Monday, March 27, 2017

Third Annual Shell-A-Bration on the Delaware Bay

Photo via

The Third Annual Shell-A-Bration on the Delaware Bay in New Jersey will be held on Saturday April 8th at 12:30pm - 4:30pm at Thompsons Beach, 163 Thompson Beach Road in Delmont.

You can volunteer to help "shell-a-brate" building a fourth oyster reef at Thompsons Beach in the Delaware Bay. The work will involve carrying bags of shell to a site just off the beach.

Dress to get wet and dirty. Layers are recommended as it may be chillier on the Bay. And you may want to bring a change of clothes for after the work is completed.

Following the reef build, enjoy a small campfire on the beach, a picnic-style lunch provided by Spanky's BBQ and family-friendly activities.

The American Littoral Society and Conserve Wildlife Foundation have helped restore beaches at a number of locations following Hurricane Sandy and is now working to establish near-shore shell bars at three of those sites. The reefs will prevent sand loss from wind driven waves. We have already established oyster reef living shorelines at South Reeds Beach, Moores Beach and Dyers Cove.

Although registration is not required, it is recommended. Please contact Quinn Whitesall for more information or to register.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Tracking and Stopping Wastewater Pollution

Shark River
Shark River enter the Atlantic Ocean

Working in collaboration, the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Protection, Monmouth County and Neptune City have tracked down and repaired a significant source of bacterial contamination that affected water quality and contributed to the closure of shellfish beds in the Shark River late last year.

Barely 12 miles in total length, the Shark River is comprised primarily of a large, U-shaped estuarine basin that is connected to the ocean by a relatively narrow inlet.

Using dye tests and cameras provided by NJDOT, the partners were able to locate sewage leaking into a stormwater discharge pipe at West Sylvania Avenue in Neptune City. The source of the infiltration into the stormwater pipe was then traced to two leaking municipal sewer lines, which the city recently repaired.

In early November, the DEP’s Bureau of Marine Water Quality Monitoring suspended any harvesting of clams from two stretches of the river totaling 266 acres – 122 acres in the northern portion of the river in Neptune City and 144 acres in the western portion of the river at Belmar – due to extremely elevated levels of bacteria, a strong indicator of sewage leaks.

“This has been a team effort in the truest sense of the term,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “Our scientists worked very closely with NJDOT engineers, who provided extensive technical and resource support.

“We also had the strong support of Monmouth County, local officials and Senator Jennifer Beck to track down the source of this pollution, no easy task considering the size of the area that had to be investigated and the complexity of piping networks in the area. Neptune City also stepped up and fixed the leaks promptly. I commend everyone who went the extra yard to protect the quality of water in the Shark River.”

“NJDOT personnel have the experience and skills needed to investigate the vast network of underground water and sewer pipes that run beneath the roadways in New Jersey – whether they are State, county, or municipal roads,” NJDOT Commissioner Richard T. Hammer said. “Neptune City approached the Department of Transportation last year regarding an issue with erosion on one of its roads. NJDOT led a coordinated inter-agency effort in which our engineers, through the use of Transportation Trust Funds, investigated the issue and in the process identified the source of long-term and persistent bacteria infiltration into the Shark River.”

“It has been a real pleasure to work with the DEP, NJDOT, and Monmouth County on this project to preserve our natural resource,” said Neptune Mayor Robert Brown. “This is proof how you can make great progress on such an important project when we all have the same goal.”

The DEP and its partners are currently launching a similar effort to track down the source of bacteria being discharged into the western portion of the basin. This situation may also be the result of an underground sewage pipe leak.

“We still have a lot more work ahead of us, but this is a great step toward identifying and tracking sources of bacteria that impact shellfish beds and can diminish the public’s recreational enjoyment of the river,” said Ray Bukowski, DEP’s Assistant Commissioner for Compliance and Enforcement, who organized the track-down effort.

Prior to their closure, the shellfish beds were classified as restricted due to degrading water quality, and have not been harvested in years because they would need to be taken to a special plant for cleansing, a process known as depuration, before they could be shipped to market.

“The DEP’s goal is to improve overall water quality in the river so that in the longer term we can make the naturally productive shellfish beds found there commercially viable again,” said Dan Kennedy, DEP’s Assistant Commissioner for Water Resources.

Due to strong programs protecting and monitoring shellfish beds, the percentage of beds considered safe for harvesting across the state is now nearly 90 percent, compared to about 75 percent in 1977.

Founded in 1912, the Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring actually precedes the formation of the DEP by nearly six decades. The bureau collects thousands of samples from shellfish waters which, among other things, measures temperature, salinity, nutrients and bacteria.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Pequest Open House Rescheduled to June

Due to excessive snow cover and resulting poor condition of the grounds at the Pequest Trout Hatchery, the Open House originally scheduled for April 1 and 2 has been rescheduled to June 3 and 4. 

The new date will coincide with National Fishing and Boating Week, which runs from June 3 – 11, and the June 10 Free Fishing Day.

For information and updates visit on the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife website.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Princeton Environmental Film Festival

The 2017 Princeton Environmental Film Festival will be held March 28 – April 2, 2017. The Festival is sponsored by the Princeton Public Library and is held annually at 65 Witherspoon Street in downtown Princeton, New Jersey, with additional special events offered throughout the year.

Founded in 2006, the PEFF’s mission is to share exceptional documentary films and engage the community in exploring environmental sustainability from a wide range of angles and perspectives.

The film screenings are free of an admission charge and accompanied by a Q&A with film directors and producers, as well as talks by invited speakers visiting the festival or by those who live here in our community.

