200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 112: “Water Quality in New Jersey ”

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wetlands, open water and waterfront development on Bargnegat Bay, New jersey
A view of open water, wetlands vegetation, and shorefront development in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey.

Water Quality in New Jersey

For more than 75 years, the Academy’s Patrick Center for Environmental Research has used diatoms (a type of microscopic algae) to determine the health of rivers and streams. This work has become even more relevant recently, as our Phycology Department works with New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) to assess overall water quality in the state's rivers, lakes, streams, and bays. Excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which enter the water through runoff from fertilizers or other pollutants, can trigger algae blooms that disrupt the ecological balance of a water body. To protect the watershed from these blooms, our phycologists are working with the NJ DEP to develop a plan to integrate the use of diatoms as water quality indicators into the state’s regular water quality monitoring. If New Jersey adopts these standards, the state would become one of the first to use diatoms and algae in this innovative way.

Academy phycologists also are working with researchers from area science institutions to help the NJ DEP restore and enhance New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay. They are part of the first-ever, bay-wide water quality monitoring network that is gathering data from the bay and its tributaries on pollutants, sources of pollutants, and the effects of water flow on the bay’s health. This work resulted from Governor Chris Christie’s 10-point Comprehensive Barnegat Bay Restoration Plan, which calls for a variety of strategies to reduce pollution to the bay. In collaboration with the NJ DEP and New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, Patrick Center phycologists are tracing nutrients back hundreds of years to search for biologically-defensible nutrient criteria for New Jersey’s bays. They also are tracing the linkages between nutrients, phytoplankton (microscopic plants that form the base of the food web), and harmful algae blooms, and they are working to understand how wetlands can prevent algae blooms and the harmful conditions they cause.

Find out more about how our scientists are working to monitor wetland health in New Jersey.

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