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Restoring Wetlands Improves Coastal Resiliency

Coastal wetlands are natural barriers that can help protect against storm damage. (Andrea Sears)
Coastal wetlands are natural barriers that can help protect against storm damage. (Andrea Sears)
March 13, 2019

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. – The town of East Hampton, New York, will soon be demolishing a house so the land can once again serve as a protective buffer against storm damage.

The 3.2-acre plot is next to a large tract of protected wetland along Accabonac Harbor. The demolition is part of an effort taking place in coastal communities around Long Island that bore the full brunt of Superstorm Sandy almost seven years ago.

Alison Branco, coastal director at The Nature Conservancy, says the former home site will gradually revert to wetlands.

"Having wetlands between the coastline and developed properties helps to protect the parcels from storm energy and lessens the effects of flooding,” says Branco. “And also, wetlands are really important for improving our water quality."

She says many towns on Long Island are using Community Preservation Fund money to purchase developed property and return it to wetlands.

Branco notes even towns like Brookhaven that don't have access to a Community Preservation Fund are finding ways to restore coastal wetlands.

"Suffolk County, in partnership with the town, is in the process of purchasing homes in Brookhaven with the Natural Resource Conservation Service federal post-disaster funding,” says Branco. “They're going to do about 25 parcels in Mastic Beach."

She adds the process allows people with coastal property to choose to move to higher ground, where they should be less vulnerable to flooding.

Following Superstorm Sandy, The Nature Conservancy did a study of the impact of storm damage on communities in New York and New Jersey. Branco says it clearly showed the benefits of natural coastal buffers.

"About $625 million in property damage were prevented by existing, intact wetlands,” says Branco. “So, the more of these wetlands that we can protect and restore, the more people that we can protect."

She points out that as climate change produces more frequent and severe storms, coastal wetlands will be more important than ever.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY