By: Ron Ohrel
The 2012 storm known as Sandy inflicted severe damage to communities over large areas of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, leaving a swath of destruction and large amounts of debris in the coastal waters and marshes. This summer, with support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, impacted states have started to clean up more of what remains.
While a great deal of marine debris has already been removed, there is still some in particularly in hard-to-reach or less trafficked areas. The debris behind sand dunes and in wetlands, marshes, and tidal creeks poses hazards to safety, navigation, fishing grounds, and sensitive ecosystems. A great deal of the debris is structural, including docks and decks from houses. There are also derelict vessels, lumber, and household items.
Following the disaster, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program worked with the states to determine where additional marine debris removal was needed. NOAA established a formal agreement with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation that enables debris cleanup at 10 sites, including nine waterfront state parks on Long Island.
Led by Parks’ Regional Environmental Manager Annie McIntyre, the project involves manual removal of construction debris, broken docks, timber, and other miscellaneous items. In many cases, the debris is located hundreds of yards from shore in back dunes, landward edges of marshes, and along tree and shrub lines—demonstrating the magnitude of Sandy’s storm surge. “The winter after Sandy, we were walking along the beaches and we saw lots and lots of debris way back in the bushes,” explained McIntyre. “We knew that we were never going to have the time or manpower to get to them, so when this program became available, I was really excited. It’s a tremendous opportunity to get this debris out of the ecosystem.”
Cleanup at the state parks is now underway. Since June, seasonal employees have been at work, withstanding summer heat, high vegetation, and biting insects while removing tons of debris. The crew consists of current college students or recent graduates. Many were on Long Island when Sandy came ashore.
The storm’s impact is still being discovered. “What surprised me most is actually how much is still out here, almost a couple years after Sandy,” said team member Maryellen Costantino. “It’s interesting to see how badly some places got hit and how far the water came inland.” Coworker Joe Squeglia agreed: “There’s so much debris out here—little things, big things, refrigerators, boats, little plastic pieces. It’s really shocking how much is out in the environment.”
The crew is doing its part to reduce that amount. They removed more than two tons of debris from Jones Beach State Park alone, with more still to be recovered. Work at all park sites will end this fall.
The NOAA-New York agreement also will allow for debris removal at a tidal wetland located in the Long Island Town of Hempstead and managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Work at that site will begin in fall 2014.
In addition to New York State, NOAA has reached formal agreements with Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York City. Those projects will be highlighted in future posts.