Logs of coconut husk known as coir sit on the bank of the Shark River in Neptune, N.J., Jan. 31, 2023, where the American Littoral Society doing a shoreline restoration project incorporating coconut fibers. The material is being used in shoreline stabilization projects around the world.Wayne Parry/AP

NJ - How coconuts protect the Jersey Shore, other eroding coasts

NEPTUNE, N.J. (AP) — Coastal communities around the world are adding a tropical twist to shoreline protection, courtesy of the humble coconut.

From the sands of the Jersey Shore to the islands of Indonesia, strands of coconut husk, known as coir, are being incorporated into shoreline protection projects.

Often used in conjunction with other measures, the coconut material is seen as 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's seen as an important part of so-called “living shorelines” that use natural elements rather than hard barriers of wood, steel or concrete.

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

“We're always trying to reduce wave energy while shielding the shoreline, and whenever we can, we like to employ nature-based solutions,” said Tim Dillingham, the group's executive director. “This material is readily available, particularly in developing countries and it's relatively inexpensive compared with harder materials.”

Coir is made of the stringy fibers of coconut shells, and spun into mats or logs, often held together with netting. In developing areas, discarded or ripped fishing nets can be incorporated.

Its flexibility allows it to be molded and contoured as needed on uneven areas of shoreline, held in place by wooden stakes.

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

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