Barnegat Bay Science Projects

As a National Estuary Program, the Barnegat Bay Partnership is committed to improving our understanding of the conditions and environmental trends in the bay through monitoring and research, which provide a scientific basis for planning actions and making management decisions about the bay. The BBP’s research projects, whether conducted by our staff or supported by our Science and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) grants, address one or more of the priorities (water quality, water supply, living resources, land use) in our revised Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan.

If you would like more information about any of these projects, please contact Dr. Jim Vasslides.

Research and Monitoring Projects

Ambient Water-Quality Monitoring

Barnegat Bay Partnership

The BBP staff supportx the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP’s) Barnegat Bay water-quality monitoring effort by collecting water-quality data and samples at sites on Mill Creek and Westecunk Creek. Information about the monitoring program, including the data, can be found on the NJDEP’s website. The data collected as part of this project contributed to a number of water quality indicators in the 2016 State of the Bay Report.

The BBP also maintains long-term continuous water-quality monitoring stations at three bay locations: Seaside Park Yacht Club, Mantoloking Yacht Club, and Morrison Marina in Beach Haven. Data are transmitted in near real-time
to the NJDEP’s continuous water quality monitoring website, where all data are archived and available for public downloading and use. On the NJDEP site, you will see an interactive map of all active and historical collection monitoring locations (BBP stations are “Long-Term Active”), and by clicking one, you can see “real-time” data being transmitted from that station. Real-time data for BBP stations include:  Latitude, Longitude, Temperature, Specific Conductance, Salinity, Dissolved Oxygen, Dissolved Oxygen Concentration, pH, and Turbidity.

Ocean and Coastal Acidification Monitoring

Barnegat Bay Partnership

The BBP received a grant from the EPA to install and maintain high-precision monitoring equipment to evaluate acidity and CO2 levels in the Barnegat Bay.  Oceans and coastal waters absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, and as atmospheric levels of CO2 increase, so do the levels in the water, resulting in an increase in acidity. This increase in acidity of the earth’s oceans and coastal waters can adversely effect the ability of shellfish, larval fish, and other aquatic creatures to utilize calcium carbonate (CaCO3) to build shells or other important body structure.  We are concerned that acidification of the Barnegat Bay could negatively impact the already depleted wild hard clam and oyster populations and threaten the continuing development of a promising shellfish aquaculture industry and the recovery of natural populations.  The monitoring data are archived at the BBP and available upon request.

Long-term Juvenile Fish and Nekton Seining

Barnegat Bay Partnership

In 2011, the BBP staff initiated a long-term monitoring project to assess variations in the abundance and distribution of juvenile fish species and jellyfish in the central and northern portions of the bay, with the southern bay added in the summer of 2016.  We currently seine bi-weekly from May through October at 12 locations,  The data collected by this project will be used to help identify trends in the populations of many recreationally and commercially important species, and allow us to ask questions about the effects of changing water quality, habitat alteration, and climate change on the bay’s fauna.  The data collected here also contributed to the Estuarine Fish Communities indicator in the 2016 State of the Bay Report.

Juvenile Eel Monitoring

Barnegat Bay Partnership

In the winter of each year since 2012, BBP researchers have been in the field at five locations in the watershed monitoring for the winter ingress of juvenile American eels into the Barnegat Bay watershed.  Historically an important predator in estuarine and freshwater systems, the North American eel population has seen a substantial decline since the later half of the 20th century.  While not a state or federally listed species, their low population numbers remain of concern coastwide.  Among the potential reasons for their decline are reduced water quality in their freshwater and estuarine habitats and barriers to juveniles migrating into upstream habitat.  The BBP is committed to continuing with our monitoring program to provide much needed data on trends in their abundance o our state and federal partners.

River Herring Spawning Runs

Barnegat Bay Partnership

In the mid-1970’s, 30 rivers and creeks within the Barnegat Bay watershed had confirmed or reported spawning runs of either blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) or alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus), collectively known as river herring.  Since that time the coast-wide population of river herring have declined, and anecdotal reports suggested that many once prominent runs in the watershed are no longer active. Thanks to grants from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, BBP researchers have been conducting gillnet and fyke net surveys of waterways within the watershed to determine where runs are still present, and their relative abundance.  When herring are captured their length, weight, and sex are recorded, and scales are removed for subsequent analysis to determine their age.  A small fin clip is also collected and sent to the University of California at Santa Cruz for inclusion in an ongoing population genetics study.

