Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Changing Jersey Shore: Manasquan, Herring, Cranberry and Barnegat Inlets

After Hurricane Sandy opened a new inlet at the foot of the Route 528 Mantoloking Bridge, we were reminded once again of the transient nature of the Jersey Shore.

View looking east from the mainland toward Mantoloking, just north of the
Mantoloking Bridge taken during the low tide eight hours prior to
Hurricane Sandy's landfall.
© 2012 Jack Sharkey

Satellite view of the Mantoloking Inlet on November 1, 2012.
The Mantoloking Bridge is center left. The inlet has opened at the spot
where the houses to the left of the bridge in the above picture once stood,
Courtesy NOAA

In 1740, John Lawrence was the first European to survey the ten mile strip of land from Manasquan Inlet south to Cranberry Inlet. The area was called Squan Beach and was a deserted stretch of sand dunes, scrub pines, coastal meadows and cedar stands. A storm just prior to his survey had opened Cranberry Inlet opposite the mouth of the Toms River. A few miles north of Cranberry Inlet was Herring Inlet which was situated near the head of Barnegat Bay, north of the inlet Sandy cut in 2012.

Several miles south of Cranberry Inlet was Barendegat Inlet (Dutch for breakers inlet).

Herring Inlet became un-navigable after the 1740 storm and by the first decade of the 1800s it was closed and had faded from memory. The 1740 storm opened one inlet (Cranberry) and effectively closed another (Herring).

The image at left is a contemporary map of Revolutionary War battles and skirmishes that shows Manasquan Inlet, Herring Inlet (nearly closed), Cranberry Inlet and Barnegat Inlet.

Note that Manasquan Inlet is well north of its present location, and that Barnegat Inlet is mis-identified as Cranberry Inlet. Click here for full-sized and scalable version.

Manasquan Inlet

The current Inlet is located where the first
letter 'T' in 'Atlantic Ocean' is found.
In 1778 and 1780 British troops and loyalists sacked the salt works at Union Landing. At this time, the Manasquan Inlet was well north of its current location, at what is now known as Stockton Lake in Sea Girt. At the time, the Manasquan River drained through the body of water now known as the Glimmer Glass to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1926, the Point Pleasant Canal connecting the Barnegat Bay with the Manasquan River was opened and the opening of the canal almost immediately closed the Manasquan Inlet. Within a year of the opening of the canal, three hundred-year-old ports in Manasquan, Brielle and Point Pleasant were landlocked and you could walk from Belmar to Point Pleasant along the shoreline without having to cross a body of water. [1]

In 1931, the Army Corps of Engineers, using boulders excavated from the new 2nd Avenue Subway line in Manhattan, built the Inlet as it currently exists.

Herring Inlet 

By the beginning of the 19th Century, Herring Inlet wave action had once again closed Herring Inlet. Although it's exact location is not known, it is generally believed to have existed just north of the inlet opened by Hurricane Sandy, in the area where Metedeconk River estuary and the Beaver Dam Creek drain into Barnegat Bay. It was not a navigable inlet for much of its existence, which may explain why it is not shown on contemporary charts.

Next to Herring Inlet was the highest known sand dune on the Atlantic Coast. Known as High Hill Point,  mariners of the day used the sand dune as a navigational aid.

Cranberry Inlet  

Cranberry Inlet was opened by a vicious storm in 1740 and remained navigable only until 1812. During its sixty-two year existence, Cranberry Inlet helped industry in the area grow. The western shores of the Barnegat Bay were rich in bog iron and timber (most of the water pipes for lower Manhattan were forged in the northern Barnegat Bay); bog iron was loaded on barges at the Gravelly Docks in what is now Brick Township where they were shipped south to Cranberry Inlet and then up the coast to New York Harbor. When Cranberry Inlet closed, iron was carried overland to Shrewsbury, but the difficulty in transporting goods from the area over the wretched sand roads and the discovery of purer iron in the hills of Pennsylvania basically shut down the bog iron industry in coastal New Jersey by the end of the first half of the 19th Century.

Cranberry Inlet was located opposite the Toms River estuary in the area now known as Ortley Beach.

Barnegat Inlet

Nicolas Vischer's 1656 map of
New Netherlands.
Barnegat Inlet has not changed location much since it was first mapped by Nicolas Vischer in 1656. It is also interesting to note that Vischer's survey shows no other inlet between Sandy Hook and Barnegat. [2] In spite of its relative geologic stability, Barnegat Inlet is known as a treacherous body of water because of the constant shoaling that occurs on the landward side of the opening.

A great deal of shore has been lost over the years since Barnegat Light was built in 1856, but the March Nor'easter in 1962 posed the greatest threat to the inlet and the lighthouse. A jetty was built in the early 1990s which has significantly added sand to the southern shore of Barnegat Inlet.

* * *

Inlets are not fixed topographical features and studies have shown that our desire to fix these inlets to specific locations and depths have inevitably caused radical problems in other areas of the coast.

Hurricane Sandy was just another in a timeless series of events that have changed the coastline of New Jersey. Storms as recent as 1944 and 1962 were as violent as Sandy, but those storms occurred in areas that were sparsely developed and inhabited. The inexorable drift of sand along the Jersey Shore may be slowed or altered, but it will never be stopped. This report from the Coastal Research Center at Richard Stockton College delivers the bad news that regardless of how we try to control and tame the Atlantic Ocean, even seemingly positive results have negative effects in other areas:

Six of New Jersey’s eleven inlets are presently confined between rock jetties and cannot shift position as they once did: Shark River, Manasquan, Barnegat, Absecon, Townsends, and Cold Springs. Three inlets are still in their natural state with no structures to modify the natural equilibrium: Beach Haven/Little Egg, Brigantine, and Corsons. Two inlets, Great Egg and Hereford, have one jetty or one shoreline armored with rocks to prevent inlet channel migration from taking more of the municipal lands adjacent to the inlet. A second jetty has been built on the Sea Isle City side of Townsends Inlet with construction completed July 1999.
Recent scientific studies have shown that the tidal inlets have much greater impact on beach erosion or accretion (on individual barrier islands) than the steady flow of littoral currents to the south. If the sand moved south toward Cape May Point in a never-ceasing stream, then Cape May Point and Cape May City should be buried in beach sand. The fact is, however, that both of New Jersey’s southern-most communities were sand starved as major man-made structures and indirect, development-caused changes contributed to shoreline instability. [3]

The entire report can be found here. It offers an objective, scientific view of our relationship with our most prominent neighbor, the Atlantic Ocean. Inlets will come and inlets will go, until we model the coastline from Long Branch south to Cape May on the three miles of beachfront from Monmouth Beach to Sea Bright -- a non-existent beach protected by a twelve foot high sea wall and jetties. In the wake of Sandy, it's possible we will begin to hear suggestions that we must do just that -- change the coast permanently in a vain effort to protect a lifestyle. New York Council Speaker Christine Quinn is already suggesting seawalls be built in the areas of Queens and Brooklyn that were hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.

We need to seriously address how we want our Jersey Shore to look in the future, and at what cost to our treasuries and our treasured memories we are willing to protect something that cannot be protected.

[1] Borough of Manasquan
[2] Robert Jahn, Down Barnegat Bay, A Nor-easter Midnight Reader (Medford, NJ: Plexus Publishing, 2000), 25.
[3] Coastal Research Center, New Jersey Geologic History, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

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