Skip to content

Super Storm Sandy Restores Habitat in Sunken Meadow Park

2013 February 5

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

One Response leave one →
  1. sergeantegan permalink
    December 12, 2013

    I have always wondered why the east culvert/berm was constructed in that manner; it seemed to create stagnation issues, a disagreeable abundance of algal flora in the summer, and tragedy, as several swimmers perished in the deep, dark waters in Sunken Meadow Creek over the years.

    On the other hand, I did spot an amazing sea turtle near the wood bridge (now hopelessly oversized, since the estuary has been restored, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy.)

    I look forward to Spartina flourishing on the now exposed muddy banks, and the concomitant ecosystem developing, one that should have been there, fifty years ago. NYS did a bang-up job on the east bridge, replacing the berm and culverts of the ecologically benighted 50’s.

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS