Prime Hook refuge seeing benefits after Hurricane Sandy restoration

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Prime Hook. Department of Interior photo.
Prime Hook. Department of Interior photo.
Prime Hook. Department of Interior photo.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and other federal, state and local officials last month  to mark  the completion of a $38 million marsh restoration project at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware.

The restoration effort, supported by federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery, will improve the resilience of refuge wetlands against future storms and sea-level rise, protecting nearby communities and providing valuable habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Jewell noted the marsh restoration project is one of the largest and most complex ever undertaken on the East Coast and is a model for other coastal resilience efforts around the country.

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Because of its location on the Delaware Bay, Prime Hook refuge is a  stopover site for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds on their route along the Atlantic Flyway, including federally listed species such as rufa red knots and piping plover.

The Delaware Bay is home to  largest population of spawning horseshoe crab. That  helps sustain the migratory shorebirds when they stop here to feast on horseshoe crab eggs.

The completed project has already shown signs of success – including record numbers of horseshoe crabs, migratory birds such as least tern, American oystercatcher and the refuge’s first-ever piping plover nest.

Even before work was finished, staff noticed that the restored beach areas held up better under winter storm Jonas in January 2016 – which caused higher tides than Sandy – than nearby non-restored areas.

Wendi Weber, northeast regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said her agency has invested $167 million in Sandy funding for 70 projects designed to restore and strengthen coastal and inland areas in 14 states.

This includes specific efforts to enhance and protect more than 63,000 acres of coastal marshes at 14 sites from Virginia to Massachusetts.

 Al Rizzo, project leader for Coastal Delaware National Wildlife Refuge Complex at Prime Hook and Bombay Hook national wildlife refuges, said monitoring of the biological response will continue over upcoming years.

The refuge works closely with partners at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the University of Delaware to monitor vegetation, birds, fish, and physical factors such as water quality and marsh elevation.

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