Home » About Barnegat Bay » The Barnegat Bay Ecoystem

The Barnegat Bay:  An OverviewMap of the Barnegat Bay watershed with major subwatersheds

The Barnegat Bay ecosystem (the estuary and its watershed) is an ecological treasure!  The estuary's ecological productivity and broad appeal make this coastal area one of the most valuable "living" resources in the nation. 

An array of environmentally-sensitive habitats exists here, such as sand beaches, bay islands, submerged aquatic vegetation, finfish nursery areas, shellfish beds, and waterfowl nesting grounds.  Its biological resources are rich, and include migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, and commercially and recreationally important species of fish and shellfish.

The Estuary

The Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor estuary ("Barnegat Bay") covers over 42 miles of shoreline from the Point Pleasant Canal to the north to Little Egg Harbor Inlet in the south and is protected from the open ocean by a system of barrier beaches, wetlands and dunes. The flow of fresh water from rivers, creeks, and groundwater into the bay produces the special conditions that are critical for the survival of crabs, fish, birds, and other wildlife as well as human use.

The Barnegat Bay estuarine system is composed of three shallow, micro-tidal bays:  Barnegat Bay, Manahawkin Bay, and Little Egg Harbor.  A nearly continuous barrier island complex runs along the eastern edge of Barnegat Bay, separating it from the Atlantic Ocean.  Seawater enters the Barnegat Bay system through the Point Pleasant Canal via the Manasquan Inlet in the north and the Barnegat Inlet and Little Egg Inlet in the south.

The Watershed 

The area of land making up the Bay’s drainage system is known as a "watershed” and covers over 600 square miles. The watershed’s characteristics vary from coastal dunes and marshes (much of which have been heavily developed) to other developed lands, to protected Pine Barrens habitats within the Pinelands.

Over 560,000 people reside within the Barnegat Bay watershed, which includes nearly all of Ocean County and portions of Monmouth County. The population doubles in the summer as people flock to the shore from nearby Philadelphia, New York metropolitan areas, and beyond. Ocean County is also the second fastest growing county in New Jersey.

With all of the growth and development, negative consequences have emerged that are directly affecting the region’s environment:  significant declines in water quality, increasing demands on water quantity, habitat loss and fragmentation, and declines in our fisheries are just some of the issues we face. Yet, the continued economic health of the Barnegat Bay watershed is dependent on the continued health and natural beauty of its waters. Addressing these issues presents both a challenge and an opportunity and requires the involvement and commitment of a wealth of government agencies, academic institutions, businesses, non-profit organizations, and individuals. 

Economic value of the Barnegat Bay estuary and watershed

According to a study prepared for the Barnegat Bay Partnership by the University of Delaware in 2012, the Barnegat Bay watershed is an economic engine contributing over $4 billion each year to the New Jersey economy.  The report, entitled “Economic Value of the Barnegat Bay Watershed,” makes the connection between a healthy Barnegat Bay and a healthy economy and provides an economic basis for investing in the future of the bay and its watershed. Click here to download the full report.

Dr. Gerald Kauffman, the Director of the University of Delaware’s Water Resources Agency who led the team of researchers, explains the significance of the report.  "The Barnegat Bay supports one of the most valuable economies of any estuary in the nation.  It is an ecological treasure that supports a diverse $4 billion per year economy based on good jobs in tourism, fishing, recreation, industry, health care, and water resources." 

Dr. Kauffman and his researchers examined the watershed’s economic value in three different ways – water resources and habitats, ecosystem goods and services, and watershed-related employment. According to the report, the economic value of the water and natural resources in the Barnegat Bay watershed exceeds $4 billion annually. Wetlands, forests, and other watershed habitats provide $2.3 billion a year in ecosystem goods and services, such as water filtration, flood control, and soil conservation. The watershed also directly and indirectly supports over 55,000 jobs with over $2 billion in annual wages. Noting that there is a certain amount of overlap between the different ways of examining the economic value, the researchers did not total the three values.

This economic study will inform the people making decisions about the future of the bay and its watershed. Municipal officials, legislators, environmental agencies and organizations, and planners are among those who can use the study results to consider the economic impact of efforts to protect and restore the Barnegat Bay.