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State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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Phase Two: Moving Science into Action

Barnegat Bay Background

On December 9, 2010, Governor Christie announced a comprehensive action plan to address the health of Barnegat Bay: read the announcement here.

The ecological health of Barnegat Bay is in decline, threatening the economic health of the region.  This Administration has made addressing the degradation of Barnegat Bay—including resolving the issue of a cooling system at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant—one of its top environmental priorities.

The 660-square-mile Barnegat Bay watershed encompasses most of the 33 municipalities in Ocean County and four municipalities in Monmouth County.  Barnegat Bay’s 75-square-mile estuarine system consists of aquatic vegetation, shellfish beds, finfish habitats, waterfowl nesting grounds and spectacular vistas, plus a population of more than 550,000, which balloons during the summer season.

Long appreciated for its great aesthetic, economic and recreational value, an array of human impacts potentially threaten the ecological integrity of this backbay system.

The entire watershed has undergone dramatic growth since 1950, resulting in land use changing from principally undeveloped and agricultural to suburban.  Development of the areas surrounding Barnegat Bay has resulted in both a decrease in the natural landscape that helps filter pollutants before they enter the Bay, and an increase in impervious ground cover (such as pavement and buildings) which further limits the ability of the land to regulate what gets into the Bay.  Surface and groundwater quality in the watershed have been degraded by nonpoint source pollution and infiltration to groundwater has been prevented by increased impervious surfaces.  The estuary’s fisheries and other biological resources also have been negatively impacted by nonpoint source pollution and habitat loss.  Boat and personal watercraft traffic on the Bay has grown significantly, raising concerns about the cumulative impacts on the Bay’s water quality and aquatic habitat.

Addressing these issues requires complex and multiple tactics.  Different parts of the Bay experience different levels of impact.  The Bay cannot be restored to a pristine condition, but further degradation can be prevented and some restoration is possible.  Input gained from extensive stakeholder involvement complemented the scientific data and research conducted by the Department of Environmental Protection and other researchers to provide the basis for the Administration’s action plan for Barnegat Bay.

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Last Updated: January 7, 2019