Science & Technology



Scientists turn to coconuts to save the New Jersey coastline

Alfred Lubrano, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Science & Technology News

Ecologist Shane Godshall tromps in waders through two feet of mud in Thompsons Beach marsh on the Delaware Bay in Heislerville, in New Jersey's Cumberland County.

He pauses, then sticks his hand in the ooze and pulls out a piece of the secret weapon scientists have been deploying to fight erosion from climate change and to save America’s coastline: the coconut.

More accurately, it’s the fibrous outer husk of the coconut shell called coir (pronounced koy-uh, but often referred to as core). Typically, coir is packed into 10-foot logs tied together by biodegradable twine.

Many of the $80 to $169 logs of varying diameters that are used in this region arrive after three-month boat rides from India and Sri Lanka. A large percentage are distributed by EcoDepot, a Maryland company owned by Mutual Industries of North Philadelphia.

Displaying his dripping prize, Godshall, habitat restoration project manager for the American Littoral Society, said the logs had been placed five years ago as part of a pilot project to restore and protect the marsh.

The society is a 62-year-old coastal-conservation nonprofit whose name refers to the littoral zone, or “nearshore,” which is the part of an ocean, lake, or river that’s close to the shore. The organization dubs itself “a voice for the coast.”


Explaining the mission, Godshall said simply, “We’re working to raise this portion of the marsh to help sustain it.”

Coir logs will be used in other area projects in the coming months, including one scheduled for Earth Day, according to Quinn Whitesall, habitat restoration coordinator for the American Littoral Society, headquartered in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

Agriculture from years past damaged the Thompsons Beach marsh, when farmers built dykes and drained much of the area, Godshall said. But climate change threatens marshes even more, because it causes sea levels to rise, research shows.

Marsh grass can’t live through prolonged submergence in water because it absorbs oxygen from its roots, scientists say.


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