Dunes from Christmas trees

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Residents of shorelines previously damaged by Hurricane Sandy turned to a cheap and plentiful resource to help them rebuild: discarded Christmas trees. The storm washed away miles of sand dunes, which protected the coast from flooding by serving as a buffer against wind and waves. Volunteers in New York and New Jersey piled thousands of the trees on top of remaining dunes, where they trapped sand and helped build up the beaches, the way natural plant growth does on healthy dunes.

“Every year you keep adding more trees, and keep building it up higher and higher,” says Alison Kallelis of Long Beach, N.Y. Kallelis and other volunteers have placed 3,000 donated trees on Long Beach in an effort to start reclaiming the half a million cubic yards of sand—and up to 5 feet of elevation—that the hurricane stripped from the shoreline. Charlie Peek, a spokesman for the parks service in North Carolina, says the process has helped to restore beaches there. “In an ideal situation,” he says, “the plant growth comes in it and starts building a natural dune.”