Reducing Our Risk

Center for Ecosystem Restoration

Entry Overview

Sachuest Bay is located in the Town of Middletown, RI, on Aquidneck Island – just a few miles east of Newport, RI. The area is home to valuable natural, recreational, and cultural resources, including some of the most pristine beaches in Southern New England; valuable wetlands and endangered species habitat; a municipal drinking water supply; Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge; and the Norman Bird Sanctuary. The area is extremely vulnerable to coastal storms such as Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the area in 2012. Center for Ecosystem Restoration and its partners are implementing a collaborative project to prepare and protect the community from coastal storms and climate change impacts. The Sachuest Bay Coastal Resiliency Project presents a comprehensive approach to protection of the ecosystem, community and infrastructure, including beach dune and wetland restoration, stormwater mitigation, invasive species removal, placing utility lines underground, "greening" roads to reduce flooding and water pollution, and outreach. This innovative project will serve as a model for coastal communities throughout the U.S.

General Info
Email :
Organization Address: 
PO Box 476
Saunderstown, Rhode Island 02874
United States
Population Impacted: 
60,000 (Aquidneck Island Total)
Storm Surge
Identify the likelihood and frequency of this hazard : 
Storm surges and other coastal storm impacts (such as coastal flooding and erosion) are highly likely in this area, and occur on average one to three times per year. Extreme storms, such as hurricanes and Nor'easters, occur on average once every several years.
Explain how vulnerable the community is to this hazard: 
The community is highly vulnerable due to its location along an exposed ocean coastline, and its high concentration of coastal assets, including sensitive ecosystems, high-value recreational resources, and infrastructure that is essential for public safety and economic development.
List the potential affects of this hazard: 
Potential affects included: destruction of coastal ecosystems (beaches, wetlands, endangered species, water quality), loss of economic activity (beaches, tourism), threats to public safety (roads, powerlines), public and private property losses (houses and other buildings, roads).
Identify how sensitive the community is to these affects: 
Aquidneck Island is environmentally sensitive because it supports rare and endangered habitats and species, such as extensive beach dunes, salt marsh sparrow, and piping plover. It is economically sensitive because it is highly dependent on coastal tourism, which in turn is dependent on beaches, water quality, fisheries, and other natural assets.
Preparedness Goal: 
Prepare for coastal storms and surges; prevent and reduce storm damage to ecosystems and infrastructure; increase ecological and economic resilience; enhance ecosystems and economic activity.
Implementing Actions: 

With our project partners, CER assembled a diverse team to better protect Aquidneck Island’s coastal resources from intense storms and other climate change impacts. Together, we developed a comprehensive approach to coastal protection, ecological restoration, recreational enhancement and economic improvement along Sachuest Bay. Implementing actions include the following: (1) Beach Dune Restoration: Rebuilding an extensive coastal dune system along Sachuest Bay, and building low-profile crossing structures that will allow beachgoers to access the beach without damaging the sensitive dunes. (2) Stormwater Mitigation: Completing a watershed study, and designing and installing stormwater controls to reduce water pollution and coastal flooding. (3) Wetland Restoration: Restoring degraded salt marshes, including rare nesting habitat for salt marsh sparrows, a species of high conservation concern. (4) Recreational Improvements: Improving coastal trails and building a handicapped-access nature trail. (5) Infrastructure Improvements: Greening roads with permeable pavement and improved drainage; burying vulnerable elevated power lines. (6) Forest Management: Removing invasive species to restore native forest habitat. (7) Outreach: Informing the public about coastal vulnerability and measures to protect coastal communities. The project received a competitive grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the US Dept. of Interior, under the Hurricane Sandy grants program; additional funding is being provided by the US Fish & Wildlife Service through its National Wildlife Refuge. The project partners raised significant match funding through private donations, state funds and other sources. 

