Comprehensive Plan of Action Item #9
Fill in the Gaps on Research
PLAN OF ACTION
Over the years, extensive research has been conducted on Barnegat Bay but the work has not been fully coordinated - resulting in some key gaps in the data. The first step in filling this gap was to do an inventory of existing research and assess the conclusions of the various studies. This process resulted in the development of an extensive bibliography that catalogues ecological and land use studies performed on Barnegat Bay.
The second phase of the effort was to evaluate the data and determine what could be used to advance further action toward recovery of the Bay’s decline. The NJDEP Office of Science working with the Science Advisory Board, state universities, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Barnegat Bay Partnership developed and is funding additional research projects to address data gaps. The research agenda that has emerged will help address how we improve water quality and advance habitat restoration on the Bay, and establish baseline conditions of the Bay. There are ten research projects identified to meet these needs:
- Benthic Invertebrate Community Monitoring and Indicator Development for the Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor Estuary
Benthic or bottom-dwelling invertebrate insects are currently used by NJDEP in freshwater streams to show aquatic life impairment. This project will investigate the same scientifically defensible approach for estuaries using bottom invertebrate species (e.g., clams, worms, crabs, etc.) specifically to assess nutrient impairment from nitrogen and phosphorus in the overlying waters.
- Barnegat Bay Diatom Nutrient Inference Model
NJDEP water quality monitoring of Barnegat Bay for nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) did not start until 1989. Salt marsh sediments hold signatures of past nutrient loads going back hundreds of years as well as the remains of microscopic plant algae that can act as indicators of past pollution. This information will be evaluated for the development of biologically-defensible nutrient criteria for New Jersey bays and related restoration goals.
- Benthic-Pelagic Coupling: Hard Clams as Indicators of Suspended Particulates in the Barnegat Bay
The hard clam was once the most commercially important shellfish species in Barnegat Bay. Studies indicate that the hard clam stock decreased by approximately 67 % from 1986 to 2001. The overall goal of this project is to characterize the quality and quantity of the food in the water column for suspension-feeding hard clams, measure the growth rates of caged seed clams, and to see if changes in food quality might be a major factor in the decline, and whether efforts to deal with eutrophication might reverse this trend affecting the food supply in a positive fashion
- Assessment of Fishes and Crabs Responses to Human Alteration of Barnegat Bay.
Fishes and crabs in Barnegat Bay are important natural resources, harvested both recreationally and commercially. However there have been no comprehensive studies of their populations since the 1970’s when increasing human density and urbanization occurred. The goal of this project is to determine how the fish and crabs of Barnegat Bay responded to this urbanization by comparing the temporal (annual, seasonal) and spatial (along the gradient of urbanization) variation in the bay.
- Assessment of the Distribution and Abundance of Stinging Sea Nettles (Jellyfishes) in Barnegat Bay
There has been an increase in the abundance and distribution of stinging jellyfishes in Barnegat Bay although very little is known about its cause. This study will investigate two possible drivers for this occurrence; increased construction of hard surfaces (e.g., bulkheads, docks) that provide suitable attachments for juvenile jellyfish and eutrophication from nutrients (e.g., nitrogen), which can cause a loss of oxygen giving jellyfish an advantage over other species.
- Baseline Characterization of Phytoplankton and Harmful Algal Blooms
In coastal bays phytoplankton are microscopic plants that float in the water column or live on the bottom forming the base of a complex food web. Algal blooms are often directly linked to nutrient loading that can cause fish kills and/or a reduction in some important fishery resources. This study will investigate the complex interactions between nutrient loadings, phytoplankton responses, and toxic/harmful algal blooms.
- Baseline Characterization of Zooplankton in Barnegat Bay
Zooplankton includes shrimps, larval fishes, and other large animals in the water column such as jellyfish. They form an important food web link between phytoplankton algae and higher trophic levels such as crabs, shrimp, clams and fish. The last definitive studies of zooplankton in Barnegat Bay were conducted in the 1970’s. Many of the zooplankton are currently impinged on the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station cooling water intake screens or else entrained into the plant’s intake. New information will be needed on the abundance and distribution of these important ecological organisms as a baseline once the plant stops operating in a number of years.
- Multi-Trophic Level Modeling of Barnegat Bay
Historically, natural resource management within Barnegat Bay has occurred on a species (e.g., hard clam) or sector level (e.g., approved shellfish beds). Recently the principles of ecosystem-based management have given rise to more holistic management tools. The goal of this project is to develop dynamic models to help us understand how natural and human changes to Barnegat Bay have affected the structure and function of the bay’s biota and to determine how those components are linked and to predict how components will respond to management actions (e.g., reduced nutrients, clam/fish population recovery).
- Tidal Freshwater and Salt Marsh Wetland Studies of Changing Ecological Function and Adaptation Strategies
Over 28% of Barnegat Bay's tidal marshes were lost to development between 1940 and 1970. However, recent studies show that wetlands in Barnegat Bay can adsorb and bury 80 % of the nitrogen entering it from upland sources buffering the waters from potential eutrophication effects (e.g., harmful algal blooms, anoxia, fish kills). Specifically, the study will enhance our understanding of the nitrogen uptake, burial and removal services provided by the coastal wetlands.
- Ecological Evaluation of Sedge Island Marine Conservation Area in Barnegat Bay
The Sedge Island Wildlife Management Area in Barnegat Bay is located within NJ's first Marine Conservation Zone, just off Island Beach State Park. The shallow water surrounding the group of islands serves as a nursery for many species of marine animals including blue claw crabs, hard clams and fish. This study will assess the population structure and reproductive potential of blue crabs in the zone and compare them with crabs captured in more developed areas of Barnegat Bay. This will allow us to assess the effectiveness of the protected waters to sustain key recreational and commercially important species with the possibility of creating other low impact boating areas.
- Evaluation of Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) to Water Craft Impacts in Barnegat Bay NJ
While recreational boating is an economically important and popular activity on Barnegat Bay, boating activities can have a direct negative effect on sea grasses, marshes, mudflats and other key habitats as well as indirectly impact birds, turtles, fish and crabs. In 2011-2012 NJDEP met several times with a wide range of stakeholders to identify strategies and actions that would reduce the impacts of improper boating and personal water craft use on Bay ecology. Included in this strategy was the identification of 16 ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs). The identified ESAs are generally shallow areas where submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), tidal creeks and/or salt marsh islands with high ecological value were deemed to be especially sensitive to negative impacts from boating. These places provide feeding and breeding grounds for fish, crabs, birds and other animals. The designation of these 16 ESAs was based on best professional judgment and a GIS-based assessment conducted by NJDEP and Rutgers University Center for Remote Sensing & Spatial Analysis (CRSSA) staff using extant maps of habitat natural features including shellfish beds, SAV, presence of endangered species, and proximity to bird nesting areas, among others. The current project will perform a more rigorous assessment of the 16 ecologically sensitive areas based on an extensive sampling program initiated by NJDEP in 2012-2013 to fill in many of the gaps concerning biological conditions with the BB-LEH system (Action Plan 9). The latter projects include sampling for fish, benthic macroinvertebrates, blue crabs, periphyton, zooplankton, etc. The results of this research, along with the visual assessments of the 16 ecologically sensitive areas, will provide a better understanding of the recreational use of the Bay and the impact that boating has on these areas.
Resources and Documents
For more information contact: Dr. Gary A. Buchanan, Manager, Office of Science or Thomas Belton, Research Scientist 1, 609-984-6070