Unearthing climate change challenges along Delaware Bayshore


Shane Godshall speaks to a group of journalists about his work doing habitat restoration on Money Island. Image: Christa Young

By Christa Young

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories coming out of a recent meeting of the Society of Environmental Journalists in Philadelphia.

New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore isn’t called the road less traveled without reason.

Persistent rainfall, exacerbated by global warming, has increased the wetlands in this area of Cumberland County.

Journalists, scientists, and conservationists are uncovering data showing that remote rural communities like Money Island will be flooded soon if politicians and state officials don’t act fast.

Roughly three dozen attendees of the recent Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference in Philadelphia traveled to Money Island, the smallest and most remote rural hamlet in the county. It was the first stop on a daylong traverse of a 70-mile stretch of untouched Delaware Bayshore coastline in southeast New Jersey.

They met Tony Novak, a longtime resident and controller of BaySave, a nonprofit organization that focuses on sustainability. Novak, who has called the island home for three decades, highlighted the rapid erosion caused by rising sea levels, placing homes at risk of significant damage and deterioration.

Novak once traveled with what was then referred to as the Community Sea Level Rise Response Team, a group that brought attention to the swift land degradation to local government officials. The group was often met with disfavor.

In 2018, New Jersey sued Novak, BaySave, his children, his father and other nonprofit organizations, for allegedly not acquiring the proper permits for filling in the wetlands. Novak said the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is intentionally denying specific permit requests as one of many tactics to prevent the stabilization of Money Island.

Residents of Delaware Bay posted signs on their homes and mailboxes that displayed “No Retreat Save Bayshore Communities” to express their hope concerning the future of their Bayshore community. While Novak’s team, Bayshore, and other partners continue to fight for the livelihood of the Island, water levels continue to rise, signaling the need for action to protect the land and its inhabitants.

Novak said that he was viewed by state officials as making too much ‘noise’ about the environmental decay of Money Island.

Many of the affected homes were weekend retreats for families from the southern part of the states.  Residents were presented with buyout offers as part of an ongoing demolition led by New Jersey. This is done through a program known as Blue Acres, which frees up the land to function as natural flood storage, wetlands, or open space.

The journalists also heard from representatives of the American Littoral Society, which monitors the island and is restoring habitat for wildlife and promoting conservation. Habitat restoration project manager Shane Godshall said that his team facilitated dredging a channel on Money Island to create a habitat for horseshoe crabs and a bird called the red knot.

“Essentially what was here before was not conducive to horseshoe crabs,” Novak said. Now, to use the space, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is taking down homes to restore the land to habitat for the crabs and the birds that are keystone species for the bay.

Novak acknowledged that the future of Money Island is uncertain and that he doesn’t have high expectations for the local government to provide help for the island.

‘‘My plan is just to go to a slow, soft footprint,” he said. Enjoy what we have here.

“It’s a wonderful place,” he added, “until the bugs show up.”

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