Master Naturalist Volunteers Participate in Hurricane Sandy Restoration and Monitoring Project

With support of an Engaged Learning Faculty Fellowship, Kristi Sullivan, Director of the New York Master Naturalist Volunteer Program, along with Meghan Hilbert (CALS ’13), led a group of Master Naturalists on a 3-day engaged learning trip to Long Island, NY. Working alongside Fire Island Seashore’s National Park Service scientists, Kristi, Meg, and volunteers used GPS techniques to map and monitor shoreline breaches from hurricane waters and to inventory the area’s recovering vegetation. Michael Bilecki, Chief of Resources Management at the NPS Fire Island Seashore, said, “the work completed was work we could not have expected to ever get accomplished without the help provided.” The weekend also included marine restoration activities, with the planting of eelgrass in collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Marine Meadows program. Together, the Master Naturalist volunteers and Marine Meadows representatives constructed over 350 planting units, which will add over 3,500 eelgrass plants to the coastal waters of the Peconic Estuary.

The New York Master Naturalist Volunteer Program develops natural resource stewards and empowers them to educate others in their communities, monitor for environmental change, and participate in on-the-ground conservation projects. Each year, volunteers contribute over 800 hours to vital projects such as wildlife monitoring, invasive species control, and habitat restoration. The service-learning weekend on Fire Island resulted in significant improvements to local habitat restoration and monitoring efforts, and volunteers were exposed to a myriad of different learning opportunities and hands-on management techniques. While building skills in various conservation field methods, Master Naturalist volunteers learned about the impact of the storm on local biodiversity, the importance of coastal resilience, especially in a new era of higher magnitude weather events, and the dangers of invasive species. One volunteer summed up the weekend’s expedition, saying “it was great to be part of team of volunteers and accomplish large tasks. The experience exceeded expectations – I did not expect to learn so much and have so much fun doing it.”