Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Health of the Ocean

Take a deep breath. Now take another deep breath. The oxygen you inhaled for your second breath came from the ocean. The ocean is a gift to all of us as it provides 70% of the world’s oxygen according to National Geographic. Specifically, phytoplankton, tiny organisms found at the water’s surface, are responsible for producing much of the air we breathe. As you can see, the health of the ocean directly affects us and, unfortunately, the ocean is under the weather.

Our planet is warming, with 2015 officially the hottest year ever recorded. A warming planet leads to a warming ocean, which leads to many harmful and life threatening affects. These affects include, coral bleaching or ‘whitening’ of coral, rising ocean temperatures, and ocean acidification. The ocean has already lost around 40% of its coral reefs. Coral reefs are vitally important for the ocean ecosystem, supporting a quarter of all marine life. Loss of coral reefs affects the ocean’s food chain and the food supply for many nations who depend on the fishing industry. 

Researchers have also found that the ocean is absorbing over 90% of heat energy generated by manmade greenhouse gas emissions.  This accelerates the warming of the waters and warm water holds less oxygen.

As more carbon dioxide is spewed into the atmosphere, the ocean is becoming more acidic. The increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is being absorbed by the ocean and converted into carbonic acid, creating a highly acidic ocean. This increase in acidity is threatening the ocean, especially shellfish. Studies have shown that the shells of tiny snails are dissolving because of the amount of acid in the water.

Although the future may look grim and the issues seem too manage, we can and must be a part of the solution. Our everyday actions greatly impact our planet and the ocean. From the food we eat to the amount we drive. It is important to share information about solutions with family, friends, co-workers, on social media, and as far and wide as you can. If you are already using reusable water bottles, bags, and utensils, take it to the next level - drive less, eat less meat, get involved in your local community and with politics.

When Mother Nature is sick, it is our duty to nurse her back to health. As Cindy Zipf, Executive Director of Clean Ocean Action, once said, “What’s not to love about the ocean? It’s resilient. If you give the ocean a chance to heal, it can come back. That’s a powerful message for all of us.’’

Terrapins Saved for the Season

 The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has immediately closed the commercial harvest season for the northern diamondback terrapins based on overharvesting concerns. The diamondback terrapin has not been listed as threatened or endangered in New Jersey; its status is listed as ‘decreasing’. Due to an increase in demand from out-of-state aquaculture operations and overseas food markets, terrapin harvesting has been on the rise.

The diamondback terrapin is the only species of turtle that lives in the brackish waters of New Jersey’s coastal marshes and estuaries. Past COA Board of Trustees member John Wnek and current Board member Jeff Martin have both worked on terrapin issues for years. They have dedicated their time to protecting, rescuing, and releasing the diamondback terrapin, as well as coordinating education programs about the turtle’s importance in the ecosystem. This harvesting closure is an important step in protecting the diamondback terrapin, ensuring the population remains healthy and thrives.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Galloway Township Achieves Blue Star Scores Big and Sets Record for Water Quality

On January 19th, COA awarded Galloway Township, NJ with their Municipal Blue Star Certificate at a ceremony at Town Hall to recognize their efforts to improve water quality. Galloway Township sets a record for achieving the highest score and joins fellow Blue Star Municipalities, Wall Township and Long Beach Township. Since the program was launched in September of 2014, three towns have been awarded the certificate and COA has engaged with over 20 towns to obtain Blue Star Certification.

The Municipal Blue Star program combines the visionary Sustainable Jersey Program with Clean Ocean Action’s focus on water quality protection. The Program encourages communities to promote healthy waters, resilient communities, and environmentally sound practices. To achieve Blue Star Award status, a municipality must target “Blue Star” actions for 50% of their total Sustainable Jersey points.

Galloway Township exceeded the necessary 150 points needed to attain certification by completing 234 points. Examples of the actions that they completed include water conservation education program, i-Tree assessment of municipal trees, and reusable bag education program. In addition to Sustainable Jersey projects, towns are required to choose one of Clean Ocean Action additional actions which are, climate adaption for flooding risk, innovative water quality project, model storm water control ordinance for municipalities, plastic bag fee or ban, or storm water utility support resolution. Galloway Township passed a Stormwater Utility Support Resolution on October 13, 2015.  

Galloway Township has been a pioneer in their region for sustainability work and planning for resilience and it is influencing success in their neighboring towns which ultimately is in the best interest of the watershed and estuary. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What’s Up with Water in New Jersey?

                People have a complex relationship with water. We swim in it and recreate on it, fish from it and withdraw huge amounts from rivers and coastal waters for industrial use and drinking water. At the same time, we discharge millions of gallons of wastewater right back into those waterways and waterbodies. Continued population and development pressures, coupled with the present and future impacts of climate change, threaten the quality and abundance of this most essential resource. Unfortunately, New Jersey has done a poor job in planning and regulating these issues. As a result, NJ is losing hard won progress and is actively backsliding on water quality protections.

