Hurricane Sandy’s Helpful Destruction

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It’s been barely over five years since Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the Northeast, and despite slow recovery efforts, nature has been making positive progress. Early this week, the National Park Service released a draft report in which they described the impact Hurricane Sandy left in the Great South Bay area of Long Island. The Fire Island region on the far eastern tip of Long Island was hard hit by the storm, which plowed into barrier sandbars causing three breaches where ocean water met with bay water. Of the three areas, two were refilled with sand by recovery crews. One was left untouched because it was within the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness Area.

The untouched breach has increased wildlife variety and improved water quality in the Bell port Bay region. However, the National Park Service plans to follow nature’s course, even if that course results in the breach eventually re closing. For the time being, the breach will remain open. Residents of the area can expect to continue experiencing earlier tides compared to the rest of the region. In addition, visitors to the wildlife area will be greeted by an increasingly robust ecosystem. Park Service personnel and scientists have seen increases in “bluefish, mantis shrimp and lady crab” and other salt-loving marine populations.

In addition to what has been described as a “more resilient food web and mature ecosystem,” scientists have also recorded lower rates of algae and nitrogen. These conditions have improved the growth rates of clams and have produced clearer water. Should the inlet close, scientists expect to see increased brown tide algal blooms and diminished water quality.

Ultimately the Parks Service followed the guidelines set years before when the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness Area was first established. At the time, federal documents stated that the area must be kept “untrammeled or un-manipulated.”

This means that even if Mother Nature fills the gap, the Park Service can do nothing about the diminishing effects the closure could have on the ecosystem. The Federal Register has published the Park Service’s draft plan but it will not be finalized until January 22, when the regional director makes their approval.

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