UD Coastal Research Starts from Sandy Restoration Funds

ResearchTwo University of Delaware research professors were recently awarded funds to start work on multiple projects focusing on environmental damage after Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the eastern seaboard last fall. Greg Shriver and Chris Williams will be using the funds to assess the impact to regional tidal marsh birds and the damage and degradation to their coastal habitats and overall ecology following Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy (or unofficially, Superstorm Sandy) roared ashore in central New Jersey during the early morning hours of October 29, 2012. While the storm center was focused on the New Jersey shore, dozens of states were affected because of the sheer size of the storm, which stretched almost the entire length of the East Coast at its peak. According to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, the storm caused $65 billion in damages and is second only to Hurricane Katrina as the costliest weather disaster in U.S. history.

While the human cost has been well documented, the awarded funds are a part of a U.S. Department of Interior effort to research the environmental impact of the Hurricane Sandy through more than 45 different projects. These projects are providing information to assist with restoration efforts in the Atlantic Coast communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. Additionally, the projects are providing guidelines for better future protection from powerful storms through the restoration of marshes, wetlands and beaches, and rebuilding shorelines, beach replenishment and modeling storm surge impacts to coastal species and their habitats.

Both Shriver and Williams are associate professors for the UD Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology. Having studied the habitats in many of the affected areas, the two researchers can meet the challenge of documenting the affects of the storm by comparing data against what existed before the hurricane made landfall. The research teams have over two years of pre-hurricane data from 2011-12, and explained that this project will last until 2016, with majority of the work aimed at assessing both the positive and negative effects on the area ecology by Hurricane Sandy restoration projects.

The research projects are building upon research initiated by the Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Project (SHARP), which was started to monitor and protect coastal species listed as vulnerable to environmental changes. By working in concert with many state governments, SHARP research will continue to look at the impact on tidal marsh bird populations following the loss of habitats and food supplies. With the pre-storm research available, these projects will provide a unique “before and after” view that can be used to predict the impact of future storms on animal populations, as well as the ripple affect into human communities directly tied to these coastal ecosystems.

Williams said the researchers are both just happy that they can be of service to those communities impacted by the hurricane in any way possible. From an academic view, they both feel lucky to be able to help in any way with the storm restoration efforts. Both Shriver and Williams agree that there is a well developed program at UD to provide assessment of the ecological and wildlife community and provide recommendations for future coastal landscape planning and protection.