Dr. Kent Mountford on Nitrogen in Barnegat Bay

Dr. Kent Mountford, a historian of Barnegat Bay, marine biologist, and longtime EPA employee offers his views on nitrogen in Barengat Bay.

Dr. Kent Mountford not only has in depth career-long knowledge of the ecology of Barnegat Bay. He was the first to notice the sea nettle outbreak that started about five years ago.

Below is his letter to Clean Ocean Action discussing the need to bring nitrogen under control.

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

6 August, 2010

Dr Heather Saffert,
Staff Scientist
Clean Ocean Action
18 Hartshorne Dr. Suite 2
Highlands, NJ -7732

Dear Dr Saffert:

I am an Estuarine Ecologist and Environmental Historian with roots in Barnegat Bay that extend back to 1946, and I commend your efforts and those of “Save Barnegat Bay” in attempting to reduce nitrogen inputs to this very troubled estuary.

My career as a scientist, with its earliest beginnings on Barnegat in 1964 extends throughout the period of rampant development and abuse of this estuary. I have watched all this happen over most of my lifetime with great consternation. As a property owner and taxpayer still heavily invested in the New Jersey Shore, it infuriates me to see the continual chipping away and emasculation of nitrogen reduction legislation by self serving industry and development interests. Equally disturbing is the outright ignorance of most elected State and Municipal Government representatives on the threat of nitrogen loading .

These self interested parties fly in the face of the very resource which has drawn people to the Jersey Shore since the last quarter of the 19th century. What does it take to quell the short term greed and attend to the needs of this Bay, which is at what I view to be a tipping point beyond which any ecological recovery is impossible?

Science first recognized the critical and limiting role which nitrogen plays in estuarine ecology in New Jersey’s estuaries through the work of the late Dr. James Durand at Rutgers, Camden. Over four decades ago, in 1966, Rutgers’ Dr. Harold Haskin, certainly the father of New Jersey estuarine shellfish ecology, taught every one of his students this valuable lesson from Durand’s seminal work. It still took the USEPA (where much of my career was spent) over twenty years more to recognize the importance of reducing nitrogen in managing human waste effluents that entered saline waters. But now, the Chesapeake Bay one of human-kind’s premier efforts at restoring an estuary has focused powerfully on nitrogen reduction, from farms, homes, municipalities and industry. This is the only way forward.

This is also the only way forward for New Jersey and Barnegat Bay. What are legislators, municipal officials, industry and development interests thinking when they resist, rather than wholeheartedly embrace and augment nitrogen control at every turn? The appearance of sea nettle jellyfish (Chrysaora quinquecirra) in Barnegat several years ago was an astounding occurrence to me as an ecologist. Barnegat, with massive nitrogen fueled food supplies for this nuisance species was ripe for invasion. Now that it has occurred, the chances of ending the infestation in what is perfect sea nettle habitat, are very slim. You can blame this recreational disaster –who wants to swim with these stingers? – on bad luck, but the probability is very high that nitrogen has enabled this invader to prosper .

You have brought this upon yourselves, Jersey residents, through choices on Election Day, and by inattention to the cries for help Barnegat has made for a lifetime. At least take action against nitrogen and give some hope for the future.


Kent Mountford, PhD
Estuarine Ecologist and Environmental Historian
Osborn Cove, Breeden Rd, Lusby, MD 20657


425 Beachfront, Manasquan, NJ 08736

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