Science, Tech & Environment

In post-Sandy New York, a Dutch architect pushes oysters, islands and inlets to fight future floods


A bulldozer pushes sand near a boardwalk that was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, in Ortley Beach, NJ January, 2013


REUTERS/Tom Mihalek

Dutch architect Henk Ovink is looking for oysters as part of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Taskforce for the US government. 

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"The oyster beds around New York habor and New York Bay are almost all gone," he says. "Restoring them will make them part of a shallowing approach. These underwater barriers reduce the way waves and surges affect the land."
After doing analysis of the whole Sandy affected region, the rebuilding efforts include restoring marsh lands, creating habitats and natural systems, reefs and plants to help reduce the power of waves and surges.
"This includes even building new islands which create new habitats and can reduce the surge by feet instead of inches," says Ovink
Such an approach doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on engineering projects like sea walls and levies. "Reality is very complex and requires a comprehensive approach, says Ovink.  
"There’s no one silver bullet: it will be natural and manmade, it will be engineering and ecology." 
Ovink is utilizing on the experience in his homeland, the Netherlands.  In 1953, the combination of a high spring tide and a severe windstorm over the North Sea caused a storm tide. It hit the Netherlands particularly hard, causing more than 1,800 deaths and widespread property damage. 
“That was our Sandy,” says Ovink  “The response was a little too much on the engineering side, nowadays, the Dutch try to build a little more with nature. You need them both, to create a better and safer place.”
And how is this Dutch approach being received in the US?  “Pretty good so far," says Ovink. “It’s a complex process but we have a lot of collaboration across the board from government to community groups and funders."
Ovink is sure, he will be able to convince people on the ground that it will be better for them and their children. 
“We will create a safer region to live and invest in."