Thousands of Christmas trees, stripped of lights and ornaments, have been arranged along the beach here [Long Beach, New York] as part of an unusual plan to restore the protective dunes washed away by Hurricane Sandy. The trees are supposed to catch sand blown by the wind, until gradually the dunes grow up around them.
Long Beach, one of the localities in the New York region most devastated by the storm, is a thin ribbon of land between Long Island and the Atlantic Ocean. The storm washed away about half a million cubic yards of sand, officials said, leaving residents dangerously exposed to even modestly inclement weather.
From a distance, the trees resemble a somewhat bizarre gathering on the beach, like a large pod of exceptionally fuzzy seals. There are about 3,000 in all. The local Home Depot donated some. Others stood in the living rooms of residents until recently, adorned with decorations.
Other localities in New York and New Jersey are also using Christmas trees to buttress beaches damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Healthy sand dunes are the first line of defense for coastal towns during storms because they keep the ocean from invading backyards and basements. But sand alone is not enough. An anchor, often naturally growing grasses, is needed to prevent the sand from blowing or washing away.
But the grasses cannot grow without a significant accumulation of sand, and in Long Beach these days there simply is not enough. That is where the Christmas trees come in.
The method is not uncommon, particularly in areas like the Carolinas and Florida that are prone to hurricanes. It can take two to three years for dunes to become fully re-established after a major storm.
The afterlives of Christmas trees can be quite dynamic. In southern Louisiana, the trees are woven into fences and used to block dangerous levels of saltwater from flowing into coastal wetlands. They have been used in Illinois to create nesting structures for herons and egrets forced from natural habitats by development. [In California, trees have played a role in the building of lake habitats.]
In Long Beach, several residents proposed placing the trees in the dunes. City officials approved the plan, and about 100 volunteers gathered on the beach the other day to arrange the trees with their tops facing toward the surf. The configuration, officials hope, will catch sand blowing from all directions.