean, the many rivers and bays, the thousands of acres of salt marshes, and all the marine life of New Jersey make up a healthy, resilient coast. Coastal communities can be a part of that environment by using nature to improve water quality, provide recreational and commercial opportunities, and help buffer homes and businesses during flooding events. However, with the impacts of hazards like sea level rise and storms taking their toll on coastal ecosystems there is a need to conserve and restore New Jersey’s coastal habitats for the many benefits they provide. Linking habitat conservation with coastal community needs and concerns is one way that we can maximize the nature’s benefits, and natural infrastructure is one way in which habitat conservation and coastal community needs can complement each other.

Natural Infrastructure

Since Superstorm Sandy, there has been increased public attention on the role natural habitat plays in coastal areas to reduce risk from coastal hazards. Examples include: marshes, which can reduce wave energy and decrease flood damage to communities; wetlands, which can store flood water and reduce flood damage to homes; and sand dunes, which can buffer communities from damage caused by storm surge. Natural infrastructure is an appealing option because in addition to risk reduction, it offers a variety of other benefits. For example, restored marshes can also lead to water quality improvements and economic  growth from commercial fisheries and tourism revenues, whereas hardened solutions like bulkheads offer a single benefit – reducing erosion at just one location.

Restoration Explorer

To promote the use of nature-based solutions throughout New Jersey, The Nature Conservancy and its partners have developed the Restoration Explorer a web-based application located within the Coastal Resilience Tool that helps to identify solutions to coastal issues such as erosion, nuisance flooding, and degraded water quality. The benefits of resilient coastal restoration projects include the promotion of ecologically enhanced shorelines which can increase biodiversity, grow healthy aquatic habitats, improve water quality, reduce shoreline erosion, prevent localized flooding, and enhance coastal aesthetics. Currently the Restoration Explorer visualizes what types of shoreline enhancement techniques may work in a selected area or region. The visualization of shoreline enhancement techniques is based on engineering criteria developed by The Stevens Institute of Technology and coastal spatial data. For help on operating the Restoration Explorer please see it’s corresponding User Guide, which provides a description of the application’s various components.

Shoreline enhancement projects have a variety of ecological and engineering requirements and can often be mixed and matched to tailor project designs to local conditions. It is important to consult with ecologists and engineers to determine the specific design requirements for any proposed project. It is also important to consult with Federal, State, and local officials regarding permitting requirements. Additional resources are listed below.

Cape May

The Lower Cape May Meadows project, completed in 2007, included restoring the beach, dune and wetland as well as installing a water management system.  To show how important it has been, we completed an economic study of the Lower Cape May Meadows restoration and our results uniquely provide hard data showing that nature has real value. That value comes in the form of flooding protection in Cape May Point, which will be at least $2,000,000 and could be as high as $17,300,000 in damages avoided to homes over the next 50 years. Even more, given that it restored prime habitat for migratory birds, Lower Cape May Meadows also brings in an estimated $313 million in additional revenue each year from birders visiting the area..  The Lower Cape May Meadows restoration reinforces that healthy natural landscapes benefit our communities in many ways, including financially, and that investing in nature pays off.

Links to relevant Cool Green Science Blogs

Reports

The Coastal Resilience Network has developed peer-reviewed papers, reports, articles and more. All links are provided with some available via download at the Coastal Resilience Resource Library on the Conservation Gateway. Click here to be redirected to the Resource Library for the latest reports, papers and other publications on coastal resilience in New Jersey.

Partners

The Nature Conservancy in New Jersey is currently leading the NJ Resilient Coastlines Initiative, NOAA-funded project aimed at building resilience of New Jersey’s coastal habitats. The first step in this project is to introduce the Restoration Explorer Application on the Coastal Resilience mapping tool. The Restoration Explorer will allow the Conservancy and its partners to work with communities to identify what types of shoreline enhancement projects will work where based on engineering criteria and on-the-ground conditions. Project partners and collaborators include:

Resources

For the latest reports, papers and other publications on coastal resilience in New Jersey visit the Coastal Resilience Resource Library on the Conservation Gateway.