Speaker Gives a Primer on Coastal Stewardship

By Eric Englund | Sep 25, 2019
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Stafford Township — In the 1950s, Ocean County had a year-round population of 45,000. Today, the county is home to 500,000 permanent residents, and more than a million people during the summer tourist season.

All this building boom and population growth over the decades came at an ecological price, according to Rick Bushnell, founder and president of ReClam the Bay.

“The infrastructure could not handle this development,” he said. “As a result, you had all this storm water runoff going in the bay. Whatever happens on land will eventually find its way into the water.”

He pointed to a saying on one of his slides: “If you litter in the street, you might as well litter in the ocean.”

On Sept. 20, Bushnell spoke at a program titled “Shellfish Restoration and Responsible Stewardship of Marine Resources” at the Stafford Branch of the Ocean County Library. He was subbing for the originally scheduled speaker, Douglas Zemeckis, who heads up the Barnegat Bay Shellfish Restoration Program with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service. The presentation was held in conjunction with “Water/Ways,” a Smithsonian traveling exhibit, running through Sept. 29 at the main library branch in Toms River.

Bushnell said overdevelopment has sent nutrients – in particular, nitrogen – seeping from septic systems and fertilized lawns, as well as from the atmosphere itself, into the fragile ecosystem, allowing algae to thrive to the detriment of other species. When large mats of macro-algae die, oxygen is depleted from the water, creating dead zones where life cannot exist.

In collaboration with the Barnegat Bay Shellfish Restoration Program, ReClam the Bay has replenished the shellfish population with upwellers, 550-gallon tanks that are 12- to 14-feet long and 4-feet wide. Volunteers help the nonprofit organization raise baby clams and other shellfish in these facilities.

Six of the group’s 10 upwellers are located on Long Beach Island: at the old Coast Guard station on Pelham Avenue and the Little Egg Harbor Yacht Club in Beach Haven, Brant Beach Yacht Club and the St. Francis Community Center in Brant Beach, the Surf City Yacht Club and the Barnegat Light boat ramp. The six facilities combine to raise an average of one million baby shellfish a year.

“A major part of ReClam the Bay is education, and the upwellers help serve as a teaching tool,” said Bushnell. “We stress the importance of a clean bay because shellfish filter a lot of water. “Clams will go through 20 to 25 gallons of water per day while an oyster is around 50.”

He said ReClam the Bay looks to involve the general public “so they will understand that the quality of the water in our estuary and the quality of the shellfish we eat are really their responsibility.”

“By involving the public in the care, feeding and life cycle of these fragile creatures, we believe that our citizens will better understand how working with the shellfish can help to clean up our environment and keep it clean,” the group said.

Bushnell said that in the spring, Rutgers Cooperative Extension offers a Coastal Stewardship (formerly known as Shellfish Gardening) course. Its focus is about “the wise utilization and responsible management of our coastal marine resources.” The course educates students on the impacts that human activities have on the health of the coastal ecosystem. Following that, they’ll learn how they can get involved to help the health of the bay and its watershed.

He said ReClam the Bay also works with the Barnegat Bay Partnership (formerly the Barnegat Bay National Estuary Program), a partnership of federal, state, municipal, academic, business and private organizations that work together with the communities of the Barnegat Bay watershed to help restore, protect and enhance the water quality and natural resources of the Barnegat Bay and its watershed. The organization is based at Ocean County College.

“They give us updates on the water quality conditions,” Bushnell said.

— Eric Englund




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