Amid boats speeding past the green salt marsh islands through the sparkling waters of Reynolds Channel, Hempstead officials work to restore salt marshes that are home to birds and marine life.
The town received a $433,000 grant this spring from the New York State Regional Economic Development Council for salt marsh restoration and to combat erosion.
The restoration project, which started this spring, will include dredging local waterways and testing soil for any contaminants. If the soil comes back clean, the ocean bay floor materials will be used to build surface elevation of marshes and focusing on areas where marshes have collapsed and created ponds.
“We are a shoreline community and the salt marshes are an incredible natural resource,” Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen said. “This is vital in protecting communities from flooding and filtering water and serves as a natural habitat, and we have to protect them.”
Developers destroyed more than half the marsh wetlands from 1926 to 1960, which reduced salt marshes from 13,500 acres to about 6,700 acres where it currently stands.
Marshland was filled over time by suburban development in places along the South Shore. The salt marshes were also altered when Reynolds Channel was created, cutting between the South Shore and the barrier island, which includes Long Beach and Lido Beach, said James Brown, a Hempstead Town conservations and waterways biologist.
“All water had to move through Jones inlet, and it changed the behavior of the bay,” Brown said.
Salt marshes have been further eroded by storm surges such as during superstorm Sandy and from rising sea levels, Brown, said.
The salt marshes help protect communities from rising sea levels and coastal hazards, while also absorbing rain water. The salt marsh vegetation can also reduce wave height during storm surge.
Officials said the marshes are a habitat for birds and the population of fish and oysters. The marine life building in Reynolds Channel spurs the town and Long Island’s fishing and tourism economy, and the food chain also serves crabs and ocean sport fish.
Officials said the dredging used to restore marshes will make channels more navigable for boats. Many boats often run aground throughout the summer and have to be rescued by bay constables during low tide, officials said.
The town previously received $200,000 in state grants in 2017 to cover shoreline protection projects, including building a living reef and study salt marshes and the effects of tidal inundation.
The town’s previous grants counted the diamondback terrapin population and added access points to the South Shore Blueway Trail.
Salt marshes have been studied by the town for the past five years.
“The disappearance of salt marshes is a crisis along all of the Eastern Seaboard,” according to a 2014 study of Hempstead salt marsh land. “The town of Hempstead’s Department of Conservation and Waterways realized that an assessment of trends in these marshes was critical for their management.”
- Hempstead Town state grant for salt marsh restoration: $433,000
- Current marsh land in Hempstead Town: 6,700 acres
- Lost marshland: 6,800 acres since 1926 to development, storms and rising sea level