With a large percentage of the world’s citizens sheltering in place, cars off the roads, planes grounded and factories dormant, COVID-19 has already made a measurable impact on the environment. News stories have carried stunning before/after scenes showing some of the world’s most smog-plagued cities in a suddenly far clearer light.
How is the coronavirus affecting New Jersey’s environment? The Monmouth University Urban Coast Institute will convene an expert panel on May 12 to share what their data shows so far, what they expect to see in the near-term, and what lessons the experience can teach us about New Jersey’s environment for the future.
Panelists & Topics
Air Quality: Luis Lim, Chief, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Air Monitoring
Ocean Environment: Josh Kohut, Professor, Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Coastal Lakes, Streams & Estuaries: Jason Adolf, Endowed Associate Professor of Marine Science, Monmouth University
Wildlife: Sean Sterrett, Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology, Monmouth University
Beach Conditions: Kimberly McKenna, Associate Director, Stockton University Coastal Research Center
Moderator: Thomas Herrington, Associate Director, Monmouth University Urban Coast Institute
An open Q&A session for attendees and panelists will be held at the conclusion of presentations.
In early February, news that a weather monitoring station recorded an all-time high temperature reading of 65 degrees in Antarctica stunned the world. Urban Coast Institute Marine Scientist Jim Nickels happened to be there that day – on vacation.
A trip to the South Pole may not be on most people’s short list, but the journey marked the conclusion to a world travel challenge started by his family years earlier. Upon their retirement as Ocean Township school teachers, Dorothy and William Gray, the parents of Nickels’ wife, Debbie, set out to visit all 50 states. After checking them all off the list, they raised their goal to visit every continent. Dorothy and William made it to all but Antarctica before passing away in 2016 and 2015, respectively.
In late January, Jim, Debbie, her sister Karen Gray, and Gray’s son, Eric Ferguson, picked up the baton to complete this last leg of the tour. They brought along some of Dorothy and William’s ashes so it could be said that they had officially been to all seven continents. And they hoisted the Monmouth University flag on Antarctica’s soil – a meaningful gesture for Nickels, a longtime member of the UCI staff; Debbie, who earned an MBA from Monmouth; and the late Dorothy, who attended Monmouth when it was a junior college, returned later for her master’s degree in education, and taught there for several years as an adjunct.
The group flew to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in South America, where they embarked on a 36-hour trip across the Drake Passage, which is notorious for its rough waters and foul weather. The crew hit 15 to 20-foot seas that caused many a fall by passengers onboard, but that wasn’t what bothered Nickels. A proud streak came to an end.
“I’ve spent most of my career going to sea on research and vessels, and this is probably the first and only time in my life I’ve paid to go on a boat ride,” he said. “I’m still a little bitter about that, but I’d go back in a heartbeat.”
Scroll below to view a gallery of images from the trip and read some of Nickels’ observations as a marine scientist on a nine-day tour of the frozen continent.
Signs of climate change abound. Beyond the warm temperatures, which were in the 40 to 60 degree-range during his trip, sea ice floated about in places where it shouldn’t have been. “We saw a lot of glaciers in the area calving off, huge icebergs that were city blocks long and tall. It’s very hard to have a perspective of what you’re looking at because they’re so huge.” Nickels was impressed by the resilience of the wildlife he observed, but worries about the long-term implications for some of the less adaptable animals, like the penguins, which have trouble diving for food when chunks of ice block the waterline.
The water color. The term “crystal clear” is overused but applies in Antarctica. Nickels was exhilarated to watch humpbacks swimming in vivid detail underwater before surfacing. He has been a part of marine expeditions all over the world, but observed, “It’s an unbelievable, vibrant blue color that I’ve never seen before.”
The quiet and size are disorienting. One of the first things you notice about Antarctica is how total the silence is. There are no humans to be seen, no planes flying overhead – a brutally hard yet peaceful setting. “It’s hard to describe the scale and immensity and vastness of it. It looks like the ice and snow go on forever, and you know that for the most part, no one has ever been to the places you’re looking at.”
Monmouth University Professor Randall Abate delivered a presentation titled “Information Is Power: Parallels and Synergies in Animal, Environmental, and Food Law Advocacy” as part of an April 23 Food Systems Summit panel hosted by the City University of New York and Richman Law Group. You can click here to watch a recording of the discussion (free sign-in required).
The inaugural Food Systems Summit was organized to explore creative law and policy strategies to fight fraud in the food industry and advance public health, animal welfare, environmental protection, and economic justice. The objective of the Summit is to harness the most effective legal theories and policy thinking in defense of our food systems, developing new and innovative strategies to propel food advocacy for decades to come.
UCI Associate Director Tom Herrington took part in a Citizen Science Month edition of the public radio show “Science Friday” on April 14. The episode covered the work of the nonprofit ISeeChange, which Herrington recently collaborated with to analyze chronic flooding issues in the barrier island community of Ocean City, New Jersey. Click here to watch the video.
Monmouth University Professor Randall Abate will moderate an online panel on May 12 exploring the themes from the second edition of his 2015 book, What Can Animal Law Learn from Environmental Law? (Environmental Law Institute Press, forthcoming May 2020). The webinar, hosted by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), will run from noon to 1:30 p.m.
The session is free and open to the public but registration is required by May 8. Click here to register or for more information.
As editor of the book, Abate assembled an experienced team of 36 academics, advocates, and legal professionals from the environmental and animal law fields to examine the experiences of these two fields. Drawing on lessons from history, politics, and law, the 29-chapter book examines how environmental law’s successes and shortcomings can inform animal law, and how the two fields can work together to secure mutual gains in the future.
How can animal law learn from environmental law in using creative administrative law theories to align enforcement with express protections? What role does wildlife protection play in mitigating climate change? How can state false advertising statutes be used to combat food industry practices that are simultaneously harmful to animals, human health, and the environment? Join the ELI, expert contributing author panelists, and Abate to explore these issues and more in this interactive workshop.
Panelists: Prof. Randall S. Abate, Rechnitz Family and Urban Coast Institute Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy and Director, Institute for Global Understanding, Monmouth University, Moderator Mackenzie Landa, Environmental Policy Congressional Staffer, U.S. House of Representatives Kim E. Richman, Founding Partner, Richman Law Group Daniel Waltz, Staff Attorney, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Monmouth University Professor Randall Abate spoke about his new book, Climate Change and the Voiceless: Protecting Future Generations, Wildlife, and Natural Resources, in an April 8 webinar hosted by the McGill Journal of Sustainable Development Law. In the book, Abate, Monmouth’s Rechnitz Family/Urban Coast Institute endowed chair in marine and environmental law and policy, considers the impacts of global climate change on future generations, wildlife, and natural resources, and how the law can evolve to protect their interests more effectively.
Monmouth University students Aidan Bodeo-Lomicky, Hannah Craft and Johanna Vonderhorst have been awarded the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) prestigious Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship. Each year, NOAA offers just over 100 of the highly competitive scholarships to students nationwide.
The scholarship was established in 2005 in honor of Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, who was well known for supporting ocean policy and conservation. The Hollings Scholarship includes a two-year academic award, a paid summer internship at any NOAA facility nationwide, and funding for students to present their NOAA research projects at national scientific conferences. The scholarship is open to full-time undergraduates majoring in a NOAA mission field.
Meet the newest Hollings Scholars below.
Year & Major: Sophomore, Marine and Environmental Biology and Policy, Minor in Political Science
What are your career goals? After law school, I plan on working in the field of environmental law and policy, with a specific focus on marine and endangered species issues.
What are your hopes for the experience as a Hollings Scholar? I hope to get an inside look at how marine policy is created and enforced by one of the world’s premier agencies, as well as make lasting connections in the field.
Where would you like to serve your summer internship? I would like to work with NOAA Fisheries, specifically with the Office of Protected Resources at the NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.
Year & Major: Sophomore, Marine and Environmental Biology and Policy and BS Chemistry Double
What are your career goals? After Monmouth, I plan to serve two years in the Peace Corps working in agriculture or environmental needs. After, I will attend a graduate school and work for my master’s. I hope to get a job in marine research studying invertebrates and how they are influenced and will adapt to climate change. I eventually will work for my Ph.D.
What are your hopes for the experience as a Hollings Scholar? Not only do I hope to gain more knowledge about marine research and methods, but I hope to establish connections with scientists at NOAA who can help me reach my future goals. I also hope to establish friendships with other Hollings Scholars and build lasting connections with them.
Where would you like to serve your summer internship? Anywhere on the ocean! I am looking for a lab that will relate to either marine invertebrates or climate change or both! I would like to go to the West Coast as that is where I would like to attend graduate school. I would also be interested in going to Alaska or the Hawaiian Islands.
Year & Major: Sophomore, Chemistry
What are your career goals? After graduating from Monmouth, I anticipate attending law school to study environmental law. Following that, I hope to be able to practice in the expanding field of climate change law to seek justice for those impacted most heavily by the effects of climate change.
What are your hopes for the experience as a Hollings Scholar? Through the Hollings program, I hope to gain valuable hands-on climate research experience that will provide me with firsthand information on the state of the earth’s climate situation that I can carry with me into my legal career. If any research is currently being conducted by NOAA regarding methods of tracing carbon emissions to their original source, I would love to get involved with such a project, as one of the major barriers to climate justice cases is an inability to concretely prove direct causation based on the emissions of a specific entity.
Where would you like to serve your summer internship? I would like to serve my summer internship with NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.
The event assembled leading experts from around the world in the areas of climate change adaptation law and science. The symposium was organized by Rechnitz Family/Urban Coast Institute Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy Randall Abate, who wrote the issue’s introduction.
“With its location just a mile from the ocean, the Monmouth campus offered an ideal setting for a robust discussion of the ‘new normal’ of increased storm events, flooding, sea level rise, and coastal erosion due to climate change and how New Jersey can prepare for the daunting climate adaptation challenges that it faces in the years ahead,” Abate said.
The special symposium issue of the journal contains articles from three of the speakers on pressing climate change adaptation challenges in various contexts. In her article, “Warming Oceans, Coastal Diseases, and Climate Change Public Health Adaptation,” Professor Robin Craig of the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law addresses how a public health-focused, disease risk approach can provide an effective focus for immediate coastal adaptation efforts by addressing real human needs and identifying practical “no regrets” first steps that can advance more general climate adaptation efforts.
Transitioning from U.S.-based to Australia-based coastal climate adaptation challenges, Professor Jan McDonald addresses coastal adaptation planning in her article, “Girt by Sea: Antipodean Lessons in Coastal Adaptation Law.” She observes that there has been significant progress in Australia with precautionary planning and adaptive decision-making. Although entrenched interests continue to favor coastal development and protection of vulnerable property, she notes that these special interests appear to be loosening their grip on coastal adaptation policy.
Finally, in his article, “Envisioning Nature’s Right to a Stable Climate System,” Grant Wilson, Esq., executive director and directing attorney of the Earth Law Center, offers an introduction to rights of nature principles and their potential to help address climate change. He first notes emerging climate change threats and underscores the failure of international law to adequately address climate change. He then argues that the rights of nature movement can serve as a useful tool to address climate change, such as by giving nature a voice at climate change negotiations.
Speaker videos, presentations, bios and other event materials can be found at https://www.monmouth.edu/climate-coasts-communities/. The symposium was hosted by the UCI and Monmouth University’s Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Science, Office of the Provost, Global Education Office, Department of Political Science and Sociology, and Youth Activists Group.
Monmouth University master’s degree candidate Jaclyn Urmey (right) and Stockton University Adjunct Professor Steve Nagiewicz scan Crosswicks Creek in February.
It was the winter of 1777-78 and Gen. George Washington was determined to prevent a critical hour for the Revolution from becoming all the more perilous. The British had just taken Philadelphia and with it control of the lower Delaware River and its maritime supply routes. Now Washington worried the British Navy would seize the modest fleet of merchant ships that had been converted to serve the Continental cause. From his headquarters in Valley Forge, he ordered the ships to be hidden in the creeks that fed the Delaware or destroyed rather than risk them being turned against his army.
A contemplative Washington at Valley Forge.
“We can reap no advantage from keeping the Gallies, cannon and stores in such an exposed situation; and if they should fall into the hands of the enemy, which they would in all probability do; the gallies would be useful to them, and the cannon and stores would be no inconsiderable loss to us,” Washington wrote to the Pennsylvania Navy, a forerunner of America’s own.
