A Scientist’s Aerial Documentation of the Fire Island Wilderness Breach

Last edited 09/05/2019
Contact Information

Contact: Sara Stevens (NPS),

sara_stevens@nps.gov, 401-874-4548

The storm surge and high waves that occurred during Hurricane Sandy caused barrier island breaches across eastern Fire Island, Long Island and one on the Westhampton barrier beach just east of Moriches Inlet. Two of the breaches were immediately closed by USACE, but the Wilderness breach on Fire Island National Seashore, one having the greatest impact on the back-bay areas of Great South Bay, was left untouched and open to the ocean by the National Park Service. 

The wilderness portion of Fire Island is narrow and has a long history of breaches and inlets.  An inlet was last documented near this location in 1825. How this recent breach has been evolving and what impact it has had on the back-bay and mainland of Long Island are questions being answered by the National Park Service. Through scientific studies to monitor things like water quality, seagrass, water temperature, bacteria counts, and species in the Bay following Hurricane Sandy, the NPS hopes to better understand how breaches affect the resiliency of coastal systems and to inform best management practices in the future.

One monitoring project entails collecting aerial photography of the transformation and evolution of the Wilderness breach since its creation during Hurricane Sandy. Dr. Charles Flagg from Stony Brook University has been flying a small airplane over the breach and recording its characteristics and change since the storm in 2012. 

As part of an effort to document the research being conducted around the breach, the NPS is working with filmmakers from Harper’s Ferry Center to develop a number of short videos to share and help inform the public.  One of the first films to be completed in 2016 is a profile of Dr. Flagg’s research on the breach. 

This is a short social media film, designed to help humanize the science efforts and to start reframing conversations about the breach by providing a (literally) new perspective and showing its natural beauty.  Additional films are being developed to highlight the exciting diversity of coastal resilience research being conducted and is one of the many NPS Hurricane Sandy resiliency projects.

Watch the short film

View photos of the Fire Island Breach

Learn more about the filmmaker, Sarah Gulick

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