Renewed Plan Will Protect Barnegat Bay

Recent scientific data was used to update the Barnegat Bay Little Egg Harbor Estuary plan. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  OCEAN COUNTY – A declaration of environmental protection was recently signed for the 2021 Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP) for the Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor estuary.

  Formed by barrier islands, the estuary extends over 42 miles from the Point Pleasant Canal to the Little Egg Harbor Inlet. Its watershed is a land area of more than 660 square miles encompassing much of Ocean County and part of southern Monmouth County.

  Late last month, the Barnegat Bay Partnership held a signing ceremony event at the new Conference Center on the campus of Ocean County College. During the ceremony, BBP partners re-affirmed their commitment to implementing actions and the goals of the revised plan.

  The CCMP replaces the original plan, which has guided the actions of the BBP since 2002. It reflects an increase in scientific knowledge about the Barnegat Bay and addresses new challenges, such as climate change and sea level rise. It also reviews the progress made over the past 19 years, reassesses priorities, and focuses the collective efforts of BBP partners over the next decade.

Environmental Protection Agency representative Dr. Anahita Williamson was among the virtual attendees of a virtual/live hybrid signing ceremony for the 2021 Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan for the Barnegat Bay Little Egg Harbor Estuary held at the Conference Center at Ocean County College. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  The plan’s priorities were reviewed by members of the BBP’s Policy Committee who noted the plan would protect and restore clean water and healthy living resources in the bay and its watershed. The CCMP is a roadmap for the agencies, organizations, and local communities working collectively to improve the condition of this nationally significant estuary.

  BBP Director Dr. Stan Hales said the plan establishes four main priority areas for action: water quality, water supply, living resources, and land use. It also sets eight ecosystem targets – specific environmental outcomes which combine actions across multiple priorities and can be monitored to measure progress. Some of those goals include increasing the acreage of key habitats, such as submerged aquatic vegetation, and increasing the number of hard clams in Little Egg Harbor.

  He noted that “climate change and sea level rise are already impacting the bay and its watershed.” The plan also identifies areas vulnerable to climate change risks and the strategies for minimizing the impacts. Another important component of the plan is education and community participation in stewardship, which speakers said were critical to the plan’s success.

  “The Barnegat Bay is changing in many ways, but the public clearly remains committed to its protection and restoration. We received more than 900 comments as we developed the 2021 CCMP. We need to work together if we want to secure our environmental and economic future,” Dr. Hales said.

  “Over the last 50 years, the watershed has experienced a tremendous increase in population and development, leading to increased pollution loads, stressed water supplies, and loss of fish and wildlife habitat. These changes in the bay’s condition have environmental, cultural, and economic impacts to local communities and the entire region,” he said.

 New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection representative Kimberly Cenno, who attended virtually, spoke about water quality. “In 2010, we had a 10-point action plan which identified water quality goals for the restoration of the Barnegat Bay. We started that by reviewing existing standards and quickly decided we needed to develop new standards unique to Barnegat Bay. We needed to fully assess the aquatic life which we did through extensive monitoring and research projects.”

  Dr. Elizabeth Lacey of Stockton University said, “increasing public awareness is something I feel is very important because it isn’t just about protecting public resources but educating the public about how important these resources are.”

  Regarding the estuary’s water supply, Rob Karl, a supervisor with the Brick Township Municipal Utilities Authority, said that “Brick MUA works very closely with Barnegat Bay Partnership on a variety of environmental projects including water conservation and building awareness of our water resources.”

  Ocean County Department of Planning member Mark Villinger touched on land use and open space acquisition. “The Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund program throughout its existence has many of its goals overlapping with what we will see with this CCMP. This program allows us to acquire properties for conservation and recreation and we have established a nine-member advisory committee that advises on using that fund.”

  Policy Committee members also discussed the plan.

Ocean County Commissioner Joseph Vicari speaks during the signing ceremony for the 2021 Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan for the Barnegat Bay Little Egg Harbor Estuary. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  EPA R2 Administrator and Policy Committee Co-Chair Walter Mugdan said, “A healthy Barnegat Bay is vital to sustaining water quality, aquatic life and habitat, and local communities, especially those facing environmental justice challenges. This plan demonstrates a collective commitment to build on the progress of the Barnegat Bay Partnership and to further revitalize the health and vitality of this critical watershed.”

  EPA Region 2 Office of the Regional Administrator, Dr. Anahita Williamson said, “the last study did not address sea level rise or climate change or environmental justice to any great extent. These issues are a priority and it is good to see they are appropriately housed in this revision.”

  NJDEP Watershed and Land Use Management Assistant Commissioner Vince Mazzei said, “It is wonderful to applaud a success story like this. This effort is now more important than ever because as we know, New Jersey is ground zero for climate impacts we have rising sea levels and more intensive storm events.”

  OCC President Dr. Jon H. Larson noted the hybrid nature of the meeting that allowed speakers to attend from far distances and also recalled former Senator Bill Bradley’s annual walks each Labor Day weekend from Cape May to Sandy Hook. He once said, “every time I have some moment on a seashore or in the mountains or quiet forest, I think this is why the environment needs to be preserved.”

A poster board shows the signatures of those present at the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for the Barnegat Bay Little Egg Harbor Watershed signing ceremony at Ocean County College. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  Ocean County Commissioner Joseph Vicari noted that 60% of Ocean County land is preserved. “We have one of the largest fleets of pump out boats because we realize the Barnegat Bay is one of the most important estuaries in the United States of America that we have to maintain. Storm water runoff is a major issue.”

  “We have done our best. We are always doing more. We have to educate other people. We set the standards other counties emulate,” Vicari said. He noted that the Barnegat Bay is an economic powerhouse, supporting one of the most valuable economies of any estuary in the nation, contributing $2 to $4 billion annually to New Jersey’s economy.

    Citizen representative George Murnyak remarked, that with any plan, “we need to be aware that with any management plan or strategic plan once it is finalized written plans get out of date quickly. We get overcome by events we can’t see. Our ability to predict the future is not very good.”

  Karen Greene, NMFS Advisory Committee Co-Chair Karen Greene said, “Over the past two decades of the partnership has grown into such an important voice and resource for the Barnegat Bay water shed.”

  In his closing remarks, Dr. Hales said “The production of this document has been a lot of work and I appreciate all the work that everyone has put into it. I would thank all the partners.  

The Barnegat Bay (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  To learn more about the BBP or to download the 2021 Comprehensive Conservation visit Management Plan for the Barnegat Bay – Little Egg Harbor Estuary. A link to a recording of the event is also available on the website.