Home » Science and Research » Current Projects » Wetlands Monitoring & Assessment Program

Wetlands Monitoring & Assessment ProgramCattus Island County Park salt marsh_photo by Mary F. Judge

Freshwater tidal, brackish, and salt marshes are hallmark features for the coastal plain region of New Jersey and represent perhaps the most critically important habitat type for both ecosystem functioning and human health. These wetlands provide critical services that sustain lives and livelihoods, including flood protection against rising seas, maintenance of water quality, carbon and nutrient sequestration, and fish and wildlife habitat.

Though critically imperiled by overdevelopment and sea-level rise, marshes are among the most responsive habitat types to environmental change. However, coastal marshes throughout New Jersey remain poorly monitored and assessed with regard to sea-level rise or other potential threats.

Historically, no single entity has been able to assess and track both the extent and condition of tidal wetlands across New Jersey. Consequently, only patchy, obsolete, or inconsistent data are available on current wetland status and trends, despite the importance of such data to decision makers. This lack of information has hampered our collective abilities to provide watershed-scale guidance to managers about protecting and enhancing wetlands on a long-term basis. Monitoring wetland condition is as important as monitoring wetland extent because reduced health is usually a precursor of acreage loss, often occurring en masse during short-term disturbance events, such as storms.

Why is Coastal Wetlands Monitoring Important?

Improved assessment and monitoring of these important habitats will help us to manage water quality by understanding not only how water quality affects marshes but also how tidal wetlands affect water quality. For example, nutrient criteria may need to be more restrictive with continued loss of wetland services.  Most fisheries and shellfisheries are sustained by tidal wetlands, which serve as nursery and foraging areas. Both migratory and resident birds and other wildlife depend on tidal marshes. A better understanding of marsh status and trends will help us to manage key living resources and healthy tidal marshes (especially salt marshes) are imperative as we begin to address the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. 

Fully functioning tidal marshes provide a critical line of defense to our coastal communities and sequester more carbon than any other habitat in our region. Loss of marshes will have a doubling effect on carbon in the atmosphere, because such losses lead to a decrease in future carbon sequestration plus an increase in the carbon dioxide produced as the decaying marsh is metabolized by bacteria. Tidal wetland assessment should help managers prioritize high functioning marshes for protection and restoration, especially if the motivation is for carbon sequestration (i.e., likely to be more beneficial to stem marsh losses than to plant trees.)

National Estuary Programs Filling a Need!

Over the last few years, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) has led an initiative to establish a network of an integrated wetlands monitoring and assessment network in New Jersey.  In 2009, the PDE invited the BBP to expand the wetlands monitoring network into Barnegat Bay. The monitoring project will utilize the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) three-tier wetlands guidance for the development of a monitoring and assessment program. To date, the New Jersey initiative has recieved funding support from the USEPA (Headquarters and Region 2) and pass- through funding from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection's 319 (h) Program and NJ Coastal Management Office.

A Cooperative Endeavor

The BBP and the PDE are closely working together with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, USEPA’s Region 2 and Headquarters Offices of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, US Fish & Wildlife Service and other partners.  This project is a major step forward as part of a larger initiative, the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Wetlands Assessment (MACWA). MACWA is envisioned as a regular, ongoing program that spans the area from coastal New Jersey to coastal Delaware.  MACWA was conceived as a pilot effort by the PDE within the Delaware Estuary to be a part of the National Water Quality Monitoring Network. 

For more information or if you are interested in volunteering on the BBP's New Jersey Coastal Wetlands Monitoring and Assessment Program, contact Martha Maxwell-Doyle (732) 255-0472 or mmdoyle@ocean.edu.