Vast stretches of the iconic tall grasses that dot the Atlantic coast were destroyed during Superstorm Sandy, removing a vital protective buffer for the region's shoreline.
Now, the New England Wild Flower Society and its partners are planning to collect the seeds of native plants like saltmarsh rush and little bluestem and replant them in areas battered by the deadly 2012 storm.
The $2.3 million project will help make these habitats more resilient to future storms, especially the coastal areas that act as a buffer during storms, the Society said. For inland states, the seeds will be used to help restore river banks in areas that flooded extensively during Sandy.
The two-year project is the first large-scale, coordinated, seed banking effort in the Eastern United States. It is part of the Seeds of Success program, a national initiative the Bureau of Land Management first established in 2001. Wildlife refuges in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island are participating in the New England collection effort.
The Society's partners, North Carolina Botanical Garden and Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank, part of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, will collect and distribute seeds in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and New York.
Bill Brumback, conservation director for New England Wild Flower Society, said he and his team are collecting seeds from inland areas of wildlife refuges and replanting them near the coast.
"We know from experience that having natural habitats there, along the coast, as a buffer for storms is very important," Brumback said. "We know restoring these areas is going to provide protection for future storms."
Many common species of native New England plants were damaged when the storm slammed into the East Coast. A shortage of native seeds left the area vulnerable to erosion and invasive plants, the Bureau of Land Management said.
Until recently, restoration projects in the Eastern United States have had to rely on plant material from other parts of the country.
"There's a big push to collect seed from local sources," said Nick Ernst, a wildlife biologist at the John H. Chafee and Sachuest Point national wildlife refuges in Rhode Island. "They're adapted to the local growing conditions, which will increase survival rates."
Some of the seeds will be stored in a seed bank for future restoration projects. About 50 species have been collected since the project began in July, and Brumback and his teammates want to make about 200 trips to collect seeds in the next year.
"Sandy is just one event," Brumback said. "Other events are coming, and we want to be able to restore the coastline."