Westecunk Creek Community Study

Barnegat Bay Partnership

As part of a larger study on the Westecunk Creek with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, BBP ecologists deployed a pair of fyke nets in the spring of 2015 to identify the fish communities located above and below a barrier to fish passage on the creek. The barrier was removed in the fall of 2015, and the fyke nets were deployed again in the spring of 2016 to determine the short term effects of the removal on the fish community.  The same locations will be sampled in subsequent years to look at intermediate and longer-term effects.

Road and Stream Crossing Assessment

Barnegat Bay Partnership

With funding from The Wildlife Management Institute, BBP staff are implementing the North Atlantic Connectivity Collaborative‘s Road and Stream Crossing Assessment protocol throughout the watershed.  This protocol looks at the structures (bridges, culverts, etc) used to carry our transportation network over rivers and streams, and assess how well they maintain the waterways hydrology, sediment transport, fish and wildlife passage, and movement of woody debris.  This is of particular importance to our anadromous species like American eel and river herring, who rely on our streams and rivers to access spawning and rearing habitat. Improperly designed passage structures can also exacerbate flooding and erosion, both of which can stress the transportation network.  To see which crossings have been completed, and which still remain, go to the NAACC database and search under the Mullica-Toms watershed.

Seagrass Monitoring

Barnegat Bay Partnership and Stockton University

BBP and Stockton researchers surveyed 8 seagrass beds during June and October of 2015 and 2017 to assess the condition of eelgrass (Zostera marina) and widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima) communities within the Barnegat Bay.  The results are compared to previously collected data to define the current status and trends of seagrass in the bay.  The next round of seagrass monitoring is scheduled to take place in the summer and fall of 2019.

2015 Final Technical Report

2017 Final Technical Report

Oyster Spat Settlement

Barnegat Bay Partnership and Stockton University

Working with Stockton University and volunteers from ReClam the Bay, BBP researchers deployed suspended bags of oyster shells (which serve as substrate for larval oysters to settle on and begin their life cycle) along the western side of the bay at 33 locations during the summer of 2015.  The sites selected historically supported oyster seed beds or were in proximity to suspected oyster production areas.  Researchers examined the shells for oyster spat settlement.  The data will be used to support future oyster restoration projects funded by the BBP and others.

Restoration planning for hard clams in Barnegat bay: Identifying population sources and sinks

Rutgers University

Rutgers University is partnering with USGS on this STAC funded project to better understand how hard clam populations are connected in Barnegat Bay through the dispersal of larvae.  This will be accomplished through the development of a coupled bio-physical model, which will help researchers understand how and where larval clams spawned in one location of the bay settle.  These connectivity estimates will be groundtruthed through larval sampling in the bay, with identification of larval hard clams completed using an automated video program and biorefringence techniques.  The larval dispersal pathways and connectivity estimates will provide important guidance for restoration strategies including broodstock and habitat enhancement.  Finally, the researchers are teaming with students at the Rutgers Film Center to create a documentary film that will be used to enhance public awareness of the importance of shellfish restoration and the scientific efforts that are underway to rebuild clam populations in Barnegat Bay.

Implementation and Restoration Projects

Barnegat Bay oyster reefs: biological and cost benefit analyses
Stockton University

Stockton University partnered with the American Littoral Society and Parsons Mariculture LLC on an oyster reef restoration and research project, which was selected for funding through our STAC grant program.  The goal of this project was to implement and assess experimentally-designed restoration efforts at two sites in the Barnegat Bay and to increase public awareness of the ecological and economic role of oyster beds. The project compared the biological and economic metrics of disease-resistant oyster spat remotely set on whelk shell versus Mullica River seed oysters and monitored oyster growth, survivability, and disease prevalence at a northern and southern bay location.

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