This past year was one of the driest on record for New Jersey, with nearly one-fifth (located mostly in Central and Northeastern) of the state classified in a moderate drought and nearly 90 percent of the state listed as abnormally dry.[1] These low water levels stress ecosystems and drinking water supplies. This ‘trend’ extends back several years, and, with the ever more apparent effects of a warming climate, foreshadows a new normal. As our own NJDEP has stated, “[d]espite a trend toward more precipitation, the Northeast is seeing longer periods without rainfall and longer growing seasons. The result is a drier growing season, especially during the summer months, when temperatures and evapotranspiration are highest. This summer’s drying trend is exacerbated by reduced recharge from spring snowmelt. New Jersey has experienced one severe water-supply drought (2001-2002) and three minor ones (2005, 2006 and 2010) in the last decade.”[2] Even now, the NJDEP Drought Information website shows “a Drought Watch remains in place in the Northeast, Central, and Coastal North Water Supply Regions. . .  Substantial rainfall will be needed over the coming months to restore water supply reserves in preparation for the high-demand season that beings in May.”[3] Yet, NJDEP has neglected the critical tasks of inventorying and managing this precious resource, as the current Water Supply Master Plan (WSMP) is 20 years old and 15 years overdue, despite widespread protest and opposition from elected officials and environmental organizations.[4]

The WSMP inventories the amounts of surface and underground drinking water in the State and compares it to the amounts withdrawn for residents, business, power production, and farming in order to achieve a balance between development, water withdrawals, and environmental health. Overdevelopment and an expanding population creates more impervious surface, which inhibits rainwater from percolating into the ground to recharge aquifers and increases water withdrawals, putting our groundwater resources at risk.[5] Without a master plan in place, New Jersey could face severe water shortages into the future.

Furthermore, building in low lying areas, much of which acts as a buffer to absorb run off and storm surge, should be discouraged due to climate change impacts of sea level rise, extended dry periods (which dry out soil and decrease its ability to absorb rain) followed by heavy rain events, and increased frequency of storm events.[6] Yet, in the past year, New Jersey has amended two essential sets of regulations protecting critical coastal and riparian areas that buffer and protect communities from flood waters and absorb nutrients and pollutants before they reach waterbodies. NJDEP consolidated a patchwork of coastal development regulations and ‘streamlined’ it into what is known as the Coastal Zone Management Rules (CZMR). These changes enable even more development in vulnerable coastal areas through a myriad of measures, including easing the process for getting waterfront building permits and enabling larger upland development in the coastal zone.[7] The Flood Hazard Area Control Act (FHACA) establishes buffer distances for streams and rivers, and addresses how we develop in these riparian and coastal areas. These regulations have also been ‘streamlined, which in effect, removes protective waterway designations, and allows increased and unmonitored development in essential riparian, coastal, and wetland habitat.[8]

NJDEP is also in the process of ‘updating’ its Water Quality Management Planning regulations (WQMP).[9] These rules are required for New Jersey to meet its obligations under the Federal Clean Water Act, and determine, among other things, the cumulative water resource impacts of future development, how to manage and restore existing water quality impairments, and how NJ expects to maintain existing water quality.  However, simply put, NJDEP’s proposed updates to the WQMP are damaging to water quality protection, and allow for increased development and associated water quality impacts from sewers, wastewater treatment plants, and runoff in coastal areas.

Overall, New Jersey has a holistic and systemic problem. Development in coastal and riparian areas is continuing unabated, even as the public safety, economic, ecosystem, and water quality impacts of this type of development become clear (FHACA, and CZMR). New Jersey continues to use vast amounts of surface and ground water for drinking, industry, and agriculture, even while drought continues to impact our region (WSMP). New Jersey is also failing to safeguard the water quality gains made in the past, and is failing to properly plan for the future impacts of development on these gains (WQMP).

Stream and groundwater withdrawals, wastewater and industrial discharges, and development in coastal and riparian habitat are continuing unrestricted. Poor integration among these regulations and a lack of planning for future population increases and development will stress ecosystems, put human health at risk, and is a dangerous and unsustainable path into an uncertain climate future.

New Jersey’s water protection laws and planning are heading in the wrong direction. Clean water for drinking, swimming, fishing, and agriculture is invaluable.  Clean Ocean Action will continue to fight for clean water, and encourages the public to engage with us to protect this most basic and essential resource. Follow our social media for important updates and action alerts, call or email your elected officials and speak up for water quality and habitat protections, and align your lifestyle and consumption patterns with low impact and environmentally friendly values.

[2] Climate Change in New Jersey: Temperature, Precipitation, Extreme Events and Sea Level, NJDEP, available at
[5] According to preliminary research by the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC), more water is being taken out than is being replenished in one of our major aquifers, the Kirkwood-Cohansey in South Jersey. That aquifer, which runs beneath southern Monmouth County and all of Ocean County, supplies drinking water to approximately 3 million of New Jersey’s 9 million residents.