With nearly 450 water quality samples collected by citizen scientists over the last 18 months, the data has begun to tell some stories about the condition of Monmouth County’s coastal lakes.
Those patterns were revealed by Monmouth University Endowed Associate Professor of Marine Science Jason Adolf during the second annual Coastal Lakes Observing Network (CLONet) Workshop, held virtually on Nov. 17 (scroll below for video). The event also provided an opportunity for community volunteers who have sampled Deal Lake, Lake Como, Lake Takanassee, Sunset Lake, and Wesley Lake to share lessons learned and discuss next steps for the project heading into 2021.
According to Adolf, Secchi depth readings have been among the most telling indicators of the lakes’ overall health. These readings are taken by slowly lowering a black and white disc in the water and measuring the distance at which they are no longer visible. The deeper the visibility, the less turbid the lake.
Lake Takanassee in Long Branch has consistently shown the best depth – which lines up with other indicators showing its overall cleanliness – while Sunset Lake in Asbury Park has shown the poorest results to date. Adolf said that along a four-tier scale ranging from oligotrophic (best) to hypereutrophic (worst) conditions, the lakes on the whole fell in the latter category. Typical characteristics of hypereutrophic water bodies include an abundance of nutrients that fuel harmful algal blooms (HAB), low dissolved oxygen levels, occasional fish kill events, and the presence of thick scum and dense weeds.
“Even though Takanassee is relatively better than the other lakes, in general, we’re dealing with eutrophic to hypereutrophic systems,” Adolf said. “In terms of pollution and degradation, we’re at the bottom of the scale, which means we can only go up.”
Climate Threats Loom
HAB organisms thrive in warm waters, especially those over 25 degrees Celsius (about 77 degrees Fahrenheit). With two summers of temperature readings now in the books, the data shows the lakes are most susceptible to HABs from June through September.
“This is something we can look at year after year and monitor whether this window is going to expand or contract as temperatures change with climate change,” Adolf said.
The analysis found a strong correlation between HAB events and rainfall, with spikes in the lakes frequently following storms during the warm season. This owes to the fact that stormwater runoff in these heavily developed areas carries nutrients such as fertilizers and animal wastes directly into the lakes.
“The climate predictions for New Jersey include increased rainfall and increased larger rainfall events,” Adolf said. “Considering how our coastal lakes seem to be responding to rainfall, that’s something we all need to be thinking about.”
Residents who observe a HAB in their lake can now report it online to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). Vic Poretti of the NJDEP Division of Water Monitoring and Standards provided a tutorial on the agency’s HAB Interactive Map Reporting and Communication System, which gathers information including the location of the sighting, details about the lake and photos. Poretti said that although the issue of HABs in New Jersey drew more attention in 2019 due to high-profile closures at the summer tourism destinations of Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake, there were actually more instances reported statewide in 2020.
CLONet’s capacity will expand in its third calendar year with the recent addition of Urban Coast Institute Citizen Science Coordinator Erin Conlon. A May 2020 graduate of Monmouth University’s Marine and Environmental Biology and Policy Program, Conlon has been working on the CLONet project since its inception and now leads citizen science trainings, checks data quality and provides equipment for volunteers. Conlon’s work and CLONet are made possible through a grant from the Jules L. Plangere, Jr. Family Foundation.
Conlon said her goals for 2021 are to increase communication between the community lake groups and build new research partnerships with outside organizations and other labs within Monmouth University. In one such partnership, CLONet will take the lead on the coastal lakes aspects of a NJDEP and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study of HAB risks to New Jersey lakes. A phycocyanin meter donated by the Watershed Institute and NJDEP will allow CLONet to take direct measurements of the prevalence of HAB organisms in the lakes.
Conlon said she hopes to expand CLONet to cover five additional coastal lakes in Monmouth County that are not currently being tested by citizen scientists, but have been by Monmouth University Phytoplankton and Harmful Algal Bloom Lab (PHAB Lab) students: Fletcher Lake, Silver Lake, Spring Lake, Sylvan Lake and Wreck Pond. Any individuals, schools or community groups interested in volunteering as citizen scientists are encouraged to contact Conlon at email@example.com. Visit the CLONet website for more information.
The Urban Coast Institute (UCI) has awarded Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe Faculty Enrichment Grants for projects that will create Little Free Library installations in low-income coastal communities and study COVID-19’s impacts on the African American community in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
In light of the continuing crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and concern about systemic racism, the UCI issued a special call for proposals in August to support faculty and student research and community-based projects focused on sustainably rebuilding our coastal communities and economies while addressing disproportional impacts to and needs of our most vulnerable populations. The call noted that environmental justice communities, including those of low income, communities of color, immigrant groups, and Indigenous peoples are disproportionately vulnerable to the environmental and health impacts of climate change and COVID-19.
The following are summaries of the two grant-funded projects. Both are currently underway.
Nourishing Book Deserts: Providing Access to Authentic and Relevant Interdisciplinary and Inclusive Books for Coastal Communities
Faculty Researchers: Kenneth Kunz, Jason Fitzgerald and Michelle Schpakow, Department of Curriculum and Instruction; Kurt Wagner, Monmouth University librarian; and Lori Burns, Department of Educational Counseling and Leadership
This project aims to counter the limited availability of books in the home in low-income coastal communities, an issue which has been exacerbated by virtual schooling and children’s reduced access to school libraries. Faculty researchers and students from the School of Education will initiate a process for local school districts to apply for the installation of Little Free Libraries in their communities. The grant will cover the purchase of texts and the materials to build the physical libraries, which will be designed by Monmouth University artists. Reading materials in the libraries will be coastal-relevant, interdisciplinary and inclusive to tackle the complex challenges facing their locations.
Paradoxical Paradise: Asbury Park, an African American Oral History and Mapping Project
Faculty Researchers: Hettie V. Williams, Geoffrey Fouad and Melissa Ziobro, Department of History and Anthropology
“Paradoxical Paradise” is a multiyear and multidisciplinary research, oral history and digital mapping project that seeks to document and preserve the African American history of Asbury Park. The grant will fund a phase of the project focused on COVID-19 and the experience of African Americans in the city as it relates to health disparities. Activities will include archival research led by Williams (with an emphasis on drawing parallels between the 1918 influenza pandemic and COVID-19); student interviews with residents guided by Ziobro; and the creation of GIS map products by Fouad and students that visualize COVID-19 health statistics in the area and the pandemic’s impacts on African Americans.
About the Program
The Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe Scholars program offers grant opportunities to students and faculty of all disciplines whose work advances core elements of Monmouth’s Strategic Plan and supports the UCI’s mission. The program is funded through the generosity of many corporate and private donors. If you would like to make a tax-deductible gift to the UCI, please click here. For more information, contact UCI Associate Director Tom Herrington at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Monmouth University Institute for Global Understanding (IGU) and Urban Coast Institute (UCI) hosted a Global Ocean Governance Lecture Series talk on Nov. 5 titled “Connected, Dynamic, at Risk: Coastal Nation Interests in a Strong New High Seas Biodiversity Treaty.” Lecture speakers included Rutgers University Associate Professor Cymie Payne and Guillermo Ortuño Crespo, a postdoctoral researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and coordinator of early career professional engagement for the U.N. Decade of Ocean Science.
Human exploitation of the open ocean has increased rapidly over the past few decades. International agreements that manage individual commercial sectors have not kept pace with the rate of expansion of maritime industries or the effects of climate change that are already being experienced, resulting in poor management of high seas species and ecosystems. Coastal nations like the U.S., with large exclusive economic zones (EEZs), may be the first to experience the negative impacts of poor management beyond their national jurisdiction: ecological connectivity across maritime boundaries connects hundreds of ocean species to the high seas. Years of negotiation are coming to fruition with a new treaty to manage conservation and sustainable use of life in the connected, dynamic global ocean. The challenge for governments is to prioritize long-term health over short-term sectoral interests with an effective treaty for biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). It will be pivotal for ensuring the health and well-being of U.S. ecosystems and coastal communities.
Cymie R. Payne is an associate professor at Rutgers University. She holds a joint appointment in the Department of Human Ecology and at Rutgers Law School. Professor Payne has appeared as counsel before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in its deep seabed mining and fisheries advisory opinion cases. Currently, she is legal advisor to International Union for Conservation of Nature’s delegation to the intergovernmental conference for a legally binding agreement on conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction and chair of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental, Ocean Coasts and Coral Reefs Specialist Group. She has also been a member of the Berkeley Law faculty and served as an attorney with the U.S. Department of the Interior, the law firm of Goodwin, Procter and the U.N. Security Council’s environmental war reparations program. Professor Payne holds a M.A. from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
Dr. Guillermo Ortuño Crespo is a marine ecologist with a master of science from the University of St. Andrews in ecosystem-based management of marine systems and a doctorate in marine science and conservation from Duke University. Ortuño Crespo specializes in the spatial ecology patterns of distribution of both pelagic species (such as tuna, billfish and sharks) and that of pelagic fisheries (including purse seines and longliners) to identify areas of high risk and opportunity for sustainable fishing in the open ocean. He has been an active participant in the ongoing high seas BBNJ negotiations highlighting the importance of improving fisheries management beyond national jurisdiction through more transparent operations and a wider use of spatial management tools to reduce bycatch. Throughout his postdoc at the Stockholm Resilience Centre he will be working on a novel spatial management study in collaboration with the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) to develop the first ever tuna-RFMO dynamic spatial management strategy. As part of his commitment to the U.N. Decade of Ocean Science, Ortuño Crespo is facilitating the conversation on corporate sustainability among early career professionals with the ultimate objective of fostering strong relationships between upcoming science, conservation or technology young leaders and those companies which show determination in leading the way towards a more sustainable future.
