Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Eight years after Hurricane Sandy, Cape May National Wildlife Refuge marsh restoration helps protect people and sustain wildlife

October 29, 2020


Brian Braudis, Refuge Manager,

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today the completion of a 100-acre marsh restoration project at the Reeds Beach parcel of Cape May National Wildlife Refuge in Cape May County, New Jersey. The project, supported in part by federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience, will improve wildlife habitat and help protect local communities from the effects of flooding caused by storms and sea-level rise.  

The 11,500-acre refuge helps conserve an array of migratory birds, such as the federally threatened piping plover, and other wildlife along the Delaware Bay. The restoration area includes tidal marsh within the Reeds Beach parcel. Salt marshes like this one are important habitats for waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and other wildlife. They also act as buffers for storm surge and sea-level rise, absorbing, then slowly releasing, waters that would otherwise cause flooding. 

When the Service received funding from the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Program in 2014, tidal marshes at Reeds Beach were especially vulnerable to the effects of flooding because of man-made mosquito ditches that curbed natural drainage and allowed water to build up on the marsh. These conditions destroyed marsh vegetation and could lead to permanent marsh loss. 

To restore the marsh’s natural water movement, the Service designed and built narrow, winding channels called runnels to drain pooled water in low-lying areas. The runnels are like arteries that lead to a main artery, and the excess water will eventually run back out to sea, leaving a higher and drier marsh. As the water runs out, the sediment stays behind. 

Refuge Manager Brian Braudis said the nearly $75,000 project was completed in two phases, with the initial phase beginning in 2017. To date, marsh within the Phase 1 project area has been responding favorably to the runnel restoration, he said, with new plants taking root in flooded areas that were previously unvegetated.   

The Service completed the second phase of restoration in September 2020, by installing runnels on 52 acres of the tidal marsh habitat. The second phase of the project was funded through a grant awarded through the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund, administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.   

“This project will restore the health of the marsh, create healthy habitat for the benefit of wildlife and people alike, and build a stronger coast against storms and sea-level rise,” Braudis said. “When we protect the neighborhood for wildlife, we protect our neighborhoods, too.”  

In addition to serving as a home for migratory birds and other wildlife, the refuge annually hosts thousands of visitors who visit to observe and photograph wildlife, fish, hunt, or participate in environmental education and interpretation programs. A recent study reported that Cape May ecotourism generates more than $450 million annually -- about 11 percent of the county's total tourism revenue -- making it even more vital to protect the beaches, shorelines and wildlife habitat behind this dollar figure. 

Following Hurricane Sandy, which struck the Atlantic Coast in 2012, the Service invested $167 million in funding from the Department of Interior to restore and rebuild coastal areas better than before. In partnership with other agencies and groups, the Service implemented more than 70 projects in areas damaged by Sandy.




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