By John Burton
SEA BRIGHT – It was with an eye toward the future that inspired more than 150 volunteers to come out on a cold but crystal clear day to plant dune grass on borough beaches.
“It’ll help build a natural beach wall,” said Lauren Cisneros, a Brookdale Community College oceanography student who was on hand Saturday, Dec. 7, to plant grasses to help protect the community. “You know how important that is, given what happened” last year when Super Storm Sandy devastated the community.
The planting project is the result of a number of organizations coming together to help raise the money and recruit needed volunteers to plant the grass on the dunes, including the garden clubs from Navesink, Middletown, Little Silver, Fair Haven, Rumson and Shrewsbury. They were joined by the American Littoral Society, Surfers’ Environmental Alliance, Clean Ocean Action and others to raise money to purchase 100,000 beach grass plants and coordinate the volunteers needed to get the job done.
The grass was planted by volunteers over about 1.5 acres in five locations along the borough’s beachfront, according to Beth Ruda, a Fair Haven Garden Club member. In March, the clubs raised funds and coordinated the planting of about 10,000 plants, she said.
This month’s project cost about $16,000 for 100,000 plants, which was raised through grants and donations from individuals and groups, such as the project partners and the New Jersey Recovery Fund, according to the American Littoral Society.
The grass will help the dunes “provide an extra layer of storm protection, which is so important,” said Mayor Dina Long, as she joined volunteers in planting sea grass culms (plants) at the borough’s southern end. “We have a seawall … A seawall is not enough, Sandy has shown us.
“This project is an excellent example of partnership,” among the groups to assist the community, Long added.
“A beach is a place where the sand stops on its way to somewhere else. Beaches are dynamic things,” said Tim Dillingham, American Littoral Society’s executive director, about how sand with wind and erosion is constantly moving.
What the grass does, is “helps bond everything together” and “helps the dunes grow naturally,” by creating a sort of matting under the sand, said Jon Miller, a research professor of coastal engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. The sand then eventually will move “to where it’s needed the most,” with much of it making its way somewhat offshore, creating sandbars.
The sandbars then “allow waves to break before hitting the beach,” hopefully, lessening the impact during storms, Miller said.
“Dunes are an extremely important part of the coastal protection system,” he said.
“After Sandy, we saw the communities that had not just a dune system, but a healthy dune system, made out the best during the storm,” Miller pointed out.
Linda Hassler of Middletown was helping with the planting because, “Sea Bright got hit really hard … We all enjoy the beach, so we have to do our part.”
Marvin and Joellen Kipnes, a married couple who live part-time at Sunrise Condominiums on Ocean Avenue, were offering their assistance. “It’s our community and we have to help out,” Marvin Kipnes said.
“This is just an afternoon,” Joellen Kipnes said. “It’s the least we can do.”
Tyler DeSenza, who was planting with his fellow Boy Scouts from Troop 50, has yet to move back into his borough home with his family. “It’s nice to help rebuild the town that is my hometown,” he said.
Next, the garden clubs will try to raise money for trees and shrubs to give added support for the dunes, Ruda said. “We’re racing against time … We have to get these dunes established before the next storm surge.”