Archive for July 2013

Natural Strength: Thoughts on the Mayor’s plan to increase the resiliency of New York City’s coastline

Summer intern Darren Klein reports.


In 2007, Mayor Bloomberg released PlaNYC, a broad initiative intended to strengthen the economy of New York City, address climate change, prepare for increasing population size, and generally enhance quality of life for New Yorkers. After Hurricane Sandy battered the City last year, PlaNYC was updated to include an outline for improving the resilience of the City as it faces a future in which powerful storms and other extreme weather events are likely to occur with greater frequency. A major component of the latest version of PlaNYC is called the Comprehensive Coastal Protection Plan, which has been designed to strengthen the coastline of the City and prevent the kind of storm surge and flood damage that crippled the City after Sandy.


The Comprehensive Coastal Protection Plan calls for the combined use of “hard” and “natural” infrastructural elements. NYC Audubon is strongly supportive of the planned use of natural elements including wetlands, oyster reefs, living shorelines (a combination of reefs, maritime forests, and tidal wetlands), sand dunes, and beach nourishment. In addition to making effective contributions to wave and floodwater attenuation and to shoreline stability, the use of these elements will also provide valuable ecosystem services and create new habitat for the birds and other wildlife of New York City.


There are situations, however, where the use of “hard” elements such as sea walls, tide gates, groins, and offshore breakwaters may be more appropriate than natural solutions. It is the view of NYC Audubon that these tools should only be used in coastal areas that are already highly developed. In less-developed areas, hardened elements contribute to the more rapid erosion of sand; as waves strike these relatively smooth, hard surfaces, their energy is reflected back out to sea, pulling sand away from the shore. This can lead to the destabilization of coastal areas, and puts inland areas at greater risk from storm surge and flooding. The Comprehensive Coastal Protection Plan states that solutions will be tailored to match existing patterns of geomorphology and land use, and so it seems that the inappropriate application of hard infrastructure is unlikely.


In the coming weeks, NYC Audubon, in collaboration with Audubon New York, will be sending a statement to Mayor Bloomberg, thanking him and expressing support for the incorporation of natural infrastructure in this vision for the future of New York City.


You can read more about PlaNYC here.


- Darren Klein


Field Reports: Yankee, Lima, and Tango

A common tern chick being banded. Photo © Annie Barry

A common tern chick being banded. Photo © Annie Barry

Director of Conservation and Science Susan Elbin reports on exciting work on Governor’s Island:


Yankee, Lima, and Tango: Regular visitors to Governor’s Island may know that these are names of three piers on the southern shore of Governor’s Island, each named for the letter that represents their shape: Y, L, and T.  Regular visitors may notknow, however, that these piers are now the sites of three nesting areas (colonies) for common terns!


This just hatched common tern chick is well camouflaged in its nest of shells, rocks, wood, and bones. Photo © Annie Barry

This just hatched common tern chick is well camouflaged in its nest of shells, rocks, wood, and bones. Photo © Annie Barry

The nesting population has been growing for the past several years, and this year our team from NYC Audubon, the National Park Service, the Trust for Governors Island, Earth Matter, the Harbor School, and the LiRo/Turner group counted 152 nests at the end of June: 80 on Yankee, 62 on Tango, and 10 on Lima. To help the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and NYC Audubon learn more about the terns, which are listed as a threatened species in New York State, we banded 100 chicks and 10 adults.  We look forward to continued work monitoring this new colony.


Treading Lightly to Protect Horseshoe Crabs on Plumb Beach

Hatching horseshoe crab larvae are just a fraction of the size of this tiny shell, most likely from a crab about one year old. Photo © braindamaged217*

Summer intern Debra Kriensky reports on current efforts to protect developing horseshoe crabs on Plumb Beach:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is set to start Phase II of their work on Brooklyn’s Plumb Beach, and NYC Audubon is advising the Corps on how to tread lightly around something they might not even be able to see: baby horseshoe crabs!


Right before Hurricane Sandy hit, the Army Corps completed Phase I of the project, during which they added new sand to the eroding beach in an effort to protect the adjacent Belt Parkway. Phase II, set to begin in July once the majority of horseshoe crab spawning is complete, will involve building permanent stone groins and a breakwater to mitigate future beach erosion. New vegetation being planted on the dunes and a fence will also help protect the Belt Parkway and a popular bike path from drifting sand.


While the Army Corps has been preparing for Phase II, the parking lot to the beach has been closed to the public. However, NYC Audubon had been granted access to the beach throughout May and June to monitor the horseshoe crabs that come to Plumb Beach in large numbers during the full and new moon to spawn.


And though they arrived a bit behind schedule, horseshoe crabs have indeed returned to Plumb Beach in strong numbers this year, despite the changes made by Sandy and the Army Corps (close to 1,800 crabs counted over 12 nights, compared to around 1,300 in 2012). While numbers of spawning crabs are winding down at this point, heavy machinery and construction on the beach could mean bad news for the hatching larvae. NYC Audubon and partners at Fordham University and the National Park Service are working with the Corps of Engineers to minimize disturbance to hatchlings while respecting the deadlines that have been contracted for the work.
-Debra Kriensky


Field Notes: Cormorant Banding on Swinburne Island

Cormorant Chicks © Don Riepe

Summer intern Darren Klein reports on a recent field expedition:


On June 20th, a team of NYC Audubon staff, interns, and volunteers traveled to Swinburne Island to band young double-crested cormorants. This long-abandoned island, at various times home to a quarantine hospital and a Merchant Marine training station, has in recent decades become a popular nesting site for a variety of sea birds, including the double-crested cormorant. Once an imperiled species, the double-crested cormorant has made a tremendously successful comeback in recent years. In order to gain a better understanding of this recovery, NYC Audubon has been banding cormorants on Swinburne Island since 2006.


After arriving on the island, the team scouted the various cormorant nesting sites–the birds had built a large cluster of nests on the ground, but many more were up in the island’s few remaining trees, and all were full of young birds. The largest chicks were removed from the nests and brought to a holding pen in a nearby clearing, where they waited their turn to be banded. The birds were carefully wrapped in towels and held while each of their legs received a different identification band. The numbers on the bands were recorded, and then each bird was returned to their nest. In total, the team was able to band 85 birds during their three-hour visit.


-Darren Klein