Priority Environmental Issues
Water Quality Degradation and Eutrophication
Water quality in the Barnegat Bay watershed is being degraded by nonpoint and point sources of pollution. A significant amount of this pollution (nutrients and chemical contaminants) is attributable to development on land and the activities associated with development (e.g., paved surfaces, vehicle use, lawn and garden maintenance, and septic systems). Without natural land to absorb excess rain and to filter contaminants, greater concentrations of pollutants in more significant flows reach the estuary.
Excessive levels of nutrients (primarily nitrogen and phosphorus) stimulate the growth of algae in Barnegat Bay in a process known as eutrophication. As the algae grow, they block sunlight needed by the submerged aquatic vegetation of the bay; when the algae die and decay, they reduce the level of oxygen in the water, which can result in large fish kills. Some species of algae are toxic to aquatic organisms and humans. The input of nutrients and chemical contaminants can directly impair human uses of the bay, including restrictions on shellfish harvesting and swimming.
The increase of impervious surfaces (roads, parking lots, buildings) as part of development within the watershed is resulting in a reduction in the amount of water that would otherwise infiltrate into the ground and recharge the groundwater. Groundwater serves not only as our main supply of drinking water, but also as the source of water for irrigation and agricultural purposes, as well as sustaining stream base flow (non-storm flow). With our increasing population, excessive water withdrawals from area aquifers are also a concern because they can cause saltwater intrusion problems and reductions in stream flow. Additionally, our regional sewer treatment plants (STPs) currently pump 50 million gallons per day of treated effluent offshore that had previously flowed into the bay, further altering freshwater supply to the bay.
The continued health and biodiversity of our marine and estuarine systems depends on the maintenance of high-quality habitat. Human activities – both in watershed areas and on open bay waters – have impacted habitats and living resources of the system. Habitat fragmentation and human disturbance in the watershed has adversely affected many plant and animal species.
The causes of habitat loss and alteration include various human development activities, such as:
- Dredging operations in marinas and the Intracoastal Waterway;
- Development of coastal wetlands, barrier islands, and other natural areas in the watershed;
- Bulkheading, diking, or other modifications to wetlands; and
- Construction of buildings and roadways.
The effects of habitat degradation are not limited to direct impacts to plants and animals only. Adverse impacts to humans resulting from habitat alteration include:
- Increased coastal storm damage and flooding due to loss of wetlands;
- Declines in recreationally important fish species due to loss of SAV and other aquatic nursery habitats;
- Declines in recreationally important bird species due to loss of diverse habitats, including beach, bay shore, salt marsh, and pine-oak forests; and
- Loss of coastal beaches.
Human exploitation and habitat loss are affecting the abundance of fish within Barnegat Bay. While the ultimate goal is stable populations of healthy freshwater, estuarine-dependent, and marine fishes and shellfishes, there are a number of data gaps regarding exploited species and their management, which require a concerted monitoring and assessment effort. Furthermore, comprehensive monitoring and assessment of power plant impacts on biotic resources is needed as well.