Stories from the Bay
Update By: Dr. Larry Niles, LJ Niles Associates LLC
Although our project focuses on improving conditions for horseshoe crabs and birds, we also aim to improve the economy of rural bayshore towns in small but meaningful ways. This is important because, like much of the country’s rural areas, Cumberland County suffers enormous levels of poverty. According to a recent survey by NJ Times, Cumberland has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country with nearly 44% of working age males are out of work.
We tried to help at the start of our work. We included the leaders of the bayside towns, Middle Township, Maurice River Township and Downe Township early in our planning, almost two years ago. Several of the projects were included in our proposal because the towns asked for them, such as the East Point project to be done next year.
East Point Project
In our work, we also tried to face the existential challenges concerning the towns. Like in Maurice River Township, where we will develop restoration designs and early permitting for the Cox Meadow, a once productive marsh with over a mile of beach, all lost when salt hay farming was abandoned. The growing eroding mud flat is now threatening communities along the adjacent upland.
Following are four aerial photos of Cox Meadow marsh, a historically farmed marsh, that were hayed for salt hay or spartina patens. The salt hay farmer dikes much of the Delaware Bayshore for hundreds of years. They were mostly abandoned over the last 40 years, leaving marshes as much as 1.5 feet lower than unfarmed marsh. The following four aerial photographs show the impact of extraordinary tidal flows that eroded the barrier beach along the bay. This contributed to the loss of vegetated marsh and a growing mud flat. Besides being less productive, mudflat create long fetch that threatens nearby house located in the uplands with storm surge.
Our project has more immediate economic impacts. We purchase our sand from local sand mines, thus providing income in late winter, when most of the mines are awaiting summer work. Most of our machine operators come from the area and are paid good wages. Through our various projects we embrace many volunteers including people living on the bayshore or in the area. These folks help spread the message that we are trying to create a new spirit on the bay, one of hope and progress.
This is no more apparent in current two projects. Thompson's Beach hung by a thread after the state removed the rubble thus allowing the sea to threaten the marsh behind the beach, and the town of Hieslerville behind that. We will fortify the beach with life giving sand and will also work to restore eroding marsh later this year. As an added bonus the rubble we remove from the beach will be used to fortify the dike protecting the town’s marinas.
In Fortescue, a beach town with only storm ravaged beaches, will now have nearly ½ mile of new beach. The town’s Mayor Bob Campbell is doing his best to build on our work with a new horseshoe crab festival on May 16th and by improving access that will help people use our beach after the crabs have moved back out to sea and the birds to their Arctic breeding areas.
Dr. Larry Niles has led efforts to protect red knots and horseshoe crabs for over 30 years.