This year, the American Littoral Society’s Beachgrass Planting Event was a huge success. Hurricane Sandy destroyed much of New Jersey’s dune system, and there is a great need for restoration efforts along the coast. Recognizing the important role that dunes play in protecting our coast from storms, we expanded our annual planting. Over 1600 students participated in our Beachgrasses in Classes program this year where they learned the importance of dunes and cared for their own American beachgrass plants in the classroom. All of the students were invited to the beach to transplant their growing beachgrass plants in Sea Bright and Asbury Park.
On Friday March 22nd, 700 students came out to Asbury Park’s north end beach proudly toting their thriving beachgrass plants. Despite the wind and chilly temperatures, the students successfully planted about 4000 beachgrass culms. The north end beach is located next to Deal Lake in Asbury Park and is a site that many concerned citizens and environmental organizations have fought hard to preserve. The American Littoral Society is especially interested in this site because it is one of the only natural areas in Asbury Park and plays an important role in connecting residents to the natural world. The site has an extensive dune system, but it had been kept from thriving by uninformed citizens who often walked on the dunes to get to the beach. Last year, the American Littoral Society hosted its first beachgrass planting event on this site and planted about 2500 culms. Surfers Environmental Alliance also generously donated snow fencing to keep people from walking on the dunes. The project was a great success and shortly after, least terns (an endangered beach nesting bird) were seen checking out the newly protected habitat. This year’s planting was even bigger, and we successfully replanted the entire area with American beachgrass. We hope that this site may become habitat for endangered species like the least tern.
Our second planting was in Sea Bright on Saturday March 23rd. Sea Bright is in the middle of a huge restoration effort and hopes to plant the town’s entire length of beach with American beachgrass over the next couple of years. The American Littoral Society is working with them in this effort and recruited about 300 volunteers to help us plant. About 2500 beachgrass culms were planted on a 200 ft stretch of beach. We hope to do more plantings with the town in the future.
Special thanks to all of the schools that participated:
-Asbury Park Middle School
-Collier High School
-Red Bank Regional High School
-Avenel Middle School
-Middletown High School North
-Bradley Beach Elementary
-Long Branch Middle School
-Neptune Elementary Schools
Each year the American Littoral Society educates 1,000, plus their teachers and parents, about the importance of dunes and American beachgrass in the coastal ecosystem. We begin with an interactive classroom presentation that teaches students in grades K through 12 that dunes offer protection from storms and flooding and provide habitat for many coastal plants and animals. The students also learn that American beachgrass plays an important role in dune formation--the blades of beachgrass trap the sand as it blows from the beach and the deep roots of the beachgrass help to stabilize the dune below.
After learning about dunes and American beachgrass, each student plants a culm (dormant stalk of beachgrass) in a pot to care for at school for the next several weeks. Under their care, the beachgrass will awaken from dormancy and begin to grow new green blades. In April, all of the students are invited to our Earth Day celebration where they will transplant their beachgrass onto a dune in need of restoration. American beachgrass propogates by sending out new rhizomes and it is estimated that each culm will grow 5-20 new culms in one year's time.
For the first 7 years of this program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Materials Center has generously donated the dormant culms to the American Littoral Society. As part of this year's activities, we worked with the National Park Service to start our own beach grass nursery on Sandy Hook so that we can draw on plants native to the dunes we will be restoring.
In 2012, the 7th Annual Beach Grass Planting, the following schools restored dunes at North Beach in Asbury Park and on Sandy Hook: Long Branch Middle School, Sisters Academy (Asbury Park), Hope Academy (Asbury Park), Asbury Park Middle School, The Willow School (Gladstone), Red Bank High School, Bolger Middle School (Keansburg), Rumson Country Day School, and Central Jersey College Prep Charter School (Somerset).
How to Get Involved in the Beach Grass Planting Program
The day of the planting there is also work for individual adult and youth volunteers--removing invasive plants from the dunes as well as planting additional beach grass. Check this page in late March for information about these volunteer opportunities.