Prime Hook Beach, A Delaware Bay Beach Near Prime Hook Wildlife Refuge, Is Now Threatened by Rising Water Levels, Salt Water Intrusion & Inaction
Directly behind the community of homes lining the beach is the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was created in 1963 by the authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act as a sanctuary expressly for migrating birds. It encompasses nearly 10,000 diverse acres of freshwater and saltwater marshes, woodlands, grasslands, bottomland forested habitats, scrub brush zones, farming lands, ponds, and a seven mile long creek. Naturally occurring tidal salt marshes make up 2300 acres of the refuge, and man-made freshwater ponds cover 4000 acres. Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the freshwater impoundment systems were built in the 1980's to provide refuge officials the means to raise and lower water levels in the ponds to accommodate the needs of migratory birds during different seasons of the year. The ponds provided habitat for wintering waterfowl, places to feed for spring and fall migratory shorebirds, and nesting areas for wading birds in the summer.
And therein lies the rub. Having provided beautiful habitat for bird watching and wildlife viewing, the refuge created the perfect conditions for housing development along the bay coast: water views both east and west of established residences and newly built homes. But in 2006, Hurricane Ernesto breached the dunes and caused an influx of sediment and saltwater behind some homes. Viewed as a natural process, the breach was not repaired. In 2009 and 2010 the dune line was again overwashed, pouring more saltwater into the freshwater ponds, killing most of the vegetation, and again flooding the area. In 2011 the dunes were rebuilt, but destroyed within a week by another storm. Valuable time for action has been delayed by lawsuits and agencies debating how to resolve the issues, one of which is how to protect the homes already in the community.
1. Option 1: Take no action.
2. Option 2: Actively manage the refuge to mimic natural processes (FWS' preference).
3. Option 3: Reinstate cooperative farming in the refuge, manage both saltwater and freshwater habitats, and rebuild infrastructure and the dunes along the Delaware Bayshore.
For more information about Prime Hook Beach and the Prime Hook National Wildlife Preserve, go to www.fws.gov/northeast/primehook