Dune Grass Planting Draws Volunteers

April 3, 2017
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In Long Branch on Saturday, Alex Krenkel was among many who pitched in to plant dune grass on the beach. Native beach grass helps stabilize moving sand and is effective against beach erosion.

By Ryan Gallagher

LONG BRANCH – Volunteers hit the sand in some New Jersey coastal town on Saturday, not to build castles or get a tan, but to help the coastal environment by planting beach grass by hand.

In Long Branch, the non-profit Surfer’s Environmental Alliance (SEA) hosted an event at the Brighton Beach entrance, in conjunction with the City of Long Branch and its Environmental Commission.

The task was to plant 10,000 clones of American Cape beach grass in random patterns 8 inches deep, 18 inches apart. By the 11 a.m. start, the boardwalk was teeming with volunteers who wanted to help plant the stalks.

“It all helps stabilize the sand and you know, it’s the right thing to do here,” said lifetime surfer and SEA executive director, Richard Lee of Long Branch. “The more grass in the lower area and the bigger it is, the better it will do to prevent sand and water from coming over the boardwalk,” said Lee.

When mature, the leafy beach grass can grow to a height of 2 or 3 feet, and its leaves may become rolled or folded. Its strong underground stems spread underneath the sand and can give rise to many new plants. The native plant enhances the natural beauty of the beach. “See, look how nice that looks?” said Lee.

Monmouth University student surfers Tyler Sankey (foreground), Huascar Holguin, Zack Karvelas and Connor Perzely get to work during the Long Branch beach grass planting.

There was a bit of swell in the water and a balmy breeze blowing as surfers, college students, scouts and beach lovers worked the beach with digging tools and bundles of beach grass, being careful not to trample on newly planted stalks.

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SEA’s Chris Macioch was impressed by the community spirit. The group has helped organize similar events in Sea Bright. “But, for a pure SEA beach grass planting I’d say that this is definitely our best turnout,” he said.

The surfing community wanted to give back, he explained.

“The city of Long Branch, in my opinion is the most surf-friendly town on the Jersey Shore,” said Macioch.

In Long Branch on Saturday, Alex Krenkel was among many who pitched in to plant dune grass on the beach. Native beach grass helps stabilize moving sand and is effective against beach erosion.

Danna Kaywood and her husband David were digging and planting on the beach in their jeans and flannel shirts. Danna, the program and special event coordinator for the city, wanted to get involved. “It had come to my attention about doing this, so I helped with advertising and getting it out,” said Danna.

Shawna O’Shemmey of Middletown was motivated to do what she could after seeing the Instagram post about the project. She and her husband, Hugh, brought their two boys. “We love to help out any way we can with the environment and beach preservation,” she said.

Before it was over, a band of Monmouth University student-surfers arrived. They apologized for being tardy; they had been surfing all morning.

“We showed up fashionably late, but we’re getting right on it and it feels good,” said Alex Krenkel of Ocean Township, a surf team member.

The surfers kept the mood light with laughter, but they were serious about giving back.

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“It is important that we take care of our backyard here at Monmouth University, show some support for the community and show that we as MU students are here to make this place great again,” said student-surfer, Paul Kelly.

As the event wound down, the bundles of beach grass disappeared and, soon after, so did the crowd. Event directors and community members expressed hope the beach grass roots would run vigorously into the sand and knit together to stabilize the moving sand for the future.

Soon the environmentalists would embark on their next project. “We are also going to be starting a campaign called ‘Please Leave Only Your Footprints.’ That’ll be on the garbage cans,” said SEA director Lee. “It’s a subliminal message to tell people that if you bring garbage please just put it in the cans or take it off the beach.”

This article was first published in the March 30-April 6, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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