Super Storm Sandy Restores Habitat in Sunken Meadow Park

By Mark Tedesco

The storm surge associated with Super Storm Sandy wreaked havoc on coastal communities, altering both human and natural structures.  However, coastal ecosystems have evolved with, and have been shaped by, the forces of coastal storms over the centuries. Periodic storms can even have beneficial effects on certain aspects of the natural ecosystem.  One such example is the restoration of intertidal flow and habitat in Sunken Meadow Creek at Sunken Meadow State Park, New York.

The storm surge associated with Hurricane Sandy destroyed a man-made berm across Sunken Meadow Creek that was constructed as part of the development of Sunken Meadow State Park in the early 1950s.  The berm created a road and walkway to nearby woodland for park visitors, but the undersized culverts that were installed restricted the natural tidal flow to the creek from Long Island Sound.  As a result, saltwater fish were prevented from swimming and spawning upstream, and an invasive form of the common reed, Phragmites, proliferated along the now freshwater creek.  Using EPA funding provided through the Long Island Sound Study, New York State Parks was planning to remove the berm to restore tidal flushing to the creek.

But on October 29-30, 2012, Hurricane Sandy decided that Mother Nature knows best, impatiently breaching and eroding away portions of the berm. As a result, Sunken Meadow Creek has returned to its natural state, an estuary where fresh and salt water mix.  The fresh water common reed, Phragmites, will most likely die back and be replaced by saltmarsh grasses.  Saltwater species cut off from the creek, including alewife, striped bass, juvenile bluefish, winter flounder, weakfish, silverside, killifish, American eel and various shellfish, waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds will all benefit.  Although intertidal exchange has been restored by the force of Sandy, planning is now underway to control bank erosion and restore access to the other side of the creek for park visitors.

About the author: Mark Tedesco is director of EPA’s Long Island Sound Office.  The office coordinates the Long Island Sound Study, administered by EPA as part of the National Estuary Program under the Clean Water Act.  Mr. Tedesco has worked for EPA for 25 years.  He received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook University.