Coconuts became the new tool for coastal protection

Logs of coconut shell known as coir lie on the bank of the Shark River in Neptune, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry) (Wayne Parry/)

Coastal communities around the world are adding a tropical touch to shoreline protection, courtesy of the humble coconut.

From the sands of the Jersey shore to the islands of Indonesia, strands of coconut shell, known as coconut fiberin coastal protection projects.

Often used in conjunction with other measures, coconut material is considered a cost-effective, readily available and sustainable option. This is particularly true in developing countries. But the material is also popular in wealthy nations, where it is seen as a significant part of calls. “living shorelines” that use natural elements instead of hard barriers of wood, steel or concrete.

One such project is being installed along a section of eroded riverbank in Neptune, New Jersey, about a mile from the ocean on the Shark River. Using a combination of a federal grant and local funds, the American Littoral Society, a coastal conservation group, is carrying out the project of 1.3 million dollars which has already added significantly to what was previously a severely eroded coastline in an area that was hit by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“We always try to reduce wave energy while protecting the coastline and, whenever we can, we like to use nature-based solutionssaid Tim Dillingham, the group’s chief executive. “This material is easily availableespecially in developing countries, and is relatively inexpensive compared to harder materials.”

It's natural: coconuts become a tool for coastal protection
The coconuts become a tool for the protection of the coasts. (Wayne Parry/)

Coir is made from the fibers of coconut shells and is spun into mats or logs, often tied together with netting. In developing areas, discarded or torn fishing nets may be incorporated.

Its flexibility allows it to be shaped and contoured as needed in irregular areas of the shoreline, supported by wooden stakes.

The coconut-based material biodegrades over time, by design. But before it does, it is sometimes pre-seeded with coastal plants and grasses, or those plants are placed in holes that can be drilled in the coconut logs.

The logs hold plants in place as they take root and grow, eventually breaking off and leaving established plants and sediment around them in place to stabilize the shoreline.

Coconut-based materials are used throughout the world for erosion control projects.

It's natural: coconuts become a tool for coastal protection
Captain Al Modjeski, restoration specialist with the American Littoral Society, surveys a beach along the Shark River in Neptune NJ (AP Photo/Wayne Parry) (Wayne Parry/)

One of them is in Boston, where Julia Hopkins, an assistant professor at Northeastern University, is using coconut fibers, wood chips and other materials to create floating mats to dampen the force of waves and encourage the growth of aquatic vegetation. A pilot project has four such mats in waterways around Boston. Hopkins envisions a network of hundreds or even thousands of mats linked together to protect larger areas.

She is happy with what she has seen so far.

“Coconut fiber is organic material, it is relatively cheap and it is a waste”, said. “Actually, it is recycling something that was going to be thrown away.”

Two projects in East Providence, Rhode Island used coconut logs in 2020, and 2,400 feet (731 meters) of shoreline in New York’s Jamaica Bay that eroded during Superstorm Sandy was stabilized in 2021 by a project that also included coconut fiber logs.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts, completed a similar project last year, and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is offering funds to help landowners, homeowners associations, and others install living shorelines made of materials that may include coconut fibers.

It's natural: coconuts become a tool for coastal protection
Tim Dillingham, left, and Capt. Al Modjeski, right, of the American Littoral Society, examine logs of coconut shell known as coir along the banks of the Shark River in Neptune, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry) (Wayne Parry/)

A project in Austin, Texas, stabilized part of the shoreline of Lake Austin; monitoring from 2009 to 2014 showed decreased erosion and healthy growth of native plants at the water’s edge.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of coconut, producing more than 17 million metric tons in 2021. Scientists from the Bandung Institute of Technology’s Oceanography Program used coconut shell material to help build a dike in the Karangjaladri village of Pangandaran Regency in 2018.

Residents of Diogue Island in Senegal are using wooden structures and coconut leaves and sticks to reclaim eroded sections of the beach.

However, it doesn’t always work.

In 2016, the Felix Neck Wildlife Refuge in Edgartown, Massachusetts, on Martha’s Vineyard he installed it on Sengekontacket Pond, where a salt marsh had eroded several feet in previous years. While he helped reduce erosion for a while, the shells didn’t last long due to strong wave action.

It's natural: coconuts become a tool for coastal protection
A close up of a coconut shell log known as coir. The material is being used in shoreline stabilization projects around the world. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry) (Wayne Parry/)

“It went out multiple times,” said Suzan Bellincampi, director of the sanctuary. “We had it on for a few years and decided not to install it again.

“The project was really interesting in terms of what we wanted to do and how we adapted it,” he said. “It is not for all sites; it has to be site specific. It works in some places; It doesn’t work everywhere.”

Similarly, coconut fiber mats and logs were recently used on Chapel Island in Nova Scotia, Canadabut they were damaged by bad weather.

Another Canadian site, Lac des Battures, a lake on Montreal’s Nuns Island, uses coconut mats to control the growth of invasive reeds along the shoreline.

At the New Jersey site, a few miles south of the Asbury Park music hotbed, trucked-in sand has coalesced with tidally accumulated sediment to create a beach that’s noticeably wider than it used to be there. .

“There are fiddler crabs hibernating under their feet right now,” said Capt. Al Modjeski, a restoration specialist with the Littoral Society. “They will be excited about this new habitat.”

(With information from AP)

Keep reading:

Sharks and rays that live in coral reefs are in danger of extinction, according to a study

Why do crabs walk horizontally?

They detect for the first time a toxic bacterium in plastic waste in the Mediterranean