Check out the full schedule of films, but one film that caught my attention is "Birds of May." It is a 30 minute film directed by Jared Flesher that will have its New Jersey premiere at the festival. It tells the story of the federally threatened rufa red knot bird and its annual visit to the Delaware Bay.

Following the movie, a Q&A with the director, and a presentation by shorebird biologist Larry Niles and Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s David Wheeler will be held. Wildlife art by James Fiorentino, and poetry readings by the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Program, featuring Cynthia Arrieu-King and Catherine Doty will also be part of the screening. The event is part of “Because We Come from Everything: Poetry and Migration,” a series organized by the newly formed National Poetry Coalition.

This screening is March 26 at 7 p.m. in the Community Room of the Princeton Public Library.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring Brings Vernal Pools to Life

Eastern Tiger Salamander   Photo by Caitlin Smith/USFWS.
Springlike weather has arrived and left NJ a few times already in February and March, but as the true spring season arrived this morning, vernal pools will appear and become more actively occupied.

Vernal pools are confined wetland depressions, either natural or man-made, that hold water for at least two consecutive months out of the year and are devoid of breeding fish populations.

Here in New Jersey, rural portions of the Skylands, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain landscapes are home to the majority of our vernal pools. These unique ecosystems provide habitat to many species of amphibians, insects, reptiles, plants, and other wildlife.

An endangered species in NJ, the Eastern Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) are part of the wildlife ritual that happens around those intermittent pools/ponds. This is where many amphibian species go to breed.

Habitat loss and water pollution have led to the decline of tiger salamander populations in the southern portion of New Jersey and by the mid-1970s their known historic breeding sites had been reduced to half - 19 sites.

Consequently, the Eastern Tiger Salamander was listed as an endangered species in 1974 and still remains on the list.

Protecting vernal ponds has led the NJDEP to adopt regulations that affords them protection under the State Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act.

The Eastern Tiger Salamander is only one challenged amphibian species in our state. Their breeding needs or habitat are impacted by water pollution, pesticides, roads, introductions of fish, off-road vehicles and development, especially on private land.

Some populations have been saved from local extinction by the species ability to utilize human-made "pools" such as trenches and construction areas as breeding ponds.

Spotted Salamander
Another vernal pool visitor is the Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum). This a big salamander that is about 15–25 cm (5.9–9.8 in) long. They are stout with wide snouts. The spotted salamander's main color is black, but can sometimes be a blueish-black, dark grey, dark green, or even dark brown. Two uneven rows of yellowish-orange spots run from the top of the head (near the eyes) to the tip of the tail.

The Spotted Salamander breeds in large groups in vernal ponds in early spring, when the first
warm rains occur. It prefers deciduous or mixed woods. Outside of breeding season, it may be found under debris in humid conditions.

Adults can be observed moving into vernal pools sometime after the first spring rain as early
as the beginning of March. They will remain in these breeding ponds for up to a month before moving back to their terrestrial dwellings. Their range is the Northern and Western part of the state outside the Pinelands.

Amphibians of New Jersey

Vernal Pools in NJ

Friday, March 17, 2017

Well, It Did Feel Like Spring For a Few Weeks in February

For a few weeks in February, it sure felt like spring was very near in New Jersey or maybe had even arrived - even if the calendar and Earth's tilt said otherwise. I saw crocuses and daffodils up and blooming. Tree buds seemed to be starting their bud burst.

Then the thermometer reversed itself and we had the biggest snow of the winter.

The news reported that the cherry blossoms in the nation's capital are threatened, and the ones in New Jersey (which generally peak in early April) might also be affected. Not So Trivial Fact: New Jersey has more cherry trees than Washington D.C. - the largest cherry blossom collection in the United States. But the Branch Brook Park cherry blossom webcam in Newark just shows bare trees and snow as I write this.

I have written before about the study of cyclic, seasonal natural phenomena which is called phenology. The National Phenology Network tracks “Nature’s Calendar” via phenological events. But can we actually predict the seasons with any accuracy?

These nature observations include the ones we all have been observing lately, such as trees and flowers, but also ones that you may not be able to observe or just don't pay attention to. Those signs of seasonal change include male ungulates, such as elk or deer, growing antlers at the beginning of the rut and breeding season each year, mammals that hibernate seasonally to get through the winter, and bird migration during the year.

Other than the false Groundhog Day forced observations, phenological events can be incredibly sensitive to climate change. That change can be year-to-year, but the timing of many of these events is changing globally - and not always in the same direction and magnitude.

 Spring leaf anomaly: dark red indicates areas of early bud burst, with some areas as great as 21 days early. It should be noted, that areas around Los Angeles are conversely nearly 21 days behind schedule. via
According to a Public Library of Science (PLOS) blog
"From 1982 to 2012, spring budburst (when the leaves first appear) has advanced by a bit over 10 days, while the onset of autumn in the northeast US has pushed back about 4.5 days. No trends were found for other regions. This lengthening of the growing season has profound implications for the ecology of these forests and potentially their ecological evolution. A longer growing season could translate to high carbon storage for increased growth, but higher rates of decomposition and changes in moisture availability. However, these changes in phenology are primarily driven by increasing temperatures. In a warmer world, some species may simply not be able to survive where they are now, creating a dramatic change in the species composition. And this is without considering changes in precipitation."

The National Phenology Network's project called Nature’s Notebook collects data from more than 15,000 naturalists across the nation who, using standardized methods, provide information about plant and animal phenology.

Project BudBurst is another citizen science focused project using observations of phenological events and phases through crowd-sourcing. Project like this give you the opportunity to make your observations of nature more conscious, and to contribute to the knowledge base.