Before the advent of microscopic photography, it fell to the varying artistic skills of scientists to show the world what the invisible plants and animals in our oceans looked like. One of the most prolific and talented was Ernst Haeckel, an 1800s German zoologist and marine biologist whose groundbreaking sketches of organisms such as zooplankton, diatoms and copepods continue to capture the imagination of science enthusiasts and artists to this day.
Count among them Monmouth University Professor Pat Cresson, who recently created over 50 works highlighting both microscopic marine organisms and larger sea creatures. Cresson presented her collection, The Interface Between Marine Biology and Creative Microscopic Inhabitants of the Sea, in a free public webinar on Nov. 18 (scroll to bottom of story for video). The session was offered as part of the Department of History & Anthropology’s Research and Teaching Pedagogy Seminar Series.
In an interesting twist, Cresson’s focus on the deep sea started with the CDC. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cresson was struck by the aesthetic beauty of models showing the virus and began investigating what other infectious diseases looked like. This research eventually shifted to imagery depicting the unicellular and microscopic life forms that are abundant in our waters, as Haeckel had famously done before.
“Art and science are very similar in some perspectives,” Cresson said. “Both science and art are human attempts to understand and describe the world around us. The subjects and methods have different traditions, and the intended audiences are different, but I think the motivations and goals are fundamentally the same.”
Cresson’s first works in the collection were detailed black ink drawings on heavy white watercolor paper. She then began creating a series of illustrations on deep wood panels that were covered with glued drawings on paper. Then an epoxy surface was poured over these panels, sometimes stained blue or green giving the appearance that they were submerged under water. She also created several collages on paper adhered to wood panels depicting ocean scenes. (Scroll to gallery below to view samples of her works.) Materials for the project were purchased through a faculty enrichment grant awarded via the Urban Coast Institute’s Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe Scholars program.
Building upon her work, Cresson assigned her Advanced Digital Imaging class to create first traditional collages (cut paper and materials) and then digital collages focused on marine ecosystems. Some of the student works were also presented in the webinar.
“I gave them different ideas – the food web, symbiotic relationships, the role of light in the ocean, the health of the ocean and warming oceans, corals reefs and how they’re being bleached out,” she said. “They came up with some really interesting imagery. I was very happy with what they came up with.”
Come rolling on the rivers and bays with Capt. Dan Schade and his old-time paddle wheeler, the Navesink Queen, in the latest edition of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal’s “Ocean Stories” series, created by UCI Communications Director Karl Vilacoba. The story and its interactive data maps provide a snapshot of life navigating the crowded waters of the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers and Sandy Hook and Raritan bays aboard his fleet of classic boats. Click here to read the story. (Non-mobile device recommended for best view of scrolling data maps.)
The Urban Coast Institute’s Marine & Environmental Speaker Series returns Nov. 10 from noon to 1 p.m. with “Is Seaweed a Fish?” by Ethan Prall, Esq. The talk is free and open to the public. Upon registration, attendees will receive an email with the Zoom link for the event.
This presentation argues that fisheries regulation under the Magnuson-Stevens Act should be modified to help facilitate the growth of the seaweed industry, which scientists have claimed can provide a key climate mitigation tool. In my work at Latham & Watkins, I have represented a pro bono client involved in innovative seaweed harvest technology. As I argue, seaweed harvest—primarily wild harvest rather than aquaculture—promises both benefits and costs, and legally, it thus should be neither completely prohibited nor allowed without restriction. Instead, federal seaweed regulation in the U.S. can provide a striking example of regulatory “compromise.” Although seaweed harvest is not a traditional kind of “fishery,” I argue that, in the absence of federal legislation directly governing seaweed, the Act’s regulatory regime can be applied to seaweed harvest with certain modifications that facilitate experimentation by the industry, absent serious environmental harms. Navigating this middle ground requires careful attention to the structure of the Act, to the science and policy of seaweed harvest, and to mechanisms for achieving regulatory equilibrium.
Ethan Prall, Esq. is an environmental lawyer and policy advocate at the law firm Latham & Watkins LLP, in Washington, DC. He represents clients on a variety of domestic and international environmental and clean energy law and policy, including: creating the government for a new clean energy zone overseas, offshore wind energy permitting, Endangered Species Act consultations, and litigating against the Trump Administration’s rollback of California’s vehicle emissions standards. His scholarly work focuses on addressing the global challenges posed by anthropogenic change on natural systems, such as climate change and biodiversity loss. His latest publication, forthcoming Spring 2021, focuses on U.S. federal regulation of seaweed farming as a potential climate change mitigation tool. He holds a B.A. from Texas A&M University, an M.T.S. from Duke University, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.