FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 24, 2019
Caryn Shinske (609) 292-2994
Lawrence Hajna (609) 984-1795
(19/P103) TRENTON – An annual plant census along New Jersey’s coastal beaches south of Sandy Hook shows a significant surge in the number of seabeach amaranth, a federally threatened and state endangered plant species, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced today.
Biologists with the DEP and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey counted 7,195 plants, a nearly 600 percent increase from the 2018 total of 1,053 plants. Similarly, 1,591 of the plants are at Island Beach State Park, compared with 307 found there in 2018 -- a more than 400 percent increase.
“I am very pleased that the statewide surge of seabeach amaranth experienced in 2018 has been far exceeded this year,” Commissioner McCabe said. “Our DEP biologists indicate that while the increase can be the result of many different factors, it could not have occurred without the presence and structural integrity of the habitat required by this species.”
The resurgence of seabeach amaranth is particularly remarkable because the plant had not been observed in the state from 1913 to 2000 and was considered lost from New Jersey flora. The plant was rediscovered in 2000 near Sandy Hook following a beach-fill operation in Monmouth County for coastal storm protection and recreation. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grants pay for the DEP to do annual surveys of the plant since its rediscovery.
“Staff of the Division of Parks and Forestry and its many partners and supporters should take a bow for their contribution to the resurgence of this very interesting and specialized plant,” said Division of Parks and Forestry Director Olivia Glenn. “Of course, if a little bit of luck was involved, we are thankful for that, too.”
Seabeach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus) is a low-growing plant with fleshy, spinach-like leaves and reddish stems. Plants germinate as early as April, and in June and July begin to produce inconspicuous yellow flowers that are wind-pollinated. Seed production soon follows, and plants typically grow about four inches across but sometimes may grow to a meter in diameter. Flowering and seed production continue until the plants die in the fall and early winter.
Seabeach amaranth is an annual plant, meaning that the individuals counted in any year are new plants resulting from seed dispersed in prior years. The seeds are durable, waterproof, and can be dispersed long distances by wave and wind action, or they may stay relatively close to the parent plant. The seed are also thought to remain viable for long periods, known as seed banking. Consequently, it is impossible to predict how abundant the plant will be from one year to the next.
On an undisturbed beach, seabeach amaranth may grow anywhere from the base of the dune to the high tide line. Managing human activity along the New Jersey coast, including beach raking as well as government and recreational vehicle use, also occur in the habitat that is vital for this and other species, whether rare or common.
The presence of seabeach amaranth is an indicator of a healthy or recovering habitat. It is one of only six plants in the state that are listed as either endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The DEP, in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, Pinelands Preservation Alliance and Raritan Valley Community College is working to protect the habitat where seabeach amaranth thrives.
Island Beach State Park has created special protection zones, known as plant protection strips, that are marked with stakes, strings and signs to alert the public to the presence of a protected area along the base of dunes. This allows public recreation to continue near thriving plants. The protection zones have proven successful, with seabeach amaranth and other rare plant species continuing to repopulate and expand in these areas.
Between 2001 and 2015, Island Beach State Park had an average of seven seabeach amaranth plants per year. After the 2016 expansion of protections throughout the park, the average number of seabeach amaranth jumped to 479 plants annually.
The protection zones also create habitat essential for beach-nesting birds to raise new young successfully. The piping plover (Charadrius melodus), a federally threatened shorebird, returned for nesting at Island Beach State Park in 2016 following a 27-year absence. Plovers have returned each year since, with 2019 marking the most successful year for the species in the park since protections were put in place in 2016, with six young birds fledged.
The same protections also allowed American oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus), a species of Special Concern in New Jersey, to successfully nest on the ocean beaches for the first time.
Habitat protection at Island Beach State Park began as a pilot project by Raritan Valley Community College in 2008 and has been implemented since 2016 with grant funding received by the Branchburg college serving Somerset and Hunterdon counties, and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.
Additionally, through its annual issuance of beach and dune maintenance permits, the DEP is regulating municipal beaches where seabeach amaranth and other federally listed plant and animal species occur. These permits include actions that must be taken to protect habitat for these species based on data collected by the DEP and its partners.
“Beach and dune maintenance permits issued to public and private entities are predicated on annual coordination as seabeach amaranth take root and bird species come to nest,” said Division of Land Use Regulation Bureau Chief Ryan Anderson. “The cooperation and willingness of our regulated partners to adjust their maintenance activities based on the presence of sensitive species cannot be understated in the resurgence of seabeach amaranth.”
For a fact sheet on plant protection strips and other information, visit www.fws.gov/northeast/njfieldoffice/endangered/amaranth.html#photos.
Learn more about the DEP’s Division of Land Use Regulation and Office of Natural Lands Management at www.nj.gov/dep/landuse/lu_onlm.html and the New Jersey Natural Heritage Program at www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/natural/heritage/index.html.
For more information on the Division of Parks and Forestry, visit www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/.
For more information about the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, visit www.conservewildlifenj.org/.
Follow the DEP on Twitter @NewJerseyDEP.
DEP PHOTOS/Top: NJDEP biologist measuring seabeach amaranth; Bottom: Seabeach amaranth.