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NJ DEPT. OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION NEWS RELEASE
RELEASE: 3/7/01
01/16
CONTACT: Sharon A. Southard or Amy Collings
609-984-1795 or 609-292-2994

DEP GETS GREEN LIGHT TO CREATE STATE'S FIRST MARINE CONSERVATION ZONE

The Tidelands Resource Council today advanced an innovative management plan for the Sedge Islands of Barnegat Bay that will give New Jersey its first Marine Conservation Zone designed to reduce the environmental impacts of personal watercraft and better manage wildlife, recreation and traditional uses of the area.

State Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Shinn touted the plan as a "fair and reasonable approach to protect the unique natural resources of the Sedge Islands, and to eliminate the high-powered watercraft along the shallow waters of the Barnegat Bay."

"It's no secret that there are competing uses for water space in Barnegat Bay and throughout our coastal waterways and inland lakes," said Shinn, noting that an estimated 200,000 personal watercraft and jet-boat type vessels were sold in this country in 1997, unintentionally creating new environmental problems and conflicts among kayakers, fishers, clammers and crabbers.

"The idea of marine zoning offers a solution that would reduce watercraft conflicts in critical areas of the Sedge Islands while not restricting watercraft activities in other areas of the bay. It may also play an important role in protecting sensitive areas, bird-nesting sites and reduce watercraft conflicts which occur every year while still accommodating everyone's recreational demands in the bay," added Shinn, who cochairs the Barnegat Bay Estuary Policy Committee.

Existing boating regulations do not consider natural resource conservation issues or user conflicts. Similarly, "soundscapes" and "user experience" also are not covered by existing regulations. The Barnegat Bay Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan recommends that the issue of competing uses be addressed and identifies several options, among them conservation zoning in sensitive areas.

The Tidelands Council today unanimously authorized DEP to manage the tidelands adjacent to the Southern Natural Area of Island Beach State Park, giving the agency's Park Service and the Division of Fish and Wildlife jurisdictional authority to establish no-wake zones and other measures to protect the tidal marsh system.

Under current law, no such authority existed, leading to a jurisdictional issue and the inability to effectively manage wildlife resources and address severe user conflicts that are now occurring.

Currently, 400 acres of the Sedge Islands are administered by DEP's Division of Parks and Forestry and 190 acres by the Division of Fish and Wildlife. A management agreement is being drafted to eliminate the dual jurisdiction and establish one set of management rules.

The Marine Conservation Management Zone proposal would establish a no personal watercraft zone in the shallow waters of the Sedge Islands of Island Beach State Park and within 300 feet of the bayshore shoreline in the Southern Natural Area.

The council approved an interim license that will allow DEP to assume immediate jurisdiction of the tidelands and move forward with the marine conservation zone planning effort as expeditiously as possible.

The conservation zones would be marked with buoys, land markers and signs and would ban jet skis which currently drive through shallow marshes at a high rate of speed.

"I want to thank Senators Leonard T.Connors, Andrew R. Ciesla, Robert W. Singer and Assemblymen Jeffrey W. Moran and Christopher J. Connors who are champions of this cause and drafted a resolution in support of this proposal. I also was gratified to learn of the overwhelming support of citizens, environmental and conservation groups and water craft associations which enthusiastically endorse the proposal," said Shinn.

DEP so far has received support from more than 100 individuals in favor of the management zoning plan and from groups including Save Barnegat Bay, the Barnegat Bay Estuary Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, New Jersey Audubon, Friends of Island Beach, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Barnegat Baywatch, American Littoral Society, Ocean County Environmental Agency and Berkley Township Environmental Commission.

Island Beach State Park Superintendent Bill Vibbert, who has researched marine conservation zoning, says zoning has been used to protect resources here and abroad but is commonly used on land. Island Beach State Park has three mangement zones and two natural areas serving as a successful New Jersey model of land zoning.

Vibbert notes that marine conservation zoning has been used successfully at the Great Barrier Reef in Austrailia, the Cayman Islands, and the Marine Life Conservation Districts in Hawaii. Additionally, the Florida Keys Natural Marine Sanctuary is a U.S. Marine Sanctuary that provides a comprehensive management program with five zones including ecological preserves, sanctuary preservation areas, wildlife management areas, existing management areas, and special use areas. There are currently 13 national marine sanctuaries in the U.S. administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that all use a zoning approach to management.

"Use of high speed personal watercraft boats such as jet skis in tidal marshes and shallow shoreline areas is considered incompatible with both natural habitat management and historical clamming and fishing use," stated Vibbert. "But watercraft use in other portions of Barnegat Bay by such craft, however, would result in very little conflict."

"Marine zoning also will be useful for the protection of nesting bird colonies, endangered species such as osprey and peregrine falcon, and preserving historic uses of Barnegat Bay because many threatened and endangered wildlife in the Sedge Islands depend on the estuary for survival," said Vibbert.

The Sedge Islands currently support New Jersey's largest osprey colony of 26 active nests and contain New Jersey's first peregrine falcon hacking tower. The Islands also have 715 acres of tidal wetland which serve as spawning, nursery, forage and refuge habitat for many estuarine and offshore wildlife species.

Shinn said marine zoning has positive long-range implications for the environment and has the potential to be applied throughout the state in sensitive habitats. He noted that conservation zoning could provide a means of managing both land and water as one unit thereby protecting natural resources and reducing conflicts.

"This approach will go a long way in protecting our tidal wetlands, shallow waters and beach and dune areas of the Sedge Islands which provide high quality habitat for a diversity of fish and wildlife species," said Shinn. "It will also enable other recreational uses of our waters such as clamming, crabbing and kayaking without conflicts."

Details of the management plan will be developed in the near future and will receive public input from a variety of user groups and the public. The plan also needs approval by the Natural Areas Council, the Division of Fish and Wildlife, the Division of Parks and Forestry, Shinn, and the Governor.

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