Barnegat Bay’s Ecological Trouble

Dr. Michael Kennish, who has been studying Barnegat Bay longer than any other scientist, sounded an Earth Day warning. Dr. Kennish will be the main speaker at SBB’s informal Annual Meeting, Thursday, June 29 @ 7 PM at the First Aid Building in Lavallette.

Read article in the Observer.

On Earth Day, a warning about Barnegat Bay

Posted by the Ocean County Observer
on 04/23/06

STAFF WRITER TOMS RIVER — Mixed in among yesterday’s Barnegat Bay National Estuary Program at Ocean County College was a warning that the Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor estuary may soon be beyond recovery.

Michael J. Kennish, research professor of Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, said that the 108-square-mile estuary, which stretches from the Point Pleasant Canal to the Little Egg Harbor Inlet, has been subject to pollution created by people and he warned it cannot bear much more.

“It’s not a balanced ecosystem,” he said. “The only solution, in my opinion, is to limit development in the Toms River area,” he said.

He later added he would actually like to see development around the whole bay stopped.

“Between 1970 and 1990 we lost 20 percent of upland forest due to development,” he said. The loss over the past 15 years has been more rapid, he added.

“There should be no further development, period,” he said later.

Kennish was one of the speakers at yesterday’s Estuary Academy hosted by Barnegat Bay National Estuary Program in partnership with OCC. It was one of many programs that marked Earth Day. Earth Day began in the United States in 1970 and is now celebrated in more than 170 countries.

The Barnegat Bay Estuary is the body of water where fresh water from the rivers of Ocean County meet the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean, according to a press release from the Barnegat Bay National Estuary Program.

Kennish said that the biggest concern may be the shift in chemistry of the bay’s water.

He claimed nitrogen enrichment is spurring the growth of phytoplankton and algae, which is killing off the grasses in the bay.

The reduction of the grasses results in a reduction of shellfish, he said. The proliferation of phytoplankton displaces the grasses, a food shellfish like to eat.

He said more than 170 million clams were lost, about two-thirds of their entire number, between 1985 and 2000. He added that oysters, which were once plentiful, are now extinct in the bay and there are less than 1,000 scallops in the bay.

Kennish said about 50 percent of the 869 tons of nitrogen that enters the bay annually comes from excess fertilizer runoff used around residences and businesses, and animal waste. About 40 percent comes from the atmosphere, he said, and that comes from power plants in Ohio Valley and western Pennsylvania. Another atmospheric contaminant is mercury.

The remaining 10 percent of nitrogen comes from groundwater, he said.

Laura Crosby, a local school teacher, asked him of the perception held by many that the bay has actually improved over the past three decades.

He replied that while the bay has improved for human use of the bay and it appears cleaner, it has become worse for the aquatic life.

“One of the biggest problems we have is lack of understanding by the administrators,” he said of government officials who create policy. He also blamed them for not having the courage to impose controls to limit the amount of nitrogen that enters the bay.

He said officials should impose stiff fines and regulations. He also said children should be taught from kindergarten of the need to halt nitrogen from entering the bay.

Overuse of the bay by recreational boaters has taken its toll, he added.

In addition to Kennish, Robert Nicholson of the U.S. Geological Survey also spoke at yesterday’s Estuary Academy.

Nicholson said the 10-year average of freshwater entering the estuary has been steadily declining.

Currently there is about 590 million gallons of freshwater added daily to the bay, he said.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Read Willie deCamp’s Non-scientific discussion of Barnegat Bay water quality.

related Posts

May 8, 2023

Barnegat Bay Book Club

Save Barnegat Bay hosts the Barnegat Bay Book Club to celebrate the incredible books written over the years about the...
Read More
Apr 11, 2023


There are upcoming Save Barnegat Bay events. We will be working to engage with you virtually whenever possible! When we...
Read More
Jun 14, 2022

Join the Team! – STEM Summer Series: Teacher & Teacher Assistant Positions

STEM Summer Series Job Posting  Join the Borough of Bay Head and Save Barnegat Bay this summer at our STEM...
Read More