A Day at the (Barrier) Beach: My Expedition to Sandy Hook main content.

A Day at the (Barrier) Beach: My Expedition to Sandy Hook

Part of Hall of Ocean Life.

Plum Island is located on the bay side.

Last June, I eagerly joined an expedition to Sandy Hook sponsored by the New Jersey Marine Science Consortium. I expected it to be a combination of a day at the beach and an educational orientation to oceanography. On the designated day, my mother drove me to the rendezvous point, Building #205, Fort Hancock, Sandy Hook. On a map, Sandy Hook looked like a curved, brown finger protruding from the northeast coast of New Jersey, across from the Atlantic and Navesink Highlands. After crossing the bridge into Sandy Hook, we drove north towards Fort Hancock. I noticed the calm bay waters on one side of the road and the roaring ocean on the other. Instead of just miles of sandy beaches, I saw contrasting vegetation -- from seaweed on the beach to eastern red cedars, clumps of poison ivy, tall switch grass, Virginia creeper, and even prickly pear cacti. By the time we arrived at Fort Hancock, we had passed flat beaches, forests, freshwater ponds, saltwater marshes, and desert-like sand dunes.

In the Fort Hancock complex, we hurried past the oldest working lighthouse in America, rows of military housing, and a Coast Guard Station until we found my destination, Building #205, the marine science laboratory. I sensed that Fort Hancock must have played an important role in protecting the New York Harbor because of its strategic location, but at that time I was more interested in its natural history than in its maritime or military history.

At Building #205, I met the other members of my team, three Brookdale Community College students. I also met Bob, a one-legged lab technician with a colorful past as a lobster fisherman. He detailed our expedition plan: two teams of students would visit Plum Island and the Critical Zone, locations on Sandy Hook, record observations about the physical patterns of this barrier island, and take water samples from both the Atlantic Ocean and the Sandy Hook Bay.

(Click to enlarge.)