The tiny borough of West Wildwood took a beating last year from Winter Storm Jonas, which damaged bulkheads and flooded the town.
The land is sinking, as it is all along the South Jersey shore, and a warming climate is causing sea levels to rise — including the waters of Grassy and Richardson sounds adjacent to West Wildwood.
Help is on the way. The Nature Conservancy is working with borough officials to bolster the shrinking natural peninsula that protects much of the town with a “living shoreline.”
That spit of land is down to about 150 feet wide in many places. If it disappears, back-bay waves in a storm would start to work directly on the inhabited parts of the borough.
The conversancy has been working with the state, Rutgers University and Stevens Institute of Technology to develop nature-based solutions for shoreline erosion and nuisance tidal flooding. Called “living shorelines,” they place materials that reduce wave action while creating habitat for shellfish, birds and fish.
Conservancy officials said their plan for West Wildwood calls for structures made from rocks to help regrow the natural habitats of the peninsula. That least-natural of the living shoreline protective structures is required for areas subject to high wave and wind energy.
Last year, a partnership including the Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rutgers Haskins Shellfish Lab and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary started construction of a hybrid living shoreline to protect the Gandy’s Beach/Money Island area of Downe Township in Cumberland County. That area has lost 500 feet of marsh to erosion since 1930.
The living shoreline there, built with the help of volunteers, will include four concrete-block breakwater structures placed a bit into Delaware Bay. These will reduce the force of wave action on the shore and marsh by half during low and mid-level tides.
Student volunteers also created the beginnings of an oyster reef with bags of oyster shells. The shells were recycled from Dock’s Oyster House in Atlantic City, keeping 38 cubic yards of them from landfill disposal. Children from Rutgers Project PORTS put them into 7,500 seaworthy porous bags.
At the shoreline, logs made from coconut-husk fiber were placed to help sediment build up and provide habitat for mussels.
The Gandy’s Beach project was funded with an $880,000 Fish and Wildlife grant. The conservancy figures the West Wildwood project will cost $915,000, and it and the borough are seeking federal, state and private funds for that.
They can expect help from U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who toured the site late last month with conservancy officials.
He said the ability of living shorelines to simultaneously protect people and habitat make them suitable for West Wildwood and other areas along the South Jersey shore.
We like that too, and the cooperative effort by various levels of government, nonprofit organizations, education leaders and volunteers of all ages. Lots of hands will make the tough work of meeting the increasing challenge of shore protection a little lighter.