U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. 6th District, has introduced the Living Shorelines Act of 2017, which plans to revive $20 million a year in grants to help towns launch projects using natural and organic materials such as wetlands, oyster reefs, barrier reefs and dune grass to benefit the environment.

Natural systems like living shorelines can protect New Jersey's coastal communities from storms and erosion.

"So if you have something like an oyster reef, for example, that decreases the impact of the storm surge, then that helps not only provide protection from storms, it also helps the environment," Pallone said.

Oysters help the environment because they filter the pollution and can be harvested. They also help break the wave energy, says Pallone.

Because of severe storms like Sandy, development has interrupted the natural system. He says barrier reefs in New Jersey were often ways of protecting the coast when there was a major storm. Dune grass is another example of a natural material disappearing with development.

Rather than just build these hard infrastructures like a bulkhead, you try to come up with natural elements that will combat erosion, says Pallone. Living shoreline projects are adaptable and self-maintaining and become even stronger and resilient over time. In New Jersey alone, more than 50 living shoreline projects are currently being built.

That doesn't mean the state wouldn't do beach replenishments or bulkheads, but Pallone says these are natural systems that are more effective and supported by environmentalists, fishermen and hunters.

The first living shoreline is currently being built in Raritan Bay with Naval Weapons Station, Earle. The idea is to replicate this project throughout the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary. The project entails creating an oyster reef, says Pallone. The oyster reefs not only improve the water quality but also acts as a "speed bump" for waves and storms, protecting the shoreline.

"It's an idea that is not only supported by environmentalists, but also by fishermen and hunters and others that deal with wildlife," Pallone said about his proposal. "So I think we can get bi-partisan support and that's what we're going to do so we can move the bill."

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