Scientists at the Seashore

July 23, 2012

Patrick Center scientist Will Whalon prepares sediment corer in Barnegat Bay
Academy field biologist Will Whalon prepares a corer to collect a sediment sample in Barnegat Bay near Toms River, N.J. Credit: Roger Thomas/ANSP

While thousands of beach lovers are flocking to the Jersey Shore this summer for sun and fun, Academy researchers are heading to Seaside Heights, Beach Haven, and Mantoloking for a different reason.

Scientists with the Patrick Center for Environmental Research are busy taking sediment cores, collecting water samples, and examining microscopic organisms as part of a large water quality study of Barnegat Bay. The 75-square-mile bay area is home to a variety of habitats including wetlands and waterfowl nesting areas, seagrass and shellfish beds, and shallow-water fishing grounds. Besides being an ecological treasure, the area is a popular recreation and tourist destination.

Since the 1950s, increased development and other land-use changes have contributed to the loss of these environmentally valuable areas, which are critical for the overall health of the bay. Results of the Academy’s study, funded by the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, will help provide a more complete understanding of the bay’s current condition so officials can set policies to protect it.

Drs. David Velinsky and Tracy Quirk are examining how the loss of wetlands affects the removal of harmful nitrogen and phosphorus. Collaborating with researchers at the University of North Carolina, they are collecting sediment samples from salt marshes along the bay to measure the rates of nutrient removal from the sediments. The results of these tests will help set future water quality standards.

In another project, Dr. Mihaela Enache is using sediment algal remains (diatoms) to determine just how much humans have impacted the water quality. To reach this goal, she first has to determine whether there is a relationship among algal (diatom) communities taken from surface sediments, water quality characteristics, and land use. Surface sediments and water samples are being collected from about 100 sites within the Barnegat and Great Bay systems. The results of the diatom community analyses will allow resource managers to identify sources of pollution and establish parameters for long-term monitoring.

Dr. Ling Ren is studying the bay’s phytoplankton, microscopic plantlike organisms that are essential food sources for zooplankton, bivalves, and many species of fish. Ren is examining the effects of nutrient enrichment and other stressors on the development of the phytoplankton community, especially on brown tides and other harmful algal blooms. Working with Rutgers University scientists, she also is studying the effects of phytoplankton community composition on the survival and growth of the larva of hard clams in Barnegat Bay.

To learn more about the Patrick Center’s environmental research, visit The Academy at 200: The Nature of Discovery, a special Bicentennial exhibit on view through March 2013. Also, explore the Patrick Center online.

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