Describe Your Solution: 

The combined actions reduce the risk from weather-related disaster impacts collectively and individually.  Taken together, these actions will strengthen natural resources and critical infrastructure along the Sachuest Bay shoreline. The ecological components of the project such as dune and wetland restoration provide natural barriers or buffers to storm surge and other coastal storm impacts, preventing storm surges from moving inland while reducing coastal erosion and beach loss. These measures will improve ecological resilience, thereby protecting vital natural resources from storms and climate change: for example, by restoring wetland habitat, endangered species will be less vulnerable to catastrophic events. The infrastructure components, such as improving roads and burying power lines, will protect coastal infrastructure from flooding, high winds and other disaster impacts, and will thereby protect public safety and reduce hazards to life and property. Specifically, the project actions reduce risk in the following ways: (1) Beach Dune Restoration: Restore a natural barrier to storm surge; restore endangered species habitat; reduce coastal erosion and economic impacts. (2) Stormwater Mitigation: Reduce water pollution and coastal flooding; increase ecological resilience and improve habitats. (3) Wetland Restoration: Restore rare nesting species habitat; restore ecological resilience; protect from storm surge and coastal flooding. (4) Recreational Improvements: Improve coastal use value; protect from flooding; reduce economic impacts of storms and floods. (5) Infrastructure Improvements: Reduce road flooding; improve public safety on roads and from exposed power lines; reduce costs of storm repair. (6) Forest Management: Increase ecological resilience and habitat values. (7) Outreach: Increase public knowledge and understanding of coastal storms, climate change, and related impacts, thereby fostering continued public and private actions to protect communities from weather-related disaster impacts.


Beach restoration will protect $1.5 million per year in direct economic revenue to the Town of Middletown from recreational beaches, plus indirect economic benefits from beaches ($150 million per year statewide). Infrastructure improvement will reduce storm damage to roads and power lines (Hurricane Sandy alone caused $900,000 in damage to one road within the project area). Wetland and water quality restoration will help restore and enhance Rhode Island’s recreational and commercial fisheries (valued at $300 million per year statewide). Habitat restoration and trail improvements will enhance outdoor nature-based recreation (valued at $320 million per year statewide).


This project will restore native ecosystems and will foster ecological resilience to prepare for future storms and climate change. By restoring wetlands, beach dunes, coastal forests, and water quality, the project will restore and improve habitat for hundreds of species of fish and wildlife, including rare and endangered birds (salt marsh sparrow, piping plover, least and roseate tern); several species of owls; rare winter waterfowl and diving ducks (eider and harlequin ducks, loons, mergansers, buffleheads, black ducks, etc.), and valuable commercial and recreational fish species (striped bass, bluefish, winter flounder, black sea bass, tautog, etc.)


Sachuest Bay is an iconic cultural landscape, a destination for artists and writers since the 19th Century. Hanging Rock, a large glacial outcropping in the project area, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Southern New England. New Englanders maintain a close connection to the coast, beaches and the sea. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come here in summer to enjoy the beaches; in winter for waterfowl watching; and year-round to enjoy nature-based recreation. Remnants of important World War II coastal defenses add to the cultural significance of the area that will be protected by this project.

What were the negative or unintended impacts (if any) associated with implementing this solution? : 


Return on Investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?: 

The total project cost is approximately $3.4 million from numerous funding sources, including National Fish and Wildlife Foundation / U.S. Dept. of Interior ($2.3 million); partners’ local match ($644,000) and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (approx. $500,000). We conservatively estimate coastal and nature-based economic value in the project area at $30 million per year. By preserving and protecting this source of economic activity, this project will provide a return on investment that is many times the initial cost over the 20-30 year design lifespan of the project. The actual ROI will depend in part on the incidence of severe coastal storms, which cannot accurately be predicted. Further, the project will provide significant non-market economic values, for example by restoring native ecosystems, species and water quality, which provide essential, but non-quantifiable benefits to the community, the state and the nation.

What are the main factors needed to successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?: 

The main factors for replication of this project are 1) development of an inclusive public/private partnership; and 2) integration of ecological restoration with engineering-based solutions to coastal storm hazards. This project is replicable in any coastal community, and will serve as a model throughout the U.S. Its foundation is a partnership among local communities, non-profit organizations, and local, state and federal agencies. This approach is protecting natural systems and critical infrastructure, creating ecological resiliency, protecting a coastal community, and fostering sustainable economic development in the face of increasing coastal storms and other climate change impacts.

Contest Info
Contest Name: 
Reducing Our Risk

Contest Partners

Contest Sponsors