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The initial construction for the Lower Cape May Meadows-Cape May Point ecosystem restoration project was completed in 2007 and has been nourished/repaired in subsequent years. The project is a joint effort of the Army Corps’ Philadelphia District, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Borough of Cape May Point, City of Cape May, Lower Township, the Nature Conservancy, and Cape May Point State Park. Work is designed to reduce damages from coastal storm events and to protect the valuable fish and wildlife habitat that exists on the beach and in the wetlands behind the dune.
In October 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philadelphia District awarded a contract to Yannuzzi Group of Kinnelon, NJ for $1.1 million to conduct periodic nourishment of the Lower Cape Meadows-Cape May Point project in New Jersey. The contract involved ‘backpassing’ - sand was excavated from areas along the upper beach instead of dredging the sand from offshore borrow areas or inlets. Work involved excavating approximately 164,000 cubic yards of sand from the upper beach. The sand was then placed in two locations: the Cove Beach in the City of Cape May (114,000 cubic yards of sand) and Saint Pete’s Beach in the Borough of Cape May Point (50,000 cubic yards of sand). The redistribution of sand from the upper to lower beach serves to help return the area to the design elevation and will also serve to benefit beach nesting birds such as the Piping Plover and Least Terns.
In 2007, an ecological restoration project was completed at the area colloquially known as the Lower Cape May Meadows (this encompasses The Nature Conservancy property and the Cape May Point State Park). The project sought to provide both shore protection and ecosystem restoration to benefit wildlife that utilizes the area. Piping Plovers were one focal species that the restoration sought to improve conditions for. The beach fill provided open, sparsely vegetated beach habitat, suitable for nesting birds. “Plover ponds” were created behind the dune to provide opportunities for foraging habitat and “plover crossovers” were created on the dunes to allow easier access to the ponds (the crossovers were not planted with beach grass and were contoured with a gentler grade to allow easier passage by small, mobile plover chicks). The project was a success, and by 2008, 11 pairs (compared with 5-6 pairs in the years immediately prior to restoration) of Piping Plovers and hundreds of Least Terns nested at the site.
Over the years since the ecological restoration was complete, a significant amount of sand has migrated from Cape May City beach fills to this area and raised the elevation of the beach dramatically. This has reduced the suitability for nesting birds for a few reasons. First, the higher elevation precludes overwash, which can act a check to vegetation growth. Second, the vegetation is now denser than what the birds prefer. Dense vegetation reduces their field of vision as they sit on their nests and makes it harder for them to see predators coming. Conversely, the vegetation helps mammalian predators sneak up on nesting birds. Third, the additional elevation has created a slope between the intertidal and berm that is not desirable by the birds. Among other factors, these habitat changes led to a decline in use by beach-nesting birds, most notably Piping Plovers. Their pair numbers at Cape May Meadows dropped from 11 in 2009 to 1 in 2014, and zero pairs from 2015-20.
Although portions of the Cape May Meadows site has accumulated vast quantities of sand, other sections continue to erode and require beach fills to maintain their status and protect the properties behind them. The US Army Corps of Engineers, NJDEP, the Nature Conservancy, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife have partnered together to address the problem of too much sand on the upper beach at Cape May Meadows, and too little sand elsewhere in the project. Removing sand from the upper beach Cape May Meadows and placing it on the more vulnerable portions of the project is considered a win-win solution by the partnering agencies.
USACE Philadelphia District