New NJ Report on Ocean Water Quality

I don't think anyone needs a reminder that this weekend is Memorial Day weekend (hello, long weekend!) and with it comes the beginning of summer, a reminder to students (and parents) everywhere that long days of freedom are ahead, and, for many of us, prime time to hit the beach!

Every year NRDC releases an annual beachwater quality report, Testing the Waters, which looks at the health risks and safety of water for beachgoers. Nancy Stoner leads NRDC's "Testing the Waters" effort and will be conducting a live chat today at 2:30 p.m. to share tips about protecting yourself and your family from waterborne illnesses.

But even when we know the water is safe for swimming, it may not be healthy for ocean life. Yesterday a coalition of environmental groups including NRDC released a report that takes an in-depth look at the state of New Jersey's ocean health, and all is not well. Ocean Water Quality in New Jersey: Redirecting the Management Effort notes that while the water may be fine for swimming, our ocean is sending us signals like brown tides and increased jellyfish populations to let us know that fast action is needed to turn the tide and protect the resource from ecological collapse.

New Jersey's ocean and coastal areas provide food, recreation and valuable jobs: in 2004 New Jersey's ocean sector industries contributed a total of $8.3 billion to the state's gross domestic product. But these marine resources are in a state of silent crisis caused by pollution, destruction of productive marine habitat, over-development and increased strain on fish stocks. When healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems suffer, so does the New Jersey economy. Fishing, wildlife watching and shore tourism industries all depend upon healthy coastal and ocean ecosystems.

The NJ report makes a number of recommendations on how the state can manage its valuable resource better - one key recommendation is for the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to adopt an ecosystem-based management approach. Ecosystem-based management moves beyond traditional stove-piped species-by-species, problem-by-problem management approaches to take account of factors such as the interplay between and among different species, including food web interactions, and the availability of suitable habitat like submerged aquatic vegetation to sustain ocean life.

In January 2008, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine signed into law new legislation creating a nine-member New Jersey Coastal and Ocean Protection Council to help recommend to the DEP new ways to advance protection of the state's marine resources and manage in this holistic manner. The Council would also host public hearings to provide a forum for new ideas of how the state can more effectively and efficiently manage its coastal and ocean resources.

Unfortunately, the Council's six members of the public have not been named yet. It is critical that a solid, conservation-oriented group be appointed by the Governor and approved by the state Senate as soon as possible so that this important effort can get underway. What better time to jumpstart this effort than the start of summer? Knowing that the state is taking steps to help ensure the health of our ocean and coastal resources, we'll all enjoy the shore just a little more this beach season.

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