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On December 9, 2010, Governor Christie announced a comprehensive action plan to address the health of Barnegat Bay. As a part of that plan the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s - Office of Science, working with the NJDEP Science Advisory Board, State Universities, U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the Barnegat Bay (National Estuary Program) Partnership, developed and funded ten research projects designed to fill in data gaps, address the improvement of water quality, and advance habitat restoration on the bay. These studies were designed to collect data for three years in order to address year-to-year natural variability in the bay’s ecosystem (e.g., Superstorm Sandy came ashore at Barnegat Bay in the fall of 2012 between year 1 and 2 data collections). The studies were also designed to address the multiple stressors impacting the bay for the development of targeted and appropriate regulatory management strategies (See Figure 1).

The ten projects started in January of 2012 and continued in 2013 and 2014. The final reports for the first year of research are presented here (see summaries and links to full reports below). Year two reports will be posted when received and reviewed. The complete three years of data collection will be completed in 2015 and all ten reports will be posted along with a final comprehensive assessment including management recommendations to improve the ecological health of Barnegat Bay. Although these projects are still underway and any investigation of wild populations of animals in their natural habitats takes many years of data gathering to sort out natural variations some results are noteworthy as outlined below.


Research Project
Nutrient Bio-Criteria Development
Nuclear Power
Plant Closure
Tourism &
Recreation Support
Food Safety Assessment
Comprehensive Basline/Data Gaps
1 Benthic Invertebrate Community Monitoring and Indicator Development for Barnegat Bay
2 Barnegat Bay Diatom Nutrient Inference Model
3 Assessment of Hard Clam Populations in Barnegat Bay
4 Assessment of Fishes and Crabs Responses to Human Alteration of Barnegat Bay
5 Assessment of the Distribution and Abundance of Stinging Sea Nettles (Jellyfishes) in Barnegat Bay
6 Baseline Characterization of Phytoplankton Communities and Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)
7 Baseline Characterization of Zooplankton Communities
8 Multi-Trophic Level Modeling of Barnegat Bay
9 Tidal Freshwater and Salt Marsh Wetland Studies of Changing Ecological Function and Adaptation Strategies
10 Ecological Evaluation of Sedge Island Marine Conservation Zone in Barnegat Bay

1. Benthic Invertebrate Community Monitoring and Indicator Development for the Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor Estuary - Principal Investigator: Dr. Gary Taghon, Rutgers University

The goal: To develop biologically based water quality endpoints or criteria for the ecological integrity of Barnegat Bay as well as nutrient criteria (nitrogen and phosphorus) using bottom in-fauna (e.g., worms, crabs, shellfish).

Year 1 Status: 100 stations sampled throughout BBay were used to populate four different indices of habitat quality used by both NOAA and USEPA. In general, benthic macroinvertebrates were abundant and diverse, comprising taxa typical of reference, non-impacted estuarine habitats in the Virginian Biogeographic Province (Massachusetts to Virginia) dominated the fauna. All of these indices characterized the substantial majority of the sites as not degraded, good, or high. And because each index emphasizes different metrics derived from the composition of the benthic community, the agreement among indices can be taken as further evidence that the overall health of the Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor benthic ecosystem was good in 2012. Future work will be on nutrient criteria development.

Full Report (5.32 mb - 92 pages)


2. Barnegat Bay Diatom Nutrient Inference Model -
Principal Investigator: Dr. Marina Potapova, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

The goal: To develop biologically based water quality endpoints or criteria for the ecological integrity of Barnegat Bay as well as nutrient criteria (nitrogen and phosphorus) using periphyton, bottom living algae called diatoms. Algal diatoms are robust indicators of environmental stress, specifically from nutrients. A model using diatoms can be used to assess the ecological condition of Barnegat Bay.

Year 1 Status: 100 stations on both tidal wetlands and in bay bottom sediments were sampled for algal diatoms. Predictive algal-diatom inference models were constructed for 1.) Salinity, 2.) Total dissolved phosphorus, and 3.) Chlorophyll-A. Comparison with deeper salt marsh cores collected in 2008 will establish background conditions and quantify changes that have affected the bay beginning with the European settlement. Future work will be on nutrient criteria development.

Full Report (4.0 mb - 65 pages)


3. Hard Clams as Indicators of Suspended Particulates in Barnegat Bay -
Principal Investigator: Dr. V. Monica Bricelj, Rutgers University

Goal: To characterize the quality and quantity of suspended particulate matter used as food by the hard clam, a shellfish species that once supported major commercial and recreational fisheries in BBay. This project will assess the seasonal growth and condition of hard clams in relation to the food supply (i.e., algae and particulate organic matter). The hard clam fishery in NJ (recreational and commercial) is a multimillion dollar industry vital to tourism and food supply. The stocks have been in decline since the 1980s for a number of reasons; fishing pressure resulting in low density of adult clams and thus poor recruitment; or changes in the food supply that may have negatively affected clam reproduction and recruitment. The former is due to over-fishing, the latter to a possible number of environmental factors (e.g., nutrients and warming waters). Future management decisions on stock enhancement of hard clam populations in this ecosystem may partially depend on the results obtained in this study.

Year 1 Status: Juvenile clams were deployed in cages at six sites throughout BBay where clam survival, growth rate, and condition were measured and related to the quantity and quality of the suspended food supply, and algal plankton. Growth rates throughout BBay are comparable to those reported in other mid-Atlantic coastal lagoon ecosystems. It is noteworthy that conditions that supported the highest growth rates of juvenile clams occurred within relatively undeveloped, protected areas of the estuary, namely the Sedge Islands Marine Conservation Zone and the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve, which are both near inlets (Barnegat Bay Inlet and Little Egg Inlet, respectively) and thus experience the greatest influence from oceanic exchange.

Full Report (1.77 mb -39 pages)

4. Assessment of Fishes and Crabs Responses to Human Alteration of Barnegat Bay - Principal Investigator: Dr. Ken Able, Rutgers University. 

Goal: To determine whether fish respond to urbanization in Barnegat Bay sampling was done along a north (highly urban) to south (low urban) gradient of urbanization. Fish and blue crabs of varying age classes were sampled via trawling, nets, and traps at stations both inside creeks and out in Barnegat Bay across seasons.
Year 1 Status: In the first year of sampling it is not apparent that intense urbanization of the upper Barnegat Bay relative to the lower less urbanized bay has substantially impacted juvenile fish use on the local scale. However, there are large numbers of larval fishes at the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in both the intake (Forked River) and discharge (Oyster Creek) canals. This may have important implications for current and future fish population dynamics in the bay when the power plant is shut down due to planned decommissioning in 2019 and the flow-through volume and temperature regime (hot water plume) is drastically altered.

Full Report (2.23 mb -51 pages)

5. Assessment of Stinging Sea Nettles (Jellyfishes) in Barnegat Bay - Principal

Investigator: Dr. Paul Bologna, Montclair University

Goal: To measure sea nettle jellyfish population and spatial distributions in Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor and to create a predictive model of adult blooms. Important drivers of the shift towards greater abundance of jellyfish in BBay include the construction of hard surfaces (i.e., bulkheads, docks) that provide habitat for polyps; nutrient eutrophication that fuels hypoxia (e.g., jellyfish are highly tolerant of low DO); over fishing (loss of fish and shellfish that eat jellyfish); and the cooling water intake of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, which traps and removes both predators and competitors of jellyfish from the bay waters.

Year 1 Status: Samples were collected from ten paired sites (open bay and shoreline lagoons) throughout Barnegat Bay. Seasonally the peak in sea nettle abundance occurred in early July. There are substantially higher densities of sea nettles in northern regions of the bay although juveniles were collected throughout the bay. It is possible that the ebbing tide sufficiently flushes these individuals out of the bay but their presence indicates local sources in the south suggesting that populations of polyps exist within Little Egg Harbor. Consequently it may just be a matter of time, while polyp populations become better established, that we will begin to see adult sea nettles in southern Barnegat Bay.

Full Report (2.08 mb -32 pages)

6. Baseline Characterization of Phytoplankton and Harmful Algal Blooms -
Principal Investigator: Dr. Ling Ren, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Goal: To provide baseline information on the spatial and temporal distribution of phytoplankton, its bloom patterns, and dominant species transitions in Barnegat Bay.
Understand hydrological (flow), chemical (nutrients) and biological (grazing) stressors on phytoplankton especially the occurrence of harmful algal blooms (HABs) like brown and red tides.

Year 1 Status: During the study both monthly and biweekly samples were collected and analyzed from nine sites on a north-south gradient in BBay. 135 taxa were found from all the major algal groups and comparable with previous studies. Pronounced seasonal changes in phytoplankton species composition and succession were detected at most sites and a dominance of Pico plankton (very small plankton). Phytoplankton in southern Barnegat Bay and Little Egg Harbor was dominated mainly by diatoms whereas phytoplankton assemblages in northern Barnegat Bay were dominated by different groups of algae, which changed from winter to fall. The spatial differences in the species are likely due to their salinity tolerance. The promotion of blooms or dominance of certain species may also be affected by nutrient availability, grazing, and other factors. Several harmful (toxic) algal species were detected but at low densities and not at bloom concentrations.

Full Report (1.29 mb -100 pages)

7. Baseline Characterization of Zooplankton in Barnegat Bay -
Principal Investigator: James Nickels, Monmouth University

Goal: To sample water column zooplankton (e.g., shrimps, larval crabs and fish, jellyfish, etc.), which are the main grazers of phytoplankton but also serve as food prey to upper food chain organisms (adult fish and crabs) which play an important role in the estuarine food webs. In addition, the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station will close in 2019. It is unclear how this will affect the bay’s ecology as millions of tiny zooplankton are entrained every day into the power plant through it cooling intake or impinged upon its traveling screens. These are important to the food web in Barnegat Bay so a zooplankton baseline for comparison is necessary since the last comprehensive survey was done in the early 1970s.

Year 1 Status: Temporal and spatial trends in Barnegat Bay zooplankton community structure were characterized. Copepods (small shrimp-like creatures) were found to be an important component of the zooplankton during spring and fall blooms throughout the bay. Groups such as decapods (crabs) and bivalves (clams) exhibit discrete spawning pulses during certain times of the year but are almost absent from the plankton otherwise. Ctenophore jellyfish (comb jellies) were abundant but sea nettles were not in this survey. Ichthyoplankton (larval fish) were most abundant in the spring and their species diversity was highest in the southern part of the bay.

Full Report (4.1 mb -51 pages)

8. Multi-Trophic Level Modeling of Barnegat Bay -
Principal Investigator: Dr. Olaf Jensen, Rutgers University

Goal: To develop an ecosystem-based management model that will show how natural and human induced changes could affect the structure and function of the bay’s natural resources (i.e., fish, crabs, and clams) and develop strategies for their utilization in a sustainable manner.

Year 1 Status: A dynamic ecosystem model of Barnegat Bay was developed and calibrated with biological data from the other nine projects. Year 2 and 3 data will be used to validate and test the model before attempting scenario assessments. Suggested scenarios for BBay include 1.) What happens to the bay food web and flux of available energy when the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station closes? 2.) What effects occur ecologically (e.g., reduced plankton, decreased turbidity) on upper trophic levels (e.g., crab and hard clam production) with different amounts of upstream nutrient load reductions (e.g., 25%, 50%)?

Full Report (1.4 mb -50 pages)

9. Tidal Freshwater and Salt Marsh Wetland Studies of Changing Ecological Function and Adaptation Strategies -
Principal Investigator: Dr. David Velinsky Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Goal: Over 28% of Barnegat Bay salt marshes have been lost to development, however, a recent NJDEP-OS study has shown that wetlands in the bay can adsorb and bury 80 % of the waterborne nitrogen entering the marshes from upland sources. This will buffer the waters from potential eutrophication effects (e.g., harmful algal blooms, anoxia, fish kills). This current study will measure what happens to the buried nitrogen and its potential for microbial denitrification and release as gaseous nitrogen to the atmosphere.

Year 1 Status: Soil cores collected in the bay were used to measure microbial denitrification rates (converts fertilizing nitrate to gaseous nitrogen). By combining sediment burial and denitrification rates it was shown that the salt marshes can sequester and remove 90% of the incoming nitrogen. However, salt marshes in Barnegat Bay are currently subject to a mosquito management technique developed by NJDEP and carried out by the counties called Open Marsh Water Management (OMWM). Over ten thousand acres of salt marsh have been physically altered in Barnegat Bay due to OMWM. In these ponds denitrification rates are lower than in vegetated soils so in 2013 researchers will further quantify how to maximize the ecosystem services supplied by the salt marshes near the OMWM ponds but also protect human health via mosquito control and reduction in vector borne diseases.  

Full Report (1.25 mb -57 pages)

10. Ecological Evaluation of Sedge Island Marine Conservation Zone - Principal
Investigator; Dr. Paul Jivoff, Rider University
Goal: In spite of its designation as a Marine Conservation Zone by the Tidelands Council in 2001 and the requirement that NJDEP develop a management plan for the zone, there has been no significant scientific inventory of this environmentally sensitive area. Using blue crabs as a surrogate the zone was assessed in 2012 and again in 2013 using the population structure and reproductive potential of the blue crab Callinectes sapidus.

Year 1 Status: An evaluation of the Sedge Islands Marine Conservation Zone in New Jersey showed that it is important for maintaining the sustainability of ecosystems and populations of economically important species. Specifically, the conservation zone has a greater abundance of adult blue crabs with a sex ratio more skewed towards males and a greater proportion of egg-bearing females that are about to spawn and show signs of recent spawning. This suggests that the conservations zone may provide refuge from fishing, particularly for male blue crabs, and may be an important area for spawning females.

Full Report (720kb -17 pages)

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Dr. Gary A. Buchanan, Manager
Mailing Address:
Mail code 428-01, P.O. Box 420
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Phone: (609) 984-6070
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Last Updated: January 20, 2015