Wilderness breach at Fire Island National Seashore: a natural process maintains long-term resilience of the coastal ecosystem

Last edited 09/05/2019
Contact Information

Contact:  Charles Roman (NPS), charles_roman@nps.gov, (401) 874-6886

Studies are ongoing to evaluate the ecosystem responses to a Hurricane Sandy created breach at Fire Island National Seashore with the findings supporting science-based breach management decisions at Fire Island and other Seashores.

Hurricane Sandy created a breach through the Fire Island National Seashore wilderness area – a breach that remains open to tidal exchange between the Atlantic Ocean and Great South Bay. Breach and overwash events during storms are natural processes important to maintaining the long-term sustainability and resilience of barrier islands. The transfer of sediment across the barrier island from overwash and breaching events facilitates the process of island migration in response to sea-level rise. Sediment transported to the bay can widen the barrier island improving resilience to future storms and provide areas for new salt marsh or intertidal flats -- excellent habitat for shorebirds and other fauna, including the federally threatened and New York state endangered Piping Plover. Breaches also bring ocean waters into the bay and several ongoing studies, conducted in cooperation with Stony Brook University scientists, are dedicated to understanding the largely understudied ecological responses of the bay ecosystem. Findings are preliminary at this time, but through comparisons of pre- and post-breach data it seems clear that in regions of the bay near the new breach water quality is improving, growth of the economically important hard clam is increasing, toxic algal blooms are less frequent, conditions for growth of seagrass habitat have improved, and species biodiversity has increased, among other responses. A breach management plan is currently being developed for the Fire Island breach. These Hurricane Sandy studies will contribute to decisions regarding management of this breach or future breaches.


More information:

The following is a Resource Brief describing the science being conducted relating to the Fire Island Breach:

The following google site houses NPS Hurricane Sandy proposals, project progress reports and general information about each project. This site continues to be developed:

Photo Gallery:

Photos of the FIIS Breach:  

Photos of Researcher Dr. Bradley Peterson and Students (SUNY StonyBrook) conducting field work related to understanding changes in seagrass, bay water quality and nekton


The following link is to a Resource Brief Highlighting a Fire Island National Seashore Employee and her contribution to informing the public about the ecological effects of Hurricane Sandy: (written by University of Rhode Island Graduate Student, Jamie Remillard)

The following provides a before and after view of the Wilderness breach on FIIS

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