BELMAR, NJ — Tucked along the east side of Belmar's boardwalk at Fourth Avenue is its newest “dune garden,” adding to the growing beachscape barrier designed to help protect the oceanfront from powerful storms.
Stretching from Fourth to Fifth Avenues, the 1,500-square foot area includes various types of dune grass, native and other suitable plants, and “pollinators” to attract butterflies to the beachfront, which lost its last protective dunes during Superstorm Sandy more than six years ago.
The new dune planting is situated just south of the strip of sand along the boardwalk, where the rare seabeach amaranth plant was recently discovered by environmental officials, and eight blocks away from the borough’s first successful dune planting, which took root in November 2017 near the 12th Avenue beach playground.
In the effort led by Belmar Council President Thomas Brennan, the borough once again partnered with The Little Plant Co. owner Jason Austin in selecting the plants with the actual planting this time being undertaken last month by the Department of Public Works.
“The success of the 12th Avenue planting was great momentum and positive reinforcement going into this year’s new planting,” said Austin, whose Pine-Beach company is a recognized leader in creating landscapes that have a positive impact on the environment. “This is critical in creating unfragmented dune ecologies that provide opportunity for the piping plover and the beach amaranth to find their niche.”
In its visit last fall to Belmar, N.J. Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representatives also informed borough officials that piping plovers have returned to nest in the natural beach area near First Avenue. Both the small shorebird and the seabeach amaranth are federally endangered species that cannot be disturbed under environmental protection regulations.
While many of same native plants are included in both the 12th Avenue and Fourth Avenue projects, the new planting also includes milkweed — a pollen-rich plant that supports the migration patterns of monarch butterflies, whose numbers have been declining during the past 20 years. Every fall along the East Coast, they come through New Jersey on the way to Mexico for the winter.
In addition to planting the new dune garden, Belmar’s Public Works employees also have been planting fledging dune grass plants at various spots in the sand near the beach entrances along Ocean Avenue and in areas along the beach side of the boardwalk.
As part of the completed Lake Como outfall project, the borough received 35,000 dune grass plants through a grant, according to Brennan, council liaison to the Environmental Commission. But since the eastern banks of Lake Como will be planted with turf grass, the borough wanted to find a suitable home for the two pallets of dune grass plants it received.
While the small brown plants are now dormant, Brennan hopes that come spring, the plants will flourish and add to the beachscape that is evolving along the 1.3-mile oceanfront.
Dune grass plays an important role in stabilizing beach dunes — the natural barriers that protect the oceanfront against storms and the powerful ocean surge.