Restoration Making Progress on Cedar Bonnet Island 

May 03, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

By this time next year, Cedar Bonnet Island in Stafford Township could be a thriving, diverse ecosystem featuring nature trails and a pavilion for wildlife observation and photography among other features.

Vinny Turner, a longtime wildlife biologist from the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, discussed the project April 26 at the Long Beach Island Branch of the Ocean County Library in Surf City.

Aside from the trails and pavilion, Turner said plans also call for three wetland areas, a meadow/shrub component, an upland forest and picnic areas.

“We’re not going to have a boat launch, but there will be an area where people could put kayaks into the water,” he said.   

Turner said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the N.J. Department of Transportation are working together on the plan, which he said is the result of negative environmental impacts due to the massive Causeway Bridge reconstruction project. Though required to mitigate just 5.5 acres of disturbed habitat, focusing on creating intertidal/subtidal shallows and a riparian zone, Turner said the DOT will actually restore 41 acres.

The biologist said that prior to the 1950s, the island was an untouched salt marsh habitat.

“It was very typical of the barrier islands out in the bay,” said Turner. “There was a no Causeway yet; they just had the small, wooden bridge to the Island. But then along came the Intercoastal Waterway project, and Cedar Bonnet Island became home to dredge spoils, which compromised the environment and changed the nature of the island. Over time, the marsh was lost and elevations grew, which caused the gradual degradation of the wetlands habitat.”

Turner said a key component of the restoration is re-vegetating the area with native plant species. Upland trees include Mockernut hickory, shadbush, grey birch, American holly, pin oak, white oak, black cherry, pitch pine, swamp white oak, sassafras, Eastern red cedar and hackberry.

Maritime shrubs to be planted include northern bayberry, inkberry, common elderberry, winged sumac, black chokeherry and gorudsel tree.

Turner said more than 25 upland plants will be planted, among them fox sedge, deer tangut, tall whitebeard tungut, Indian grass, switch grass, common milkweed, Joe-Pye weed, wild bergamet, purple coneflower and back-eyed Susan.

He said according to a timetable, the plantings are scheduled to be completed this summer. In addition, nature trail construction is expected to start in the middle of this summer, to be followed by installation of pavilion and signage.

“I’m hoping we can have the official opening by early or the middle of 2018,” said Turner. “We also know that with these types of projects, timetables may change, but I’m optimistic that it can be completed by then. The mild winter certainly did not hurt us.”

Turner said that currently, the main focus has been soil remediation, which was necessary because much of the soil was highly acidic. He said that phase is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

The high acidity content, he explained, prevents plants, shrubs and trees from getting the proper nutrients to grow.

“We had to import soils because there was nothing we could do about that problem on-site,” said Turner. “We ended up putting a 2-foot patch of soil on top of the existing soil. First we had to make sure it was a clean source, without any contaminants, which it was.”

To prevent erosion is some areas, coconut fiber matting was placed, he said. “We also had to replace some fencing that had been washed away.”

Turner said that aside from enhancing public access and use of the area, the refuge also looks to educate people about the island’s environmental significance.

“For a very long time it was a beautiful ecosystem and then got disturbed,” he said. “I think we are now trying to get it back to the way it once was.”

— Eric Englund




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