Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Time in the Lab

Have you ever wondered what happens to those plastic bottles and bags you see on the side of the road while you’re driving? Or have you asked yourself how these items can possibly harm a sea turtle or a fish? This summer in the lab, I am researching these questions and more. My name is Katie Veasey, I am a rising junior at Hamilton College majoring in Environmental Studies, and I became interested in the plastic pollution epidemic at a young age, by participating in COA's Beach Sweeps. As COA’s Marine Science Intern, I will be applying my knowledge of environmental science and chemistry to help determine how much plastic is out there that we are not seeing and the detrimental impacts it has on our marine environment.

Once we discard our plastic, we don't think twice about it. Unfortunately, it never really goes away - whether it's in a landfill, the ocean, or in the stomach of a whale, plastic does not biodegrade. Rather, it photodegrades when it is in the environment. When the plastic is exposed to the sun's rays and is agitated from water movement, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that fish and other marine animals can collect and then consume. Other than being harmful to marine life by being confused as food, plastics carry high concentrations of toxic chemicals called Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) (Frias et al. 2010). These include PCBs, DDTs, and flame retardants- in other words, not anything you want in your food.

 Clean Ocean Action has launched a research initiative to quantify the presence and abundance of these plastics at our beaches along the Jersey Shore. From Sandy Hook to Cape May, we are analyzing sand and water samples, looking for microplastics polluting these ecologically important areas. Further steps in the study include assessing visible microplastics along the coast and documenting microplastics in New Jersey’s low-trophic level coastal fishes, while promoting citizen action. As COA's Marine Science Intern, I am working on analyzing the samples that have already been processed and helping to process the remaining sand samples. I will be working with the Principal Investigators of this study, Catie Tobin of Clean Ocean Action, Beth Sharack of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Marine Academy of Science and Technology (MAST) seniors Bobby McLaughlin and Nicolette Runko throughout the summer.

 Follow my blog series throughout the summer for updates from the lab as we discover these microplastics!

Click here for the full overview of our research project: http://cleanoceanaction.org/index.php?id=824

Friday, July 24, 2015

Inaugural Blue Star Award Presented to Long Beach Township

Clean Ocean Action’s Municipal Blue Star Program was established in 2014 to encourage towns in coastal regions and beyond to prioritize water quality protection measures, while achieving Sustainable Jersey Certification. The Sustainable Jersey program is an action and point-based certification for municipalities in New Jersey that want to go green, reduce costs, and take steps to improve their quality of life over the long term. These two programs encourage communities to promote healthy waters, resilient communities, and environmentally sound practices.

On Friday, July 24th, Clean Ocean Action awarded the first of two inaugural Clean Ocean Action Municipal Blue Star Certifications to Long Beach Township, NJ, to recognize their effort to improve water quality. Long Beach Township has been a pioneer in their region for sustainability work and planning for resiliency. They are influencing success in their neighboring towns, which ultimately is in the best interest of the watershed and estuary.

Long Beach Township achieved 140 of the necessary 75 points to attain the Municipal Blue Star certification. Examples of the actions that they completed include Community Education & Outreach, Education for Sustainability Programs, Rain Garden Installation, and Recycling Education & Enforcement. In addition to Sustainable Jersey projects, towns are required to choose one of COA’s additional actions. Long Beach Township completed the Climate Adaptation: Flooding Risk action. Outcomes from this project include infrastructure upgrades for water and sewer piping, as well as finalized plans to rebuild all pump stations above base flood levels to avoid storm damage and shut downs.

COA will be awarding Wall Township, the second of the two inaugural towns, in a ceremony on Wednesday, August 26th at 7:30pm at the Municipal Building. Congratulation to our Blue Star inductees!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Shark River: The Dredge Debate

Ask anyone who has piloted a boat through Shark River and they will tell you how shallow and dangerous it can be, especially around low tide. For the last two decades, local, state, and federal officials, as well as concerned citizens, have been working on a feasible plan that will make Shark River navigable once again.

Everyone agrees that dredging is necessary. Where opinions differ is how much dredging should take place, where the dredged material will be dried out, and ultimately, where it will be managed. In such a densely populated area, how towns choose to handle dredge material has become the proverbial stick in the mud. However, there is finally some hope.

This past month the NJ Department of Transportation, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the Towns of Neptune and Belmar have come together with local and state law makers to come up with a dredging plan for the 105,000 cubic yards of material clogging Shark River’s state-managed channels. One of the temporary management areas is on Seaview Island, which was a dredged material disposal area until 30 years ago. Understandably, some residents are concerned while others are supportive of the much-needed dredging project. The good news is that the material tested clean by meeting the residential direct contact standards. The material will be placed at the Monmouth County landfill to be used beneficially.

This has the potential to vastly improve navigability for boaters, while also minimizing impacts to the environment and the surrounding area. Clean Ocean Action has closely followed these developments and will continue to work closely with those involved to facilitate the successful completion of the project.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

National Ocean Policy 5 Years Later

In July of 2010, the Obama Administration ordered the creation of a National Ocean Council to oversee the implementation of his National Ocean Policy (NOP) to connect the decision making processes of state and federal agencies in a collaborative and streamlined process, while creating an opportunity for citizen, private industry, and eNGO advisory input.

Clean Ocean Action has tried to ensure that NOP offered a true participatory process for the communities whose livelihoods depend upon a clean ocean and bear the brunt of the many uses of our ocean and coastal area. Since the inception of NOP, COA has remained outspoken in support of the citizens who live in these areas, and for the health and wellbeing of the ocean itself.

So what has been accomplished on the 5 year anniversary of the NOP? Our blog has a more in depth analysis, however, the short answer is this: even as cooperation and collaboration between agencies has improved, and the body of science and research for which to make decisions has grown, the participatory process we advocated for so stridently is deficient to say the least. The actions of the Obama Administration speak louder than any policy could. The waters of the mid-Atlantic have been opened to oil and gas exploration, the Arctic has been opened to oil drilling, and offshore LNG terminals threaten our coastlines. There is a continued push for development in the most fragile and vulnerable portions of our coastal areas, and the ocean ecosystem we take for granted is showing multiple signs of collapse. COA will continue to engage the policymakers and bureaucracy it encounters throughout the NOP process, and advocate loudly on behalf of the oceans’ health, first and foremost.