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Impacts of Superstorm Sandy on Wildlife

Superstorm Sandy caused severe damage and devastation to New Jersey homes and businesses, and wildlife wasn’t spared from its destructive impacts.

Image of sandy satellite

CWF biologists were out in the field just hours after Sandy's departure, surveying her destruction, and it is clear that some species have been impacted.

CWF staff conducted wildlife/habitat assessments for beach nesting birds such as piping plover on beaches from Brigantine to Cape May almost immediately after the storm. As expected, many of our nesting sites and migratory shorebird roosting sites were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, losing a great deal of sand and suitable habitat. It took us longer to get to our nesting sites in Ocean and Monmouth Counties as they were inaccessible well after the storm - the impacts in those areas were some of the most severe. Many of the areas seem to be very low lying now from the loss of sand and could be more flood-prone in the future. Only time will tell if the habitat will build back up enough for the next nesting season or if it will have lasting impacts on migratory bird species.

Along the Delaware Bay, Reed’s, Cook’s and Kimble’s beaches lost a great deal of sand - the winds on the front side of the storm pounded southern bay beaches – although a complete assessment of the bay beaches is not complete and it remains to be seen what impact this will have on migratory red knots and other shorebirds in the spring.

Image of Terrapin barrier fence along Great Bay Blvd. in Little Egg Harbor was damaged by the storm surge from Superstorm Sandy.Terrapin barrier fence along Great Bay Blvd. in Little Egg Harbor was damaged by the storm surge from Superstorm Sandy. © Ben Wurst

We have begun assessments for other protected species in the State. The majority of the northern diamondback terrapin barrier fence for the Great Bay Boulevard project was damaged, but most of our new tubing was still in place. We plan to repair the fence before the nesting season begins in May. A number of osprey nests were lost or destroyed from the storm, although many more managed to survive the strong storm surge and fierce winds. We're surveying all of the major colonies this winter to make plans to repair or replace nests that were effected by Sandy. We don’t have a full assessment of bald eagle nests just yet, but we hope that it is still early enough for many to rebuild destroyed nests before winter breeding season. Other wildlife concerns include contaminants released into our waterways and the sprawling amount of storm-driven debris created along our beaches, bays, and river systems.

For some wildlife species, the storm was far less disruptive. In locations such as Stone Harbor Point and North Brigantine Natural Area, the storm scoured out areas with too much vegetation, which benefits beach nesters that prefer sparsely vegetated areas. Sand was also pushed back into the dunes to create blowouts and overwash areas that may serve as additional habitat. This was evident at Barnegat Light and especially at Island Beach State Park. CWF has already acted to post and fence some of the new nesting habitat at Island Beach State Park in anticipation of shorebird nesting in the spring.

Image of Highly suitable piping plover nesting habitat created by the storm along the south side of Barnegat Inlet.
 Highly suitable piping plover nesting habitat created by the storm along the south side of Barnegat Inlet.

CWF staff conducted American oystercatcher surveys, as a significant number use New Jersey beaches for roosting during the fall and winter. Luckily, approximately 900-1,000 American oystercatchers were still using our southern coastal inlets after Sandy, about the same number of birds observed the week before the storm. We also observed an abundance of migratory songbirds taking shelter and flittering through the back dune/bayberry habitat right after the storm. This was a good reminder of the value of New Jersey coastal habitat for songbirds as they migrate down the coast.

CWF hopes to conduct further assessments to gain a better understanding of the short- and long-term impacts to wildlife from Hurricane Sandy and how that may affect conservation and recovery effort for these species moving forward.

Download Assessing Hurricane Sandy's Impact on Wildlife

Assessing Hurricane Sandy's Impact on Wildlife - 303.4KB
(Press Release), November 2012

We will also make it a priority to work with regulatory agencies, coastal land managers, and beach communities to ensure that breeding and migratory shorebirds habitats, including new suitable habitat created by the storm, are not being adversely impacted by recovery efforts.

To assist in helping the people impacted by the storm to recover and rebuild, please contact the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, United Way, or American Red Cross.

To help protect the rare and endangered wildlife impacted by the storm, consider making a donation to CWF.