According to historical documents, dozens of vessels were destroyed by the Continentals and the Redcoats during those months in the vicinity of Crosswicks Creek, located 20 miles north of Philadelphia in modern day Bordentown and Hamilton. When the French entered the war in the spring, the British hurriedly evacuated Philadelphia to bolster the defenses of vulnerable New York City. Washington’s troops took advantage of the moment to pull up many of the wrecks and rebuild them for service. But not all.
In the 200 years that followed, small sections of one of those wrecks remained visible in Crosswicks Creek during low tides. However, its remains continued to sink in the mud and erode from the elements, and no signs of it had been recorded since the area was surveyed for highway and bridge projects in the 1980s. But the lost wreck has now been found, thanks to the efforts of Jaclyn Urmey, a Monmouth University master’s degree candidate in anthropology.
The search for the historic vessel took on special significance for Urmey, a Naval veteran and social worker at Joint Air Force Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. When Urmey returned to school in 2018 on her GI Bill, she took a marine archaeology course taught jointly by School of Humanities and Social Sciences Associate Dean Richard Veit and Urban Coast Institute Marine Scientist Jim Nickels.
“When I took that class, I fell in love with it and said, that’s what I want to do,” she said. “I never really considered it as a field of study for me before.”
Locating the Wreck
For her thesis, Urmey interviewed regional historians and pored over historical accounts from civilians living in the area and soldiers who fought on both sides of the war in an attempt to learn more about the vessel. Urmey, Veit and Nickels conducted trips to the creek in November and February to map and photograph the bottom aboard boats owned by the University. The UCI has provided funding as well as equipment, vessel and technical support for the project. In the February trip, Stockton University Marine Science Adjunct Professor Steve Nagiewicz joined the crew with additional technology that helped survey the area.
A side-scan sonar image of the vessel remains. The shadowing in the area of the crosshatch indicates where timbers from the vessel hull are protruding from the creek bottom.
The wreck is located in an area where Crosswicks Creek meets a smaller tributary called Thorton Creek. Side scan sonar imagery (right) shows what appears to be frame timbers from the hull of the approximately 42-foot vessel protruding from a sandbar area in the creek. Urmey estimates only 15% of the ship is still intact.
Based on the wreck’s position close to where the creek meets the Delaware River and signs of charcoal that were discovered in its remains, Urmey believes it was deliberately burned. She said the vessel may have been carrying supplies and fleeing from the British during a two-day raid in May of 1778, ran aground on the sandbar, and was destroyed in place by the British before the Colonials had a chance to hide it.
Urmey’s report also includes information about a second, better-documented wreck located 1,000 feet upstream. Historical records and evidence at the scene indicate the vessel was an approximately 67-foot merchant ship, built for ocean service, that was hidden in the area and sunk by the British during the same raid. She estimated the wreck to be about 60% intact.
Major Philemon Dickinson sent a dispatch to Washington describing the invasion soon after. “With five armed Vessells [sic], & between twenty and thirty flat bottom’d Boats – [British forces] landed at Bordentown & burnt two of Mr Bordens Houses, the two Frigates, & a great Number of other Vessells that were lodged in the different Creeks.”
UCI Marine Scientist Jim Nickels guides a Monmouth University boat on Crosswicks Creek.
Another source indicated that upon the British approaching, “two Continental galleys lying near the town [Bordentown] were moved up Crosswicks Creek about a half-mile and an attempt made to conceal them in Bard’s (Barges) Creek. One of them was towed up the creek, but the other grounded near its mouth thus revealing their presence. The enemy sent several armed boats up and boarded and burnt them.”
Veit, Urmey and Nickels would like to return to the site during an extreme low tide to see if the wrecks are still visible by eye and conduct drone work.
“One of the nice things about Jacky’s thesis is that it’s bringing this story to light,” Veit said. “It’s a different aspect of the Revolution. You think of Trenton and Princeton and all the terrestrial battles, but there’s a huge naval component to it. It speaks to the Unites States as a young nation trying to build some naval capability in the face of Great Britain, which had the largest and most accomplished Navy on the planet.”