My dad’s favorite fishing spots were the backwaters of Brigantine, a series of coves, thoroughfares and channels connected to Absecon Bay and Reed Bay to the west and Little Bay and Great Bay to the north. Great Bay shares many of the same ecological features with Barnegat Bay, both vital estuaries on the Jersey Shore. The Wikipedia article about Great Bay states that it “is part of the New Jersey back barrier lagoon system, and the resources here are similar to those found in the Barnegat Bay complex to the north and the Brigantine Bay and Marsh complex to the south.”
During Stockton University’s 33rd Annual Pinelands Short Course on March 12th, I attended a program about Barnegat Bay presented by Karen Walzer, Public Outreach Coordinator at Barnegat Bay Partnership, entitled Water and Wildlife: Pine Barrens to Barnegat Bay.
Karen described Barnegat Bay as a series of barrier islands, which are really “giant sandbars,” where the freshwater of the pinelands mingled with the salt water of the Atlantic ocean, creating a brackish ecosystem of tidal wetlands and salt marshes. Noting the threat of rising sea level, she highlighted the importance of wetlands as a buffer between the bay and nearby homes, protecting them from flooding and storm surge.
She also discussed the impact of pollution caused by overdevelopment and fertilizer runoff. Algae blooms, unhealthy growth of algae fueled by pollution, killed sea life. A Rutgers University study released in 2012 reported that Barnegat Bay’s ecosystem was “highly stressed due to decades of nitrogen and phosphorus entering the waterway from lawns, parking lots and driveways and sewer system overflows” and would “continue to decline unless development and stormwater runoff into the bay are reduced.”
The end of Karen’s presentation focused on ways to protect and restore Barnegat Bay. Rain barrels, rain gardens, and green infrastructure mimicking nature help protect against runoff. Because shellfish such as scallops, oysters, and clams filter and clean water, efforts to control overharvesting, restore oyster reefs, and increase populations are underway.
The Mullica River – Great Bay Estuary
The Mullica River empties into Great Bay, forming the heart of the Mullica River – Great Bay Estuary. In contrast to Barnegat Bay, however, this estuary falls into protected land with restricted development resulting in a sparser human population, making it “the cleanest estuary in the northeastern United States and one of the cleanest ” on the East Coast. This seems especially remarkable given its close proximity to the bustle and bright lights of Atlantic City.