STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - Stepping into the Greenbelt Native Plant Center on Staten Island you see bundles of coarse stems banded together with rubberbands waiting to be planted in the spring. The stems are part of a project conducted by the Marian S. Heiskell Nursery to bolster up New York City’s coastlines.

"It is all about preparedness making sure our coastlines have a buffer where they can have a buffer,” Michael Butts, Foundation & Bulk Seed Program Manager.

The stems are from a hearty species of dune grass known as ammophila. They are being grown as part of a project to create a natural defense against storm surges and coastal flooding. The roots of the grass spread and hold the dunes in place.

The project is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and supported by the city Parks Department and National Parks Service.  

"Our work with ammophila beach grass is super vital to protect our coastal dune habitats in general from storm surge and enhancing coastal resilience," said Butts.

The dune grass is cultivated and grown at Floyd Bennet Field and then harvested. The outermost stems are removed at Greenbelt Native Plant Center and what is left is preserved for planting.

The team at Greenbelt Native Plant Center processes 10,000 stems a week puts them in a special cooler so they are ready to be planted in March at Coney Island Beach.

The cooler mimics winter conditions. The grass essentially hibernates until it is planted. This year, the focus will be Coney Island.

Raising one stem of dune grass costs just fifteen cents, making this natural option to combat rising sea levels relatively inexpensive when compared to proposals for sea walls and flood gates that would cost tens of billions of dollars.

But some of the advantages extend beyond cost.

"The biggest advantage of establishing and restoring a dune landscape with natural vegetation such as ammophila over a seawall or flood gate is its absorption factor. So, what I mean is that the plants can absorb the water oncoming storm surge way better than a seawall because the seawall just deflects the water," Butts said.

The goal is to plant the grass in vulnerable areas along the coast and New York Harbor.

Most of the actual planting this year will be done by volunteers. To participate, go to nycgovparks.org and search Greenbelt Native Plant Center Volunteers.