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Sandy's impact on Fire Island National Seashore could create new habitats

Park Ranger Ruth Coffey, right, talks to participants

Park Ranger Ruth Coffey, right, talks to participants of a one-hour program about beach dynamics and the impact of superstorm Sandy at the Fire Island Wilderness Site at Smith Point Park near Shirley. (Jan 12, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

Ten-year-old Amelia Hatton thought superstorm Sandy brought only destruction and devastation to Long Island -- until she stepped foot on a Fire Island beach Saturday.

"Something good did come out of it," she said. "I feel better that I know that."

The Huntington Station girl was one of more than 100 people who turned out for an afternoon walk along the Fire Island National Seashore to discuss Sandy's impacts -- and how the barrier island will likely heal itself over time.

Amelia said she didn't know that strong storms can help create new land on such islands, which could become new homes for animals and plants.

That was one piece of hopeful information that National Park Service ranger Ruth Coffey shared during the one-hour program.

Coffey, 31, of Locust Valley, said many people are upset by the sight of ravaged, dune-less beaches after Sandy.

"I wanted to open people's eyes to make them realize the beach and island are constantly changing," she said. "Storms are a natural part of the barrier island's history and future."

Coffey stood on the beach on a cool, overcast day with the storm's effects clearly visible. At one point, she stood in front of one of the few remaining dunes.

The pile looked like it had been cut vertically, exposing different layers of dark and light sand.

Coffey's presentation included discussions on beach erosion, natural dune restoration and a 100-foot-wide breach at Old Inlet. She said the breach was open at one time before Sandy. She said breaches are "par for the course for barrier islands."

Janet Kessler, one of the beach walkers, said she's been coming to Fire Island -- her "favorite place in the world" -- for about 40 years.

"It offers beauty all the time," said Kessler, 68, of Brookhaven. She said she returned to the area shortly after Sandy but didn't see the impact up close until Saturday.

"I didn't realize the devastation of this storm," she said. "We have to maintain these barrier islands because of the mainland."

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