Fire Island sand dunes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy

We had the good fortune of spending a few days on Fire Island about ten years ago. A friend rented a house out there in the summer, and he invited us to join him while passing through New York. When you’re there, it’s hard to believe that NYC is so close because it feels like it’s the other side of the world.

No cars, just boardwalks to get around, and deer running between the houses. It’s a very idyllic and restful place. Or at least it was, until Hurricane Sandy blew through.

The well-maintained sand dunes were easily wiped away by Sandy, though Fire Island “only” lost 9 homes, with another 200 reportedly damaged out of 4,000. As they prepare to rebuild the dunes, there’s a debate over who should fund the building project.

Fire Island sand dune via Shutterstock

As we’ve seen over and over, everyone wants something from the federal government, and rightly so. Although Republicans like to pretend that it’s just the poor, inner-city non-whites who want stuff, that’s completely false.

In the case of New York, they give much more than they receive with federal money, so it’s hard to see why there’s even a debate. Many of the southern states that are regularly hit by hurricanes consistently receive much more than they pay into the system. They’re also the ones who don’t believe in climate change, who are against federal money being given (to anyone but themselves), and who talk smugly about the Bible and how God will provide.  Then want the government to provide what God inevitably fails to fork over.

Fire Island needs help, and the island should receive it. It’s hard to see how rebuilding Fire Island is any different than rebuilding other hurricane hit areas in the south. The only difference that stands out is that a few of the communities on Fire Island are predominantly gay and lesbian retreats, which will probably be an issue with the hateful Republicans.

New Yorkers who cherish Fire Island as an idyllic summertime getaway feared the worst when the 32-mile-long barrier island took a direct hit from Superstorm Sandy’s powerful surge. The wall of water swamped nearly the entire island, destroyed or washed away about 200 homes and scraped sand dunes down to nothing.
Still, residents are counting their blessings.

That’s because more than 4,000 structures survived, at least enough to be repaired. And some are crediting the carefully maintained wall of dunes, ranging from 10 to 20 feet tall, with taking the brunt of the storm’s fury.

“The dunes were demolished, but without their protection it would have been much worse,” said Malcolm Bowman, a professor of physical oceanography at Stony Brook University.

Closer to New York City, sand dunes may be less likely to rebuilt though there are some calling for the return of oyster beds, to help stop or slow the next storm surge. Much like the way coral reefs help in tropical areas, oyster beds traditionally softened the blow of storms and some New Yorkers are working on bringing them back.

New York is likely to have more Sandy-like storms in coming years and whether it’s oyster beds, sand dunes or some other replica of what Mother Nature used to provide, something needs to be done.


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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  • Jonathan Clay Gibbens

    Listen here you liberal POS i dont like you or your little fag blog what are you doing to help? Sitting on your ass at home doesn”t count you pissed me off god saved multiple lives that day did you? You were to busy complaining on how us conservatives run stuff, until you come out of hiding and tell us conservatives this shit to our face i have no respect for you.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    The dune were mostly silica, but the done wiggles were gay.

  • emjayay

    All land masses and everything on them are in the long term (like millions of years) temporary. Along the edges of oceans and rivers, a lot more temporary. Barrier islands are just particularly big sand bars. The whole idea of mountains forming and eroding and ice ages etc. was unknown until the mid-1800′s. Glacial erratics (big roundish rocks that didn’t belong where they are) were brought there in the biblical flood (the one where Noah builds the ark). I guess they didn’t call them glacial erratics back then. The thought was that God created the earth and that was that. We didn’t figure out about continental drift and how it works until a few decades ago. Human life is just too short for us to necessarily see the changes going on.

    But even the stuff that geographers and geologists have understood for a long time has been routinely ignored by humans wanting to live in a cool place and developers wanting to make a lot of money. Just south of San Francisco in Daly City for example subdivisions were built in the 1950′s right up to near the edge of the cliffs over the Pacific. Other than the cold and fog, pretty amazing to have an unobstructed view of the Pacific from a couple hundred feet up from the back windows of your subdivision type house. The ocean eats away at the cliffs and they also erode a bit every year. It’s now easy to find driveways to nowhere.

    Resistance is futile.

  • Roger_of_Arabia

    I always thought those dunes were gay anyway.

  • http://ulstercountycloakroom.blogspot.com/ Count Ulster

    Indeed. It’s not even a consideration. The Army Corps will fix it to protect the mainland. But houses lost are sometimes lost for good.

  • caphillprof

    Barrier islands protect the mainland from the brunt of ocean storms be they tropical or Nor’easter. Dunes come and go and indeed the barrier islands themselves tend to move (inland I think – - or is it seaward?). Anyway, as long as man is involved, of course we need to protect the dunes, plant the dunes and when necessary rebuilt them. Beaches however, come and go, and the primary reason to rebuild beaches is tourism.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Fire Island is a gem of nature. I spent some of best young days in the Pines and hate to imagine what the damage did to those beautiful dunes.

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