New York City students restore native beachgrass to stabilize the shoreline against storms

Coastlines across the nation are facing increasing threats due to climate change, including severe storms and sea level rise. New York City is no stranger to these risks, as many coastal neighborhoods are still recovering from Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which left many residents without power, clean water, and other critical resources. Thanks to a second round of funding from NOAA’s Environmental Literacy Program, which supports projects that develop the environmental literacy necessary for communities to take actions that build resilience to extreme weather and climate change, the National Wildlife Federation’s Resilient Schools Consortium (RiSC) program offsite link is helping New York City coastal neighborhoods become more resilient to these future climate hazards.

People stand on a sandy beach looking down at American beachgrass planting, with some buildings in the distance.
Students from New York City schools plant American beach grass at Coney Island Creek Park which protects the shoreline from storm surge and flooding. (Maggie Allen, NOAA Office of Education)

In the spring of 2022, the RiSC program and students from nine New York City middle and high schools planted 10,000 American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) “culms” (hollow stems of grass or cereal plants) at Coney Island Creek Park. As RiSC explains in their blog offsite link, beachgrass culms send out rhizomes, or underground stems, that can grow down 13 feet and out six to 10 feet in all directions. These native plants create “living shorelines,” stabilizing the dune environments and ultimately protecting these communities from future storm surge and flooding. 

Students that participated in the planting event increased their knowledge of climate impacts and local community resilience, returning to their local New York City neighborhoods with a better understanding of their own communities’ climate vulnerabilities and subsequent actions to take. 

The RiSC program team, as well as their community partner, the Coney Island Beautification Project, and experts from the American Littoral Society, are all hopeful they’ll be able to continue their community resilience work far beyond the length of their three-year grant. This project exemplifies efforts funded by NOAA’s Environmental Literacy Program to empower youth and members of the public to strengthen climate resilience through education.