Rutgers Study Maps the Status of Barnegat Bay’s Seagrass Bed

Rutgers Study Maps the Status of Barnegat Bay’s Seagrass Bed

Density of seagrass beds are a key indicator of the health of the bay

Seagrass bed in Barnegat Bay shows sign of scars from boat propeller

Seagrass bed in Barnegat Bay shows sign of scars from boat propeller 


Concern about the health of New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay is a hot button issue in New Jersey’s coastal zone. Governor Christie’s administration has embarked on an ambitious agenda to clean up the bay. Over-enrichment of nutrients from watershed runoff and atmospheric deposition has led to algal blooms, increasing turbidity and an overall degradation of the bay’s water quality.

“One of the Bay’s key resources that have suffered in recent years is the bay’s seagrass beds. These beds serve as habitat and food source for fish, shellfish, crabs and seabirds and are sensitive indicators of the overall health of the Bay,” explains Richard Lathrop Jr., director of the Rutgers Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis (CRSSA).

Lathrop presented his findings on May 12 at the Barnegat Bay State of the Bay Conference held at Ocean County College, in Toms River, New Jersey. The conference was hosted by the Barnegat Bay Partnership, a partnership of federal, state, municipal, academic, business and private organizations working to restore and enhance the Barnegat Bay ecosystem. The partnership, one of 28 National Estuary Programs throughout the United States, is administered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

For the study, Lathrop collaborated with Scott Haag, formerly with the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve, using boats along the bay in addition to conducting surveys using aerial photography during the summer of 2009 to assess the status and trends of Barnegat Bay’s seagrass beds.

“The study has some good and bad news,” said Lathrop. “The good news is that the mapping showed the overall area of seagrass beds were similar in 2009 as compared to an earlier study conducted in 2003. Some sections of the Bay lost seagrass while others gained seagrass back. The bad news is that there is some indication that the densest beds have declined in area.”

Lathrop notes that this decline in the density of the seagrass beds is a cause for concern and underlines the need for increased mapping and monitoring to more conclusively assess the status and trends in seagrass coverage and density.

According to Michael J. Kennish, research professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences (IMCS) at Rutgers, “Dr. Lathrop’s findings are significant, particularly the indication of nearly a 60% decline in the densest seagrass beds in the Barnegat Bay system.”

These research results are similar to the findings of an IMCS research team led by Kennish, which found that the aboveground biomass of seagrass beds in the bay from Tuckerton to Toms River declined by more than 87% in 2010 as compared to 2004.

The full report and an interactive seagrass map viewer are available at CRSSA's website at

Media Contact: Paula Walcott-Quintin
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