DU, partners restore native habitat along Jersey coast

Tidal estuarine habitat restoration crucial for wildlife
Story at a Glance
  • Modifications to the area restrict tidal flow, allowing invasives like Phragmites to take hold in the basin.
  • DU and partners are installing water control structures to allow to tidal flow to increase.
  • Wildlife, esepcially waterfowl and wading birds will benefit from the restoration.

Cox Hall Creek is an 87-acre tidal basin in Lower Township of Cape May County in New Jersey. In the late 1800s, it was disconnected from the Delaware Bay to facilitate salt hay farming and mosquito control. This drastic change restricted important tidal flushing. A limited amount of tidal water backflows through a dilapidated discharge pipe and now-defunct pump house, but the altered hydrologic regime has converted the Cox Hall Creek basin into a low quality freshwater system dominated by a monotypic stand of the invasive Phragmites. Currently, it provides minimal value to waterfowl and other wildlife.

The restoration of native habitat along the New Jersey coast is critical for wildlife, especially migratory birds. Both the Cape May Peninsula and the Delaware Bay are world renown for supporting an abundance and diversity of shorebirds, wading birds, and waterfowl, which utilize mudflats and shallow wetlands to refuel during migration and winter. The purpose of the Cox Hall Creek restoration is to restore estuarine inter-tidal emergent wetlands for fish and wildlife through the reintroduction of tidal inundation into the basin. It will be accomplished by installing a large water control structure and connecting pipe to facilitate managed bi-directional flow between the basin and Delaware Bay, which is based on a previously-successful DU design. Improved exchange between the two water bodies will help with the control of Phragmites, as adjacent houses are too close for aerial herbicide application or prescribed burns.

The Cox Hall Creek restoration is a collaborative effort between DU, Cape May County Planning Department, Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control, Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, Lower Township Municipal Utilities Authority, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Delaware Bay Estuary Project and Partners for Fish and Wildlife. With their help, DU received a North American Wetlands Conversation Act (NAWCA) grant to help purchase construction-related materials such as the structure and pipe. All materials will be ordered and assembled during winter, with construction scheduled to start in early 2012.