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Interpreting "The Storm Beach"

Fire Island National Seashore

National Park News

Getting Out in Front of the Storm
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, local and national attention on Fire Island, New York has focused primarily on storm damage: loss of dunes, debris removal, repair of infrastructure, reopening of park facilities, re-occupying and rebuilding homes, and “getting back to normal.” Fire Island National Seashore, however, is taking advantage of a teachable moment as managers face critical issues. Chief of Interpretation Kathy Krause and her staff have been proactive in sharing messages about how Fire Island’s dynamic environment functions and how this is key to the sustainability of the barrier island’s beaches.

On January 12, 2013, Ruth Coffey, a full-time PhD student in marine sciences and a part-time temporary park ranger at Fire Island National Seashore, presented to nearly 200 visitors a program about Hurricane Sandy and how it changed Fire Island.  Coffey’s thematic interpretive program, “The Storm Beach,” incorporates current scholarship and park science and focuses on the impacts of  Hurricane Sandy and its relation to one of the most pressing critical issues facing the park today – sustainability on a dynamic seashore.

The program is about how storms, including Sandy, are integral to the nature of barrier islands and that change is really the only constant in this type of environment. “This program,” said Krause, “presents multiple views of storm impacts and highlights how storms can bring benefits as well as destruction.”  The creation of new habitat for wildlife, the addition of sediment to the island’s interior and back bays, and potential for increased water quality where breaches of the island occur, all can be seen as ecological and economic benefits. Coffey’s program also recognizes the negative impacts, such as damage to park and community infrastructure, and the increased potential for coastal flooding on the mainland.  Program participants explored dune layers for signs of past storms, learned how minerals on the beach tell a history lesson, used an i-Pad to compare images of the pre- and post-hurricane beach, and shared personal recollections of how the beach has changed over the years.

Last year, natural resource funding enabled the park to enhance its interpretation of shoreline dynamics. Park interpreters developed several curriculum-based educational activities and a new educators’ workshop, and created additional non-personal and social media products, all about barrier island dynamics.  “While ‘The Storm Beach’ was developed in response to Hurricane Sandy, it was a natural next step to develop a program about storms as a chapter in change on barrier islands,” said Krause. A site bulletin ‘Storm Stories’ was also developed.  “The dynamic nature of the seashore is one of the most significant things about Fire Island and we will continue to offer opportunities to engage the public on this fundamental topic.”

The public is eager to learn about the storm and the new beach at Fire Island. A local reporter who attended the program provided the following account:


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