As Staten Islanders continue to struggle to rebuild their homes and businesses from Hurricane Sandy, scientists say it may be years before the full scope of damage to the island is known, as from plant life to wildlife, nearly every aspect of the island's ecology was affected. In the first of a two part series, NY1's Amanda Farinacci takes a look at what that means for the borough's future.
Ponds. Lakes. Streams. Marshes. Wetlands make up nearly a third of Staten Island's land area. The so-called blue belt usually helps drain away flood waters from low-lying areas of the borough.
When Hurricane Sandy hit, Diana Petrone, the owner of the Not Just Bagels deli thought the wetland near her shop would help limit the damage to her store. That's not what happened.
"Everything was demolished," she said.
Saltwater filled the entire shop, and the wetland next door was so oversaturated, the water spilled across Hylan Boulevard and puddled there for days.
The Department of Environmental Protection said that while the blue belt helps protect against heavy rainfalls, it couldn't stand up to Hurricane Sandy's wind and storm surge.
A team of biologists and geologists from the College of Staten Island is looking into how badly Hurricane Sandy damaged this crucial part of the borough's ecology.
"I think we need to protect the marshes and wetlands that we have," said Bill Fritz, a geologist with the College of Staten Island. "I think we need to restore the marshes and wetlands wherever we can."
The storm left much of the wetlands littered with debris.
Scientists said they're also concerned about the island's wildlife. They said that birds that flew south for the winter could be returning to an environment that's drastically different from the one they left.
"There was so much water that came up onto these regions that any of the larval insects in the low vegetation or in the soil are gone," said Tom Brown, a biologist. "So if these birds come here during migration and are stopping off looking for food, that food may not be there."
Brown said the picture will become clearer as the weather gets warmer and a new natural cycle begins. But he said it will likely take years to fully understand the impact of the storm on the island's ecology.