Urban Coast Institute

Leading the Way in Coastal Resilience


ith support from $1.5 million in state funding, Monmouth’s Urban Coast Institute (UCI) is leading a collaborative effort aimed at enhancing coastal resilience in the Garden State.

The New Jersey Coastal Consortium for Resilient Communities (NJCCRC) is a partnership between six universities and the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium. Together, the institutions are working to identify research needs and fill knowledge gaps that will empower state and coastal communities to make informed choices regarding coastal resilience strategies and responses to climate-related challenges.

Joining faculty and staff from Monmouth’s UCI in the effort are experts from the Montclair State University Earth and Environmental Studies Department; the New Jersey Institute of Technology Center for Natural Resources; Rutgers University’s Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve; the Stevens Institute of Technology Coastal Engineering Research Lab; and the Stockton University Coastal Research Center.

Thomas Herrington, Ph.D., associate director of the UCI and principal investigator for the NJCCRC, said the consortium partners have been informally working together on different aspects of coastal resilience ever since Superstorm Sandy devastated the New Jersey coast in 2012.

Now, thanks to funding sponsored and supported by New Jersey State Sen. Vin Gopal, New Jersey’s fiscal year 2022, 2023, and 2024 budgets each included $500,000 to establish the NJCCRC as a formal group and support its work.

Sandy was a big wake-up call for us because we thought we had the protection we needed, but the storm surge that occurred interacted with our coastal bays in unexpected ways.”
Thomas Herrington, Ph.D., associate director of the UCI

Herrington says the main focus of the consortium is not to study the oceanfront, which these days is largely well protected thanks to engineered beaches and dune systems, but instead to study the coastal bays, which are much less protected and understood.

“Sandy was a big wake-up call for us because we thought we had the protection we needed, but the storm surge that occurred interacted with our coastal bays in unexpected ways,” he said. “So, the state made the decision to invest in nature and nature-based features for community resilience in the bays, but we don’t know enough about the system and how it is changing to know what we should be doing.”

The group is focusing its studies on Barnegat Bay—a 42-mile-long arm of the Atlantic Ocean that is home to an eclectic ecosystem of barrier islands, maritime forests, and wildlife—using it as a living laboratory to develop a framework for a real-time observing system that will monitor environmental conditions to measure how the bay system changes over time.

The initial phase, which began in September 2022, focused on pulling from past research and comparing it to new data to create a baseline of the physical processes in the bay, such as the natural movements of sediment and currents. The group is now focused on studying how climate change is impacting those physical processes and determining the effectiveness of resilience efforts such as the restoration of tidal marshes in densely populated areas, among other things.

Part of the goal is to create a robust, dynamic model to monitor how physical changes like sea level rise and shifts in salinity impact the bay system and to determine whether the framework is transferable to other bay systems in the state or the country.

As the NJCCRC enters the next phase of its work, there are plans to assemble an advisory panel of representatives from research organizations, nonprofits, local governments, private sector entities, and other stakeholders. The panel would provide input on NJCCRC’s research priorities and work, with the aim of informing an update of the 2020 New Jersey Scientific Report on Climate Change and put into action the plans detailed in the 2021 New Jersey Climate Change Resilience Strategy and Coastal Resilience Plan.

wide birds eye view of a coastal beach

Panel Explores Lessons Learned Since Superstorm Sandy

In October 2022, UCI hosted a panel conversation on the insights gained and challenges yet to be addressed since Hurricane Sandy struck the coastline a decade ago. “To Build or Not to Build: That is the Question—Lessons We Haven’t Learned 10 Years After Superstorm,” was moderated by UCI Director Tony MacDonald. A panel of experts from state and federal environmental protection, climate advisory, and emergency management agencies addressed how the state and communities should proceed given that climate change, sea level rise, continued development and increased vulnerability in coastal areas, and the threat of more frequent and violent coastal storms are the “new normal.” Several similarly themed events were held on campus in conjunction with the panel conversation, including a virtual panel about “Documenting and Interpreting Superstorm Sandy,” a screening of the documentary The Jersey Storm: Sandy in Monmouth County, and a student poster exhibition titled “Tracking Sandy: Monmouth County Remembers.”
wide birds eye view of vibrant green wetlands

Monmouth Researchers Working to Restore Coastal Lakes

Superstorm Sandy’s devastation of lake watersheds made clear the need for a more concerted approach toward lake monitoring and restoration. That’s why in 2017, the University launched the Coastal Lakes Observing Network (CLONet), a project through which staff and students from the School of Science and UCI partner with municipalities and community groups to organize and equip community scientists to assist in lake monitoring efforts. Funded by two $150,000 grants from the Jules L. Plangere Jr. Family Foundation, this first-of-its-kind study combines data collected by Monmouth researchers with data collected by community scientists to determine the health of 11 coastal lakes in Monmouth County. In November 2022, the community scientists and researchers gathered on campus for a Coastal Lakes Summit where they shared their experiences and learned what the data they collected revealed about the lakes; that data is now informing restoration efforts underway at several of the lakes being studied.