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Urban Coast Institute

Sept. 14 Panel to Focus on Stormwater Pollution and Local Watersheds

 

Members of the public are invited to join a free expert panel discussion on how stormwater pollution and flooding affects the health of local water bodies. The event is being hosted by the Whale Pond Brook Watershed Association in partnership with Clean Ocean Action, the Long Branch Green Team, the Monmouth University Urban Coast Institute, and the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Sophie Glovier, municipal policy specialist for the Watershed Institute, will discuss steps residents can take to combat stormwater runoff pollution in their towns.

Dr. Jason Adolf, Monmouth University endowed associate professor in marine science, will share observations from current research on the linkages between rainfall and microbial pollution at surfing beaches near outflow pipes and storm drains in Asbury Park, Deal and Long Branch. He will also share findings from the Coastal Lakes Observing Network (CLONet) project, in which Adolf and Monmouth students are working with citizen scientists to study water quality in Lake Takanassee, Deal Lake, Sunset Lake, Wesley Lake, Sylvan Lake, Lake Como and Spring Lake.

For more information or questions, contact Faith Teitelbaum at faithteitel@gmail.com. Attendees will be provided a link to the webinar upon registering.

Monmouth Hosts Expert Panel on Climate Change Harms, Accountability

Monmouth University, the Center for Climate Integrity and the Union of Concerned Scientists hosted an Aug. 19 online panel on whether fossil fuel industry and corporate polluters could be held legally accountable for harms caused by climate change. Over 300 registered for the event, which was moderated by Monmouth University Rechnitz Family/Urban Coast Institute Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy Randall Abate.

Panelists included Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science with the Union of Concerned Scientists Climate & Energy Program; Nathaly Agosto Filión, chief sustainability officer, City of Newark; and Marco Simons, general counsel, EarthRights International. Opening remarks were delivered by New Jersey State Sen. Joseph Cryan.

Click here to read a recap of the discussions from the Center for Climate Integrity blog and here for biographies of the speakers (PDF).

Who Lives in the Lower Hudson-Raritan Estuary? Comparing Net Results, Genetics

Professors Jason Adolf, Keith Dunton, and John Tiedemann are taking the Census. Clipboards in hand, they and a crew of student researchers stop by some of the Monmouth County Bayshore’s most diverse neighborhoods, collecting information that will help build a clearer picture of who lives there. On this day, we learn the area has high populations of Northern pufferfish, squid, butterfish, sea robins and spider crabs.

The team also has a way to learn about those who weren’t seen at the time of the visit. Water samples taken at the scene will be lab tested for trace genetic material, known as environmental DNA (eDNA), that can identify marine organisms which may or may not have been caught in their nets.

“You ask the question, do the fish that I saw in the trawl match the fish that the DNA sequence turns up?” said Adolf, endowed associate professor of marine science at Monmouth University. “Do the phytoplankton that I saw in the microscope match the phytoplankton that the DNA sequences turn up? Do the benthic invertebrates that we caught in the grab sampler match what we saw in the DNA?”

The answers will not only yield important information about marine life in Sandy Hook and Raritan bays, but for Monmouth University’s continuing exploration on the utility of eDNA as a tool for taking inventories of ecosystem fisheries and wildlife.

On Aug. 11, Adolf, students Skyler Post and Bryce McCall, Tiedemann, Dunton and UCI Marine Scientist Jim Nickels sampled six sites from the tip of Sandy Hook to the mouth of the Raritan River. Although only a few miles apart, the habitats at these stations can vary widely. The Lower Hudson-Raritan Estuary (to which Sandy Hook and Raritan bays belong) experiences a constant intermixing of saltwater, suburban rivers like the Navesink and Shrewsbury, industrially developed bodies such as the Arthur Kill and Hudson River, and numerous other New York-New Jersey tributaries. The floor at some stations are sandy, while others are muddy or rocky.

Thalassiosira phytoplankton from Sandy Hook Bay

In addition to marine life data, the team records oceanographic parameters such as salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, clarity, and phytoplankton biomass. Each can be indicators of the general health of the waters. Through the day’s sampling, the group learned of a large phytoplankton bloom centered along the transect between Raritan Bay and the tip of Sandy Hook, and hypoxic bottom waters (waters without sufficient oxygen to support most marine life) toward the western portion of the transect.

