New Jersey’s Coastal Resilience Tool Box is Growing!

Even New Jersey-born internet entrepreneur Barry Schuler knows that sometimes the best technology is the oldest around. “Nature has provided us a spectacular toolbox,” the ex-AOL chairman said, and he could not be more correct. And as we face unprecedented threats to our shore towns from storms, flooding and sea level rise, we are going to need to use everything in that toolbox.

New Jersey’s coastal communities and the habitats on which we all depend are growing more vulnerable to the impacts of an increasingly unpredictable climate. While federal, state and local governments often turn to “hard infrastructure” options, like bulkheads and sea walls to combat coastal erosion or minimize flooding risk, a group of partners is working to harness and promote nature’s power as a way to address coastal hazards.

When communities use nature-based solutions instead of – or in conjunction with – hard infrastructure, they can not only reduce coastal erosion or nuisance flooding, but also reap the additional benefits provided by healthy salt marshes: improved water quality, abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation, and enhanced nursery habitat for important commercial and recreational fish species.

With the support of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the New Jersey Resilient Coastlines Initiative has spent the past two years developing tools to support the identification, implementation and monitoring of nature-based solutions to coastal risks.

Web-based Decision Support Tools:

A key outcome of the Resilient Coastlines Initiative’s work is the Coastal Resilience Tool, which empowers communities to identify where and how they can put nature to work in their towns. Its two elements are:

  • Restoration Explorer App. The Restoration Explorer application facilitates nature-based alternatives to bulkheads. Its mapping feature allows users to zoom into an area within their community that is seeing high levels of coastal erosion and to learn about which shoreline enhancement techniques could be effective in combating it. A short introductory video gives a good overview of how the Restoration Explorer works.
  • Future Habitat App. The Future Habitat application was created to help visualize how salt marshes will be affected by sea level rise by 2050. Users can enter scenarios of 1, 2 or 3 feet of sea level rise and see how conditions will change in the marshes, and whether they will likely migrate inland or succumb to inundation. The information in the Future Habitat app can help prioritize what areas of salt marsh could be further examined for restoration or enhancement.

As part of each of these applications, municipalities can also view Municipal Summaries to learn more about their coastlines (e.g., percentage of coast experiencing high rates of erosion; acreage of marsh likely to convert to mudflat with sea level rise) and how living shorelines can be applied in their communities.

Measures & Monitoring Resources:

As part of the project, we also developed two guidance documents to help measure the success and benefits of coastal restoration and enhancement projects. Measuring both the success and benefits of restoration projects will help to inform better design into the future and build support for and investment in future projects. They can both be found online at The Nature Conservancy’s Climate Risk & Resilience Resources Library.

  • Ecosystem System Service Valuation Guidebook. A guide for incorporating ecosystem service valuation into coastal restoration projects fosters the development of studies to measure the value of nature’s benefits of coastal restoration projects to develop more specific, local data on the advantages of healthy ecosystems to coastal communities. Additionally, the guidebook goes well beyond data collection and encourages engaging communities early in the process to increase the likelihood that project goals with overlap with community interests.

Community Resources:

  • In addition to web tools, we created a Community Resource Guide for the identification and implementation of living shoreline projects. This guide is a one-stop reference for resources and information for communities considering shoreline enhancement projects.

Ready to learn more about how these tools can help protect your community?