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November 9, 2011

Contact: Lawrence Ragonese (609) 292-2994
Kerry Kirk Pflugh      (609) 984-1795
 Lawrence Hajna        (609) 292-2994


(11/P131) TRENTON - The Department of Environmental Protection is teaming up with several of the region’s leading research institutions to perform scientific studies that will help the department make critical decisions on how to restore and enhance ecologically stressed Barnegat Bay, Commissioner Bob Martin announced today. Taken together, the series of ten studies coupled with other work the DEP is undertaking will result in the most comprehensive scientific analysis ever for the bay.

The studies will be performed by the Rutgers University Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, Montclair State University, Rider University, Monmouth University and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, in cooperation with the DEP.

“Governor Christie is committed to restoring Barnegat Bay, an ecological treasure and tourism asset that is important to all of New Jersey” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “The results of these studies will fill in data gaps and arm us with critical information that will help define future actions we must take to restore the bay and bring it back from many decades of decline. We are extremely fortunate to have such a pool of talent and expertise in marine sciences so close at hand to assist us as we nurse the bay back to health.”

The Governor’s 10-point Comprehensive Barnegat Bay Restoration Plan calls for a variety of strategies to reduce nutrient pollution to the bay, including the nation’s toughest statewide fertilizer law, low-cost funding for local governments to improve stormwater control projects, acquisition and protection of land in the watershed to filter pollutants and provide buffers, and development of a Special Area Management Plan to improve coordination among planning jurisdictions. The plan also calls for the closure of the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Lacey Township by the end of 2019, a decade ahead of the expiration of its federal license.

“I commend the DEP for pulling together so much scientific expertise from agencies and institutions around the region to work together to address the bay’s problems,” said Stan Hales, Executive Director of the Barnegat Bay Partnership. “These studies represent the most comprehensive research commitment to the Barnegat Bay in the past 30 to 40 years, perhaps ever.  The studies address numerous information gaps about the bay’s fundamental ecology. They should provide us with a more complete understanding of the bay’s current condition and the extent to which the bay’s ecology has changed.”

Long and very shallow, Barnegat Bay has limited inlets to allow flushing of degraded water to the ocean. The bay is becoming eutrophic, meaning that nutrients are causing frequent algae blooms that can cause low dissolved oxygen conditions and block sunlight, affecting the estuary’s overall ecological balance.

Over the years, extensive research has been done on the bay’s struggles with water quality problems. But the work was not fully coordinated, resulting in key information gaps.

Brown tide outbreaks, declines in hard clam populations and eel grass, and population explosions of sea nettles are some of the most visible signs of the ecological stress the bay faces. Yet the role that specific changes in water quality conditions have in causing these and other bay problems remain unclear.

The DEP’s Division of Water Quality Monitoring and Standards over the summer launched a first-ever bay-wide water quality monitoring network to gather data from both the bay and its tributaries on pollutants, sources of those pollutants, and how water flow affects the health of the bay.

The DEP Office of Science also has been working with the state’s Science Advisory Board, state universities, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Barnegat Bay Partnership to develop and fund additional research projects that will fill in the gaps and establish baseline ecological conditions for the bay for comparison over time. Scientists hope to better characterize and address the environmental stresses the bay faces.

Toward this end, Commissioner Martin has authorized funding of contracts for the following studies:

Benthic Invertebrate Community Monitoring and Indicator Development for the Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor Estuary
Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences
Project amount:
The DEP currently uses the presence and abundance of  bottom-dwelling, or benthic, invertebrates to gauge the health of streams. This study will evaluate the feasibility of taking the same approach for estuaries, using benthic invertebrate species such as clams and worms to assess nutrient impairments caused by nitrogen and phosphorus.

Barnegat Bay Diatom Nutrient Inference Model
New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, Academy of Natural Sciences
Project amount: $108,207
DEP water quality monitoring of Barnegat Bay for nitrogen and phosphorus did not start until 1989, but salt marsh sediments hold signatures of nutrient loadings going back hundreds of  years in the form of diatoms from past algae blooms. This study will evaluate these clues for the development of biologically-defensible nutrient criteria for New Jersey’s bays.

Benthic-Pelagic Coupling: Hard Clams as Indicators of Suspended Particulates in the Barnegat Bay
Partner: Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences
Project amount: $132,398
Hard clams were once the most commercially important shellfish species in Barnegat Bay, but studies indicate that clam stock decreased by about 67 percent from 1986 to 2001. This study will determine whether a change in food quality is a factor in the decline, and will evaluate whether efforts to deal with the eutrophication process can reverse this trend.

Assessment of Fish and Crab Responses to Human Alteration of Barnegat Bay
Rutgers Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rider University
Project amount: $233,297
Fish and crabs are important resources in the bay, harvested both recreationally and commercially. However no comprehensive studies of their populations in the bay have been done since the 1970s, when the pace of development increased greatly in the bay’s watershed. This study will work to determine how fish and crabs responded to this urbanization.

Assessment of the Distribution and Abundance of Stinging Sea Nettles
Montclair State University
Project amount: $83,333
Little is known about the increase in the abundance and distribution of stinging sea nettles in Barnegat Bay. This study will investigate possible causes for an increase in this type of jellyfish, including the increased construction of hard submerged surfaces such as bulkheads and docks that provide suitable attachments for juvenile jellyfish as well as low oxygen conditions that may give jellyfish an advantage over other species.

Baseline Characterization of Phytoplankton and Harmful Algal Blooms
Partners: New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, the Academy of Natural Sciences
Project amount: $101,934
Phytoplankton consists of microscopic plants that float in the water column or live on the bottom, forming the base of a complex food web. This study will investigate the interactions between nutrient loadings, phytoplankton responses, and harmful algae blooms.

Baseline Characterization of Zooplankton in Barnegat Bay

Partner: Monmouth University
Project amount:
Zooplankton includes larval fish and other species that form an important food web link to other species such as crabs, clams and fish. However, the last definitive studies of zooplankton in the bay were conducted in the 1970s in conjunction with operations at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant. New information will be needed on the abundance and distribution of these organisms as a baseline for comparison once the plant shuts down.

Multi-Trophic Level Modeling of Barnegat Bay
Partner:  Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences
Project amount: $130,000
Natural resource management within Barnegat Bay has occurred on an individual species level, such as in the management of hard clams on state-approved shellfish beds. The goal of this project is to improve understanding of how natural and human changes have affected the bay’s biota so models can be developed to determine how these resources will respond to management actions.

Tidal Freshwater and Salt Marsh Wetland Studies of Changing Ecological Function and Adaptation Strategies
New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, the Academy of Natural Sciences
Project amount: $100,000
More than 28 percent of Barnegat Bay’s tidal marshes were lost to development between 1940 and 1970. However, recent studies show that wetlands in Barnegat Bay can remove some 80 percent of the nitrogen that flows into from the land. This study will improve understanding of this process and how wetlands can prevent algae blooms, low oxygen conditions and fish kills.

Ecological Evaluation of Sedge Island Marine Conservation Area in Barnegat Bay
Rider University
Project amount: $55,865
Shallow water surrounding the Sedge Islands in the bay off Island Beach State Park serves as a nursery for blue claw crabs, hard clams and fish. This study will evaluate the effectiveness of the state’s Sedge Island Marine Conservation Zone, established to protect ecologically sensitive marshlands, tidal creeks and open water from damage from motorboats and personal water craft.

For more information on the studies, visit:

For more on the Christie Administration’s 10-point restoration plan, visit:



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Last Updated: November 9, 2011