SIGNIFICANT HABITATS AND HABITAT COMPLEXES
OF THE NEW YORK BIGHT WATERSHED

Mullica River - Great Bay Estuary
COMPLEX #5

List of Species of Special Emphasis

Maps

 

I. SITE NAME: Mullica River - Great Bay Estuary

 

II. SITE LOCATION: The Mullica River - Great Bay estuary is located in southern New Jersey's Atlantic Coastal Plain in Ocean and Atlantic Counties, about ten miles north of Atlantic City and 140 kilometers (87 miles) south of New York City.

TOWNS: Galloway, Little Egg Harbor, Mullica, Washington

COUNTIES: Ocean, Atlantic

STATE: New Jersey

USGS 7.5 MIN QUADS: Brigantine Inlet, NJ (39074-43), Oceanville, NJ (39074-44), Tuckerton, NJ (39074-53), New Gretna, NJ (39074-54), Green Bank, NJ (39074-55), Egg Harbor City, NJ (39074-56), Oswego Lake, NJ (39074-64), Jenkins, NJ (39074-65), Atsion, NJ (39074-66)

USGS 30 x 60 MIN QUADS: Atlantic City, NJ (39074-A1), Hammonton, NJ (39074-E1)

 

III. BOUNDARY DESCRIPTION AND JUSTIFICATION: The Mullica River - Great Bay estuary habitat complex encompasses the entire Mullica River - Great Bay estuary and tidal river from its headwater streams to its connection with the New York Bight through Little Egg Inlet. Included are all riverine and estuarine wetlands to the limit of tidal influence of the Mullica River and its tributaries, the open waters of Great Bay and adjacent salt marsh habitat from the mouth of the Mullica River to Little Egg Inlet, and the inlet itself. This nearly pristine estuary provides seasonal or year-round habitat for a variety of anadromous, estuarine, marine, and freshwater fish and shellfish, nesting and migratory waterbirds and raptors, migratory and wintering waterfowl, and rare brackish and freshwater tidal communities and plants. Also included in the habitat complex are several small palustrine (nontidal) wetlands immediately adjacent to the estuary that contain exemplary rare natural communities and plant occurrences. Great Bay is part of the New Jersey backbarrier lagoon system, and the resources here are similar to those found in the Barnegat Bay complex to the north and the Brigantine Bay and Marsh complex to the south. The watershed of the Mullica River in the New Jersey Pinelands is described as part of the New Jersey Pinelands narrative.

 

IV. OWNERSHIP/PROTECTION/RECOGNITION: All of the underwater lands of this estuary are in state ownership. Most of the salt marshes east of the Garden State Parkway bridge are part of either the E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, including the Brigantine Wilderness, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or the Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area, including the Great Bay Natural Area, managed by the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife. One smaller salt marsh area, Mystic Island, is owned by the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust. Tidal wetlands inland (west) of the Garden State Parkway are in a mosaic of public and private ownership. State holdings include the Port Republic Wildlife Management Area, Swan Bay Wildlife Management Area, and small portions of the Wharton, Batsto, and Bass River State Forests, including part of the Batsto Natural Area, managed by the New Jersey Division of Lands and Forests. About 75% of the Mullica River watershed is within the Pinelands Management Area and about 50% