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Stone Harbor Point 2016 Restoration Blogs
March 8, 2016

Praise for Stone Harbor

 Small towns have personalities as varied as the people living within them. Some towns look at their surrounding environment with the eye of a conqueror perfectly happy to destroy open spaces for the sake of short-term profit. Other towns struggle to meet the basic needs of their citizens with inadequate funds and suffer mightily to protect their cherished open spaces. But some towns are blessed with large open spaces and sufficient tax resources to both provide for their people and maintain a beautiful natural environment. People who live in these places usually consider themselves lucky. 

Stone harbor is one of these lucky towns, perhaps the luckiest of all.    A lovely although vulnerable beach stretches along the Atlantic on one side of the island while a tranquil and seemingly endless marsh dresses the other side. Towne elders fought hard about how to develop this small community and found a happy medium between natural and built spaces. Stone Harbor Point is is the best natural space in  the town. 

The Point fronts the northern side of wild Hereford Inlet,  one of the few remaining natural inlets in New Jersey.  It’s shoals and ephemeral islands make for dangerous boating but provide one of the best shorebird habitats in the mid-Atlantic.  Besides providing quality nesting habitat for locally breeding shorebirds, arctic nesting shorebirds migrating north or south find it a safe place during high tide.  In some lunar tides most of the shorebirds concentrating on Delaware Bay in the spring will use the point as a high tide refuge.  With the ravages of unchecked climate change mounting everywhere on the east coast, Stone Harbor Point grows in value. 

I only describe all of this to help the reader understand how important the local community is to our vital natural places. Most often we think of the protection of natural place the job of the state or the federal government.  All too often, however, the quality of a natural place depends almost entirely on the will of the people that live in the small community in which it occurs.  Will they defend the place from greedy developers, inconsiderate bathers, adamant dog walkers, determined joggers or even overzealous birders?  How will this change as their economy reels from the unrelenting storms pounding our ocean coasts?  This year winter Storm Jonas pounded the Cape May County beaches taking away valuable beach sand placed only recently to overcome the impact of Hurricane Sandy.  What will a town do in this situation when every tax payer dollar counts and state and federal provide little but good ideas. 

To it’s credit Stone harbor still stands for it’s natural places.  And this was no more apparent than in the work we just completed on Friday. Another northeaster plowed into the New Jersey shore on Friday,  this time bringing with it snow and icy rain blown horizontal by a 30 knot wind.  Still  the weather worn Stone Harbor Public Works department lead by Grant Russ,  helped us put the finishing touch on the two newly restored habitats on the point.

 Most shorebirds nest and roost easier in a beaches with scattered broken shell.  It improves nesting success by helping birds camouflage their open nest and on very windy days provides some shelter for roosting birds.  The trick is to get the density right.  The optimal percent cover is about 10 % and has the look of a natural beach .  Last year we used a big front end loader to spread the shell but could only get to 30%.  Sprinkling 1 inch shell fragment with a 20 ton front end loader was like sprinkling jimmies on ice cream with an oven mitt. 

Craig Reeves and his team used the town’s steer skidder or small tracked front end loader instead.  It’s a small insect like machine that could nimbly lay out the shell in just the right quantities.   Craig made it look easy but It took most of the day.  The wind howled, snow flurries came and went, the tide rose ominously high pushed by the unrelenting northeasterly winds, but the Stone Harbor crew persisted until the job was finished..  Craig said at the days end, “ I could hardly see with all the clam juice  and snow on the windshield, but I think I got it right”  He did and the birds will be grateful.


Photos by Larry Niles   

 

Craig Reeves sprinkles shell from his skip steer

 

Nicole Hiles drives SHP's all terrain dump truck 

 

Shell fragments provide some shelter from winter winds

 

Twenty tons of cleaned shell from Bivalve Packing house

 

Dunlin and sanderlings brave the strong north-westerly winds to roost to forage on the Point

 

 

Whiteout on Stone Harbor Point

 

 

March 3, 2016

 

On this final day of construction on the Stone Harbor Point restoration project, the mild weather and wisps of sea spray brought to mind a summer vacation on the shore.  As temperatures climbed into the 60’s, the H4 team hustled to get the job done before our permitted timeline closed. The southern habitat is done, the borrow zone vacated and Boomer Heun’s and his trusty bulldozer crafts the final contours of the island habitat.   We only have a few finishing touches to complete the project so all will be ready for nesting piping plovers and oystercatchers.  Last year a colony of skimmers reestablished on our island habitat.  Maybe they too will return. 

 This second season of the project will provide valuable insights into how to maintain habitat for beach nesting birds and roosting migrant shorebirds.  Was winter storm Jonas a harbinger of what lies before us or was it just a fluke, a consequence of the El Nino or some other world changing perturbation?  This is the difficulty facing biologists trying to help wildlife adapt to the consequences of unchecked climate change.  The truth is we don’t know. The freaky winter storm not only damaged the habitat we created last year, but damaged the habitat that existed prior to our work.  Stone Harbor point has been suffering the impact of these storms for years: the gradually declining number of piping plovers and other species nesting on the point attests to this sad fact.    But the loss before was unnoticed and it didn’t have a name. The name Jonas not only gave the storm an identity but gave face to what to expect in the future.  Winter storms have been increasing in frequency by the year and there is no end in sight for this trend (see the winter storm section  from the National Climate Assessment.

 

Photos by Larry Niles  

 Strong westerly winds sweep sand away into the ocean

 

The island habitat before the bulldozer spreads the sand

 

Digging the runnel or channel that will help form the island habitat

 

H4 constructing the island habitat in one area of the point flooded by high tide

 

 

 

 

 

February 26, 2016


 

Watch you tube video of the work 

 

February 25, 2016

 

 

 Taking sand from the borrow zone

  

Phil Huening reaches out into the borrow zone flooded by the mornings tide 

 

Sanderlings and Dunlin feed in the wash over created by Winter Storm Jonas as a all terrain dump truck moves out to the habitat 

 Winter storm Jonas substantively altered the landscape of Stone Harbor point . It had two contrasting impacts. First the storm pushed a huge amount of sand towards the bay side of the point increasing the area on the point that will be  flooded daily by the tide. This will increase the chance that the nests of piping plover and oystercatcher, will be destroyed.  It will also decrease the area of Stone Harbor Point’s useful to roosting arctic nesting shorebird migrants that concentrate on the point in spring and fall.  The second impact, however, was beneficial.  Essentially the sea created an over wash to the bay that will increase foraging areas for shorebirds of all kinds.  The periodic flooding of this overwash will increase invertebrate prey, and provide a solid resource for most species.  The over wash will also further isolate the outer point of the peninsula from the mainland.  Although the outer point will be isolated for only a few hours around high tide and perhaps only at spring tide, it will help reduce the impact of marauding predators including feral cats. The outer point  is now the focus of this project.  

The storm destroyed one of our three habitats and damaged the remaining two, both located on the outer point.  We are repairing these two damaged habitats by bringing them back to the their pre storm elevation.  They will be more valuable than last year because both will be better protected from disturbance and predators.  

Over the last two days another northeastern storm moves through our area and it coincided with a spring (lunar) high tide. The coincidence left us on the edge of our seats especially after the devastation wrought by Jonas. Spring tides are the highest of the high tides in any time of the year but in this time of year they are especially so. An easterly wind exacerbates the tide by pushing it into Hereford inlet on the incoming tide and restraining it from returning to the ocean on the outgoing tide.   The attached graph showing predicted and actual tides at Cape May for the last 48 hours  shows how the wind can cause higher tides than predicted.

 


Feb 22, 2016

Dynamic Stone Harbor Point and NJ Audubon’s Struggle to Keep It Productive 
The Stone Harbor beach nesting bird and shorebird habitat restoration project began its second year this past Friday February 19th.  Our permit was approved in the early morning and we started work at about 10:30 am. The first job focused on restoring access to the beach, still damaged after Winter Storm Jonas.  We created a simple crossover that got the machines moving.  By 12 o’clock noon the H4 company excavators and dump trucks were already moving sand.  By 3 o’clock they had moved over a thousand yards of sand.  

 

 

L. Tedesco photographed at the beach access overpass which was destroyed by winter storm Jonas

 

 

Steve Hafner's team set stakes on the island habitat on Stone Harbor Point 

 

Steve Hafner and the Stockton team had already laid out the markers describing both the borrow zone and the southern habitat. The borrow zone distinguishes our project and its replenishment forms one of our project goals: can we harvest sand from Stone Harbor Point to elevate nesting areas and will it replenish itself through natural ocean processes in a year’s time?  The answer at this point is yes.  In one year it has accreted more than enough sand to maintain the bird nesting habitats.    

Our project was made much more difficult by winter storm Jonas. This extraordinary weather system hit Stone Harbor and Avalon Island with the ferocity of a hurricane and bringing tide levels that rivaled those seen after Hurricane Sandy.  Before Jonas, we intended only to restore habitat lost over the winter amounting to just over 6000 yards of sand, far less than the 52,000 yards moved last year to create the habitats.  Last year we created three habitats: a northern and southern habitat area and a smaller island on the bayside.  Winter storms had damaged the northern habitat and so this year was supposed to focus on the relatively small job of repairing the northern habitat.  Jonas changed that.

 

A view of the southern habitat isolated by the high tide

On Monday February 22 Boomer Heun  walked his million dollar excavator out to find high tide waters almost 2 feet deep, separating him from the Southern habitat and the borrow zone. He could not go on until the high tide passed.  After waiting about three hours the tide began to run out enough to begin excavation.  By the end of the day they had moved another 1000 yards to the southern habitat. Unfortunately another Northeastern is expected to come into the area tomorrow, with winds up to 25 knots. This will push the spring high tides even higher and create yet another problem for our project.

 


  

 H4 begins the harvesting of sand from the borrow site at Stone Harbor Point