The water samples for eDNA analysis are run through filters, frozen and handed over to UCI Marine Genetics Faculty Fellow Megan Phifer-Rixey for analysis. This semester, she and students Cameron Gaines and Lilia Crew will extract the DNA and compare it to a database of genetic barcodes for other organisms, looking for matches.

“There’s usually quite a bit of DNA in the water samples we get from the trawls,” Phifer-Rixey said. “There’s a lot of life out there.”

With grant funding from the Achelis & Bodman Foundation, the project’s principal investigators, Adolf, Dunton and Phifer-Rixey, will conduct a half-dozen research cruises through the fall of 2021 at the same locations, building a foundation of data that can be used to detect important trends over time. Adolf said he’d like to continue the work well beyond the grant period so Monmouth will one day have decades of this data to draw upon.

“A time series is like a garden. You start small, you hope for something, and over time you watch it produce more and more results,” Adolf said. “I’d like to do six cruises per year for the rest of my career at Monmouth. This generates the kind of data needed to understand the effects of climate and anthropogenic change on marine systems, and provides ongoing opportunities for Monmouth students to become involved in established research projects.”

Click here to view an album of photos from the cruise. For more on eDNA, see the proceedings of the National Conference on Marine Environmental DNA hosted by Rockefeller University Program for the Human Environment and the UCI. 

Expert Panel to Discuss Legal Accountability for N.J. Climate Damages Aug. 19

Register now for the free online panel event “Accountability for Climate Change Harms in New Jersey: Scientific, Legal and Policy Perspectives,” to be held from 3-4:15 p.m. on Aug. 19. The expert panel discussion is being organized by the Climate Integrity Project, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Monmouth University.

This event is intended to educate the state’s legal and policy communities and the public on local climate impacts and associated costs now facing communities and taxpayers, and to initiate a dialogue on the growing trend of climate damages litigation in the U.S. Panelists will discuss the extent of climate harms in New Jersey as well as the scientific basis for holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for them. Panelists will also offer legal and community perspectives on damages litigation as a means to shift some of the burden from taxpayers to polluters.

The discussion will be moderated by Monmouth University Rechnitz Family/Urban Coast Institute Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy Randall Abate. Panel members will include Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science with the Union of Concerned Scientists Climate & Energy Program; Nathaly Agosto Filión, chief sustainability officer, City of Newark; and Marco Simons, general counsel, EarthRights International. Opening remarks will be delivered by New Jersey State Sen. Joseph Cryan.

The event was originally scheduled to be held on the Monmouth campus in March, but was postponed due to COVID-19.

Attendees will be provided a link to the webinar after registering. For more information, contact Alyssa Johl at info@climateintegrity.org.

UCI Marine Scientist Assists with Humpback Whale Rescue

UCI Marine Scientist Jim Nickels responded to an emergency call aboard Monmouth University’s research vessel Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe on July 30 to help free a humpback whale entangled in a commercial trawl net off Long Island.

Photo by Jim Nickels

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Army Corps of Engineers, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, U.S. Coast Guard, Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) and Turtles Fly Too all collaborated to free the animal. The effort began on July 27, when the Coast Guard received a report of a distressed whale in the Ambrose Channel of New York. Nickels was joined aboard the Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe on Thursday by Monmouth University graduate Peter Plantamura of the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s (NEFSC) Sandy Hook lab.

The humpback was essentially anchored in place by what NOAA estimated to be 4,000 pounds of netting, ropes and steel cables wrapped around its tail. Nickels said by the time he arrived, the whale appeared in mortal danger.

“It was a massive commercial net and the whale was in a nasty tangle,” Nickels said. “It was to the point where it was having trouble breathing.”

The Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe’s net reel was used to lift up the gear enough to relieve the pressure on the whale and allow it to move and breathe easier. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Drift Collection Vessel HAYWARD’s crain then pulled the gear out of the water and the CCS team cut through it until the whale could swim free.

A press release recounting the full four-day rescue was issued by NOAA on behalf of all of the rescue partners. The whale has since been spotted swimming safely off the coast of Long Island.

Additional Coverage

Whale freed from 4,000 pounds of fishing gear by team including N.J. university, NJ.com

Whale tangled in fishing gear off Jones Beach freed after 4-day effort, Newsday

Distressed, entangled humpback whale off New York set free, WPIX 11

Entangled humpback whale rescued from New York channel, National Fisherman