TOMS RIVER – Britta Forsberg smiled as she talked about the day when she stopped in on a whim to see Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy.
“His office asked me if I had an appointment,” said Forsberg. “Even after I told them no, the Sheriff agreed to meet with me. I sat down and asked the Sheriff if I could get him a boat, would he use it.”
Forsberg serves as the Executive Director of Save Barnegat Bay and leads the fight to protect and restore this important waterway. She credits the Ocean County Sheriff’s department with going above and beyond.
According to Forsberg, Mastronardy considered her inquiry and said his department already had a marine unit with a boat. However, the Barnegat Bay advocate was on a mission – and pressed harder.
First, came the questions about how often the Sheriff’s boat went out to patrol the waters. The two then moved on to discuss the type of equipment in use. Forsberg had a plan – and one that ultimately made sense.
“I explained to the Sheriff that we really needed a bigger presence on the bay,” shared Forsberg. “I told him I wanted to help him put together a proposal that would get the department an appropriate vessel that could go into shallow waters and help more.”
The brainstorming between the county law enforcement head and the non-profit leader resulted in a matching grant award that has furthered the work intended to keep the Barnegat Bay safe.
County records document that the Ocean County Sheriff’s department was able to purchase a new boat used in conjunction with a matching grant from the state.
The Ocean County Sheriff’s department purchased the Reconcraft 24-foot patrol vessel with Waterjet Propulsion and Trailer for $249,814. Fortunately, it came with a warranty as Ocean County Sheriff’s officers had to use another vessel to embark on another special mission at the end of last month.
“The purpose of the jet boat is that because it doesn’t have propellers, it doesn’t disturb any of the life at the bottom,” Mastronardy explained. “It’s really what we need to keep the bay healthy.”
Lori Van Lenten, Fiscal Officer of the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office said the State of New Jersey provided the money to pay for the officers who patrol the protected zones of the Barnegat Bay and educate boaters as to why they should not venture into areas of restoration and the future health of the bay.
“The State DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) awarded us $240,000 for salaries, and $30,000 to produce an educational video,” Van Lenten said.
A film crew went out with members of the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department Marine Unit to put together informational resources. Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Rory Gronczewski headed out into the bay with other members of the marine unit for action shots in the patrol region.
According to Gronczewski, one of the purposes of the video is to educate the public about the Sedge Island Conservation Zone at the southern end of Island Beach State Park.
The marine unit primarily patrols on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from Memorial Day until Labor Day. The team works hand in hand with New Jersey State Police as they are first line patrol units.
“One of the big things we are involved with the State Police are the floats and boats gathering at Tices Shoal,” said Gronczewski. “That’s in July when there are a lot of people out on the bay.”
The targeted areas patrolled by the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department generally run from the Seaside Bridge to the bridge leading into Long Beach Island. Those assigned to the marine unit bring a variety of skills and handle different aspects on the water.
On some occasions, the tasks range from rescuing boaters in distress or enforcing fishing/game laws. Another important goal stresses education and enforcement in sensitive environmental areas.
“I think the video is going to be used particularly in locations where people are renting and purchasing jet skis and those types of equipment,” Forsberg shared. “What’s happening is people want to come and have a great time on the bay and don’t realize how sensitive the bay is here.”
Gronczewski suggested that parts of the video would be valuable to people who get involved in boater safety programs to obtain boater licenses.
The Barnegat Bay can be chaotic during the summer months and authorities think the video will act as a great way to ensure people learn about the local ecology. This includes educating the public about the laws that regulate waterways.
In the case of the marine conservation zone, there are islands surrounded by shallow waters. The uneducated may not understand the threat boats and jet skis represent when it comes to the area.
“Just inside the inlet, creatures who live in the ocean want to reproduce and have young offspring,” described Forsberg. “They raise them there for a little bit until they’re big enough to go back into the ocean.”
Forsberg explained that the habitat that grows on the backside of the barrier islands needs to remain undisturbed to allow the young to develop in the native grasses. It’s possible to dip a net in the water and come across baby flounder and even tiny shrimp.
“There are critters coming up and down the East Coast trying to come into this estuary,” Forsberg said. “It’s a quieter space that has brackish water and is not as salty.”
The bottom line comes down to scientists studying the area and suggesting it would be best if heavy activity was limited in the Sedge Island Conservation Zone. The area is a park and open space that is best suited to some fishing and crabbing normally considered traditional Barnegat Bay activity.
“We don’t want commercial clamming there,” emphasized Forsberg. “We want the clams to reproduce, although people can recreationally clam with a permit.”
Many who rent or own jet skis do not realize the harm they can cause when they come to edge of the marsh. Jet skis suck up water and bay life and spit it back out.
The concept of educating others to save the Barnegat Bay has received enormous support at the state level and marine trades association.
“The recreational boating industry depends heavily on clean water and a healthy boating environment. Everyone who enjoys our beautiful waterways must work together to protect and preserve these natural resources,” wrote Melissa Danko, Executive Director of Marine Trades Association of New Jersey. “As an industry, we not only develop new technologies and clean boating practices, but we provide the information, resources and infrastructure to help boaters do their part to protect the environment and reduce impacts. Together, we can all protect our natural resources for this generation and generations to come.”