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Meet the new Coastal Resilience Coordinator

Coastal geologist Bart Wilson comes to the North Atlantic LCC fresh off the experience of managing the restoration of a 4,000-acre salt marsh at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware with funding from Hurricane Sandy.
Meet the new Coastal Resilience Coordinator

Bart Wilson with DOI Secretary Sally Jewell and FWS Region 5 Director Wendi Weber.

To say the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Conservation Cooperative’s new Coastal Resilience Coordinator has gotten his feet wet in the field of coastal resilience would be an understatement.

The first time I spoke with coastal geologist Bart Wilson was a few days after the strongest storm of last year’s Atlantic hurricane season. During a phone conversation about his involvement in a Hurricane Sandy funded research project, Wilson cheerfully explained that 48 hours before the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Joaquin in October of 2015, he had set out into open marsh at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge with a team of fellow scientists to install wave sensors at docking poles, many of which were submerged beneath a rising tide at the time.

Although Joaquin ultimately veered off into the ocean before reaching Prime Hook, the sensors that Wilson helped to deploy picked up valuable information from the storm-induced conditions (gale-force winds, extreme high tide, etc.) to feed into the Surge, Wave, and Tide Hydrodynamics (SWaTH) Network - a coordinated effort to measure wave height, force, speed, and extent during hurricane-induced storm surges at dozens of sites along the Atlantic coastline.

For Wilson, participating in the SWaTH project had an added benefit beyond the adrenaline rush. Wilson was overseeing a project to restore a 4,000-acre salt marsh at Prime Hook that had been impounded in the 1980s to create freshwater habitat, and then after successive ocean breaches of the barrier beach between the inlet and Delaware Bay in the 2000s, became a brackish no-man’s land.

Hurricane Sandy dealt the final blow in 2013, completely over washing the barrier beach and turning the historic salt marsh into a vast area of free-flowing water. But it also signaled a turning point. Prime Hook received $38 million in recovery and resilience funding to fill in the breaches in the barrier dunes, and dredge more than a million cubic yards of sand from the historic salt marsh channels. Wilson was in charge of the two-year project, which was completed last month.

Today, nearly 8,000 feet of shoreline have been restored, more than 25 miles of tidal channels have been dredged, several obsolete water-control structures have been removed to allow natural tidal flow, and salt marsh grasses have started to colonize the newly exposed mudflats. What’s more, the continuous data collection from the SWaTH Network has enabled the refuge to quantify the value of the restoration project in terms of increasing storm-surge protection in real time. 

With the Prime Hook restoration project complete, Wilson is ready for a new role that will allow him to apply his experience on the ground, and in the water, to support work in coastal resilience across an entire landscape. Wilson is taking over for Megan Tyrrell -- who began a new position with the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in October --  to coordinate three cohorts of Hurricane Sandy projects supported by the North Atlantic LCC focusing on tidal marsh, beaches and barrier islands, and aquatic connectivity.

It’s an opportunity that represents a natural progression. “Building ecological resiliency to sea-level rise and climate change through restoration and planning has become a focus for me,” said Wilson. “I am excited to help the LCC in implementing and integrating these important projects within the Service and our many partners.”

Prior to working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wilson was the Science and Technical Coordinator at the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays (a National Estuary Program) and worked as an Environmental Scientist at the Delaware Coastal Management Program. He is also a wildland firefighter with the FWS and Delaware Interagency Fire Crew.

When not on the field, Wilson spends his free time enjoying the great outdoors -- hiking and camping with his wife Kerry and two daughters Shay and Sadie.

Wilson will be based at the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Delaware National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Smyrna, Delaware. You can contact Wilson by phone at (302) 653-9345,or by email: bartholomew_wilson@fws.gov

To learn more about North Atlantic LCC Coastal Resilience Projects, please visit our Coastal Resiliency page.


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