Ecologist Shane Goodshall navigates wading through two feet of mud in the Thompson’s Beach marsh on Delaware Bay in Heysherville, in Cumberland County, New Jersey.
He pauses, then puts his hand in the mud and pulls out a piece of the secret weapon scientists are using to fight erosion caused by climate change and save the American coast: coconuts.
More accurately, it’s the fibrous outer shell of the coconut shell called coir (pronounced koy-uh, but often referred to as the core). Typically, the coir is packed into 10-foot logs tied together by biodegradable twine.
Many of the $80 to $169 logs of various diameters used in this region arrive after three-month boat trips from India and Sri Lanka. A large percentage is distributed by EcoDepot, a Maryland company owned by Mutual Industries of North Philadelphia.
Showcasing his fallen trophy, Goodshall, habitat restoration project manager for the American Coast Society, said the logs were laid down five years ago as part of a pilot project to restore and protect the swamps.
The association is a 62-year-old nonprofit coastal conservation organization whose name refers to the coastal area, or “near shore,” the part of an ocean, lake, or river close to shore. The organization calls itself “Voice of the Coast”.
Goodshall explained the task simply, “We’re working to raise this section of the swamp to help perpetuate it.”
The coconut logs will be used in other area projects in the coming months, including one slated for Earth Day, according to Quinn Whitesall, habitat restoration coordinator for the American Littoral Society, based in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
Goodshall said farming from years past destroyed the Thompson’s Beach swamps, when farmers built dams and drained much of the area. Research shows that climate change threatens swamps more, as it is causing sea level rise.
Scientists say swamp grass cannot survive through prolonged immersion in water because it sucks oxygen from its roots.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that the United States loses 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands, including salt marshes, each year, mostly due to development and sea level rise.
“Climate change is the number one killer of marshes, because vegetation is drowning,” said Capt. Almodjski, habitat restoration program director for the American Coastal Society. It is also a licensed small boat operator.
Without grass, a swamp becomes more of a mud flat.
“The whole idea of raising the swamp is to grow grass and keep the marshes from eroding,” Goodshall said.
And coconut logs help this effort.
Community members arranged 350 logs of hickory weighing about 70 pounds, then bundled them to create a one-acre containment area filled with a slurry from 3,500 cubic yards of clay and saltwater pumped from a nearby creek. Goodshall said that the part of the swamp where the coconut logs contained had risen about 2 feet.
So far, he said, the program is doing well with the weeds thriving.
This is inevitable, Modjesky said, because swamps attract fish and birds, such as egrets and egrets. Marsh grass also removes carbon dioxide from the air.
During storms, swamps absorb floodwater and wave energy from coastal waters, reducing damage to property in nearby communities by up to 20%, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Pew Charitable Trusts reports that swamps provide $695,000 in value per square mile by reducing the effects of storm surge and flooding, according to a University of California, San Diego study.
The swamps also filter the toxic flow of sewage system run-off and animal waste into the bay, researchers say.
It’s important to keep the bay as pristine as possible for many reasons, not least because it contains “the largest population of horseshoe crabs in the known universe,” according to Godshall.
Better than rocks
Along coasts and riverbanks around the world, coconut tree trunks are vital because they are a natural material in which grasses and trees can grow, said Brian Resch, COO of EcoDepot in Finksburg, Md. , an hour south of York, Pennsylvania.
“We found in the Chesapeake Bay that supporting shorelines and bridges with stone was harmful because crabs and fish could not breed among the rocks,” he said.
They prospered, Reach said, and erosion stopped along with the coconut trunks.
Eventually, he explained, the coconut stumps rot away, but the well-established grasses remain to protect the dikes.
To continue its fight against erosion, the Coastal Society will use volunteers to put up coconut logs as well as used natural Christmas trees at Beaverdam Creek in Point Pleasant, Ocean County, on Earth Day, April 22.
The material will be part of erosion-control breakwaters to slow currents and capture water-carried sediment, allowing nearby marshes to rebuild, according to a community blog.
Later in the spring, the association plans to lay 2,600 feet of coconut logs at the mouth of the Morris River in Cumberland County to increase the river’s breakwaters, according to Modisky.
“We intend to continue using coconut logs in our restoration work,” he added. “There is a lot of work to be done.”
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the quote: Scientists Turn to Coconuts to Save NJ Coastline (2023, March 29) Retrieved March 29, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-03-scientists-coconuts-jersey-coastline.html
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