Coconuts to the Rescue

05/01/2023
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    Coir logs help keep a riverbank in place in Neptune, New Jersey. (AP/Wayne Parry)
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    Coir is coconut fiber woven into mats or logs. (AP/Wayne Parry)
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    Captain Al Modjeski checks on a sandy beach. He works on the shoreline restoration project in New Jersey. (AP/Wayne Parry)
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    Wooden stakes hold coir in place. (AP/Wayne Parry)
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    Workers unload coir ropes at a market in Kolkata, India. (AP/Bernat Armangue)
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Traffic, hoagies, Atlantic City, and . . . coconuts? One of these things doesn’t belong in New Jersey. Yet, in a tropical twist, coconuts are actually holding the Garden State together these days.

In fact, the humble coconut shores up the beaches of coastal regions all over the world. From the sands of the Jersey Shore to the islands of Indonesia, strands of coconut husk, known as coir (COY-yer), are being incorporated into shoreline protection projects.

The coconut material is cost-effective, readily available, and sustainable. It makes “living shorelines” by using natural elements. No hard barriers of wood, steel, or concrete here.

Coir takes action along an eroded riverbank in Neptune, New Jersey. The $1.3 million project has already added significantly to the shoreline eroded by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Made of the stringy fibers of coconut shells, coir is spun into mats or logs. Netting often holds the mats or logs together. Coir is flexible. It can be molded as needed on uneven areas of shoreline. Wooden stakes hold it in place.

Of course, it also biodegrades over time. But not before seeds from shoreline plants and grasses take root in it—either naturally or by hand-planting. Eventually, the coconut breaks down and leaves behind exactly what the shoreline needs: sediment and native plants.

God gives people the responsibility to manage the planet well. What does that mean for washed-away shores? In the case of the coconut, this phrase comes to mind: “Don’t lose it. Reuse it!” Why not recycle all-natural coconut fibers to bring restoration to a damaged area?

Coconut-based materials are used around the world for erosion control projects. A group in Boston crafted floating mats of coir to blunt the force of waves. Projects in Rhode Island implemented coconut logs to repair more damage from Sandy. Even Lake Austin in Texas got a boost from old coconuts. So have coasts in Indonesia and Senegal.

So coconuts work. But not always. In 2016, workers at the Felix Neck Wildlife Refuge in Edgartown, Massachusetts, installed coir at the Sengekontacket Pond. It helped for a while, but eventually couldn’t stand up to the waves.

“It got blown out multiple times,” says Suzan Bellincampi, the sanctuary’s director.

A similar mishap occurred on Chapel Island in Nova Scotia, Canada.

But so far for New Jersey, coconuts are a boon. The beach has grown noticeably wider.

“Underneath your feet right now are hibernating fiddler crabs,” says Captain Al Modjeski, a restoration specialist with the Littoral Society. “They’ll be excited about this new habitat.”

Why? God-given responsibility for managing Earth well gives humans opportunity to use God’s resources for redemptive and restorative purposes. As His image-bearers, we solve problems, reflecting in small ways His great redemptive purposes as He works out His plan to “make all things new,” including us, His people.

Pray for people suffering with the long-term effects of hurricanes and superstorms.