The Good, the Bad and the Unexpected Results of Barnegat Bay’s Studies

By Michael Hill

For three years, 11 research projects studied the brackish Barnegat Bay from top to bottom. At Ocean County College, they revealed their findings.

The good:
“Based upon the kinds of animals that are living in the sediment, their abundance, how tolerant they are to stresses that Barnegat Bay is in good shape,” said Gary Tacghon, Director, Marine Science, Rutgers University.

The bad:
“Bird reproductivity has declined with these personal watercrafts getting too close. The birds flush, they leave their nests, every time a boat comes too close, it could be a few minutes, that’s a couple minutes the birds are not sitting on their nests, and incubating the eggs,” said Eden Buenaventura, graduate student at Rutgers University.

And the unexpected:
200 species of microscopic algae called diatoms, common in the Indian ocean but never before found here.

Dr. Gary Buchanan, Science, Research & Environmental Health, NJDEP, remarked, “to find new species? In most cases that’s good news.”

Governor Christie ordered the study of the 42-mile-long Barnegat Bay – a huge recreation spot that both takes and gives from the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s home to the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, set to close in 2019, not soon enough for one retired chemist. “When I was a kid Barnegat Bay was fishing heaven. Claming, oysters, all of that kind of thing. It’s gone way down hill since the plant opened. What that does is scoop up all the beautiful life that’s in there, all the tiny crabs, it cooks them because there is no cooling tower which then disrupts the very bottom of the food chain so that it doesn’t grow,” said Linwood resident Bob Filipczak.

Thomas Belton, also from NJDEP, added “The plant has been generating power to Central Jersey for 45 years so we’ve all benefitted from that. Ideally, you monitor and evaluate the impact on the ecology by sampling and doing the things that we’re doing here over the past three years.” Belton describes the bay as a strong, resilient ecosystem standing up to what humans are doing to it, “there are certain areas where it’s feeling the stresses of too many people, too much run off, some of the bulk heading that’s going on which has changed the natural ecosystem. Those bulkheads have jellyfish attaching to them and you have people complaining about the jellyfish. The salt marshes are a natural barrier to flooding such as Superstorm Sandy so if you build too many houses on or carve too many lagoons in them it’s not such a great thing.”

The state calls the Barnegat Bay research so important and so extraordinary, that it’s making it available to world and plans to use this research for years to come, because as it says, improving Barnegat bay won’t happen over night.