Reducing Our Risk

American Littoral Society – Northeast Chapter

Entry Overview

The Jamaica Bay Marsh Restoration Initiative increased community resiliency to climate change by restoring salt marsh islands in Jamaica Bay through community-based stakeholder collaboration. Restored wetlands increased coastal buffers mitigating waves, wind, tides and floods in the bay and reduced the risk of damages to surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the value of coastal environments in protecting adjacent communities: healthy, large expanses of salt marshes lessoned the energy of incoming waves, helping to reduce the damage to inland communities. In Jamaica Bay, these important coastal environments had been destroyed or diminished due to erosion, pollution, fill and alteration. The resulting damage to the surrounding community from storm surges, wind, fire, and flooding cost the community over $19 billion. The Initiative reestablished and restored important resources, provided a “green infrastructure” answer to the problem of community vulnerability, and engaged community members as stewards. The Initiative demonstrated the viability of community-led restoration as a sustainable and economically-viable solution to global issues: climate change with sea level rise, increasing storms, and coastal community vulnerability.

General Info
Email :
Organization Address: 
28 West 9th Rd
Broad Channel, New York 11693
United States
Population Impacted: 
Storm Surge
Identify the likelihood and frequency of this hazard : 
As stronger storms occur more frequently the risks for coastal communities increase. Chronic conditions (rising sea levels, higher average temperatures, and increased annual precipitation) can exacerbate the effects of extreme events. Over the last century, sea levels around NYC have risen more than a foot. As sea levels rise, coastal storms are likely to cause flooding over larger areas and cause those already at-risk to flood more frequently. Globally, all signs indicate continued acceleration.
Explain how vulnerable the community is to this hazard: 
Jamaica Bay’s salt marsh islands are disappearing at a rate of 40 acres/year with 85% of its wetlands destroyed. This dramatic decline has increased the vulnerability of the surrounding community. Without wetlands to reduce the velocity and destructive force of incoming waves / storm surges, the predominately low income, urban residential community has suffered devastating damages. As sea levels rise, these neighborhoods will flood more frequently and the shoreline will continue to erode.
List the potential affects of this hazard: 
During Hurricane Sandy, the Jamaica Bay community was engulfed, buildings and businesses destroyed. The surge flooded roadways, subway systems, waste water treatment plants, and electrical facilities, paralyzing transportation networks and causing power outages that plunged hundreds of thousands into darkness. Fires raged and caused over $19 billion in damage city-wide. Hurricane Sandy demonstrated how destructive coastal storms can be in a dense urban environment—storms that are only expected to increase in intensity and frequency.
Identify how sensitive the community is to these affects: 
Jamaica Bay poses the most significant risk to neighborhoods in NYC. Critical infrastructure (wastewater treatment facilities, schools, city utilities, and transportation systems) provides a link between this geographically isolated area and the city. After Hurricane Sandy, 32 schools were closed. The A train, suspended for 7 months, left residents without adequate transportation. If storm surges flood neighborhoods and cripple infrastructure, many residents will be displaced and may not return, a devastating loss to area businesses.
Preparedness Goal: 
We are restoring salt marsh islands in Jamaica Bay to protect the community from the effects of climate change.
Implementing Actions: 

The Littoral Society was selected by state and local officials and agencies to spearhead the first ever community-led marsh restoration in a National Park because of our demonstrated experience in Jamaica Bay and connections to local key stakeholders. The Initiative restored 40+ acres of badly-degraded marsh islands and is ongoing with the goal to restore 80% of the bay’s marsh islands to reflect the 1974 footprint of the project area. The restoration is completed predominately by volunteers, resulting in a significant project cost saving as compared to similar government contract restoration projects. We recruited volunteers by using our long established relationships with groups who have been involved in Jamaica Bay projects including the Sierra Club, Church of God, Audubon, NYC Parks Green Teens, NYC Parks Resiliency Corp, Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, local community boards, FDNY Explorers, Harbor Lab, Sebago Kayak and Canoe Club, Boy Scouts, Boys and Girls Club of America, 4-H, Cornell Extension, corporate sponsors, and community members. The Initiative started in 2013 with volunteer recruitment and planning. During the months of May, June and July every year, we organized large-scale planting days with volunteers, community groups and partners. As the project is off shore, 20 local boat captains helped to transport the volunteers, equipment and spartina plugs to the marsh islands. Over the course of the past 3 years, over 3,000 volunteers have participated in the restoration, planting over 180,000 plugs of native Jamaica Bay Spartina alternaflora on 2’ center and restored 40+ acres of salt marsh. Following the volunteer events, we continue planting as needed and monitor the sites. Regular maintenance includes regularly patrolling the perimeter and interior checking for wildlife entanglement, debris accumulation, plant washouts, fence repairs etc. Monitoring also includes erosion prevention, natural recruitment studies, assessing planting success and lessons learned to inform future restoration sites.

Describe Your Solution: 

While it is impossible to eliminate the chance of flooding in coastal areas, the Initiative seeks to reduce its frequency and effects by mitigating the impacts of sea level rise, storm surges, and wave inundation by rebuilding badly degraded marsh islands in Jamaica Bay. The marsh islands provide crucial coastal protection to the highly exposed, low-lying neighborhoods surrounding Jamaica Bay. These neighborhoods are likely to become more exposed as the climate changes. The Initiative is ongoing and has currently restored 40+ acres of salt marsh. It has enhanced the ecological function and value of these restored resources and engaged over 3,000 members of the community, environmental organizations, government agencies and regional businesses in working to create a solution to the growing problem of sea level rise and storm surges. In addition to improving water quality and habitat in Jamaica Bay, the restored marsh will increase coastal buffers mitigating waves, wind, tides and floods and protect the surrounding neighborhood of 500,000 residents from future storm events.


Jamaica Bay plays a vital role in the city’s ecological and economic health. By restoring wetlands, we slow the progress of climate change while simultaneously preparing for current and future challenges. By engaging community volunteers, we are taking decisive and comprehensive steps to prepare / adapt with a restoration model that is economically viable and resilient. It is estimated that by 2050, a storm like Sandy could cause $90 billion in losses. In the years and the decades ahead, if we continue to rebuild marshes, a major storm that hits New York will find a much stronger, better protected community.


Jamaica Bay comprises one of the largest and most productive coastal ecosystems in the northeast and includes the largest tidal wetland complex in the New York metropolitan area. Restoring the bay’s marshes provides critical wildlife habitat for marine life and for nearly twenty percent of the continent’s species of birds that visit the bay every year. Part of a national park, the bay’s wetlands act as the ecosystem’s kidneys to filter out pollutants helping to restore water quality. The bay serves as a recreational haven and living laboratory with education, research, and recreational opportunities for anglers, boaters, and community members.


By engaging volunteers, we raised awareness of the fragility of ecosystems, the need to improve wildlife habitat, and protect communities. The impact is immediate and long-lasting; when standing on a marsh island, with views of the skyline, a volunteer’s sense of NYC is transformed. Though hard hit by Sandy, they understood the value of the marshes and joined our efforts to rebuild the Bay. By engaging a wide variety of volunteers, some who had never traveled in a boat or had the opportunity to plant, we helped create environmental stewards with a greater sense of environmental awareness and social responsibility.

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

Initially, we planned to restore the islands with a combination of volunteer planting days and hire a third-party independent contractor who had planting equipment and trained staff. However, it soon became apparent that we did not have the resources to transport the contractor’s heavy equipment to the planting sites. As a result, 36 youth from the surrounding urban community were paid to be part of a planting crew and spent 12 weeks each spring and summer working on the marsh islands. By hiring local youth, we were able to provide much needed employment opportunities and further engaged the community and created widespread support for the project. The R-Corps members act as leaders on community planting days, transporting materials and helping volunteers. Although unintended, the R-Corps has evolved into a highly competitive green jobs training program that teaches youth from vulnerable communities to build and restore the natural environment through environmental stewardship. Many alumni R-Corps members have used their unique experiences as part of their college applications, earning scholarships and are currently pursuing careers in environmental engineering.

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

Total cost is $745,000 over a five year period. Funding for this project was secured as a result of offset mitigation funds assessed from development projects that directly impacted Jamaica Bay. Current funding requirements include monitoring and replanting each marsh island for a period of 5 years to ensure 85% viability and plant cover. To continue restoration efforts and monitor/replant restorations sites as necessary, we will need to secure future funding. In 2012, the Army Corps of Engineers restored 42 acres on Yellow Bar, an adjacent Jamaica Bay marsh island for a total cost of $16 million using the agency’s resources and environmental contractors. In contrast, by working with community volunteers, we were able to reduce the cost of restoration from $8.00 per square foot to less than $0.50 per square foot. The greatest extreme weather-related risk faced by New York City is storm surge, the effects of which are likely to increase given current projections of sea level rise and climate change. The Jamaica Bay Marsh Restoration Initiative is a sustainable and resilient model for protecting vulnerable coastal communities worldwide.

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

To replicate this solution, vulnerable communities need to identify grass roots stake holder organizations. They also need widespread community support and an established network of partner organizations. Other critical components must include strong working relationships with governing agencies with the willingness to help secure funding, allow permits, and secure permissions to restore private and publicly owned properties. Most importantly, the main factor necessary is an unwavering commitment from individuals to protect their neighborhoods and to volunteer their resources, time and hard work to help their communities stand strong against the threats of climate change, sea level rise and storm surges. Many believe that the only answer to these hazards and other chronic and extreme events is to retreat from the shore. We don’t see that as a viable option. Marsh islands, like Jamaica Bay, contain vital systems that support the life of the city. Rebuilding the marsh islands and shorelines will help communities emerge safer and stronger, with a better chance to withstand the assaults of extreme weather. By increasing coastal buffers to mitigate waves, wind, tides and floods in the bay, we can reduce risk of damages to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Contest Info
Contest Name: 
Reducing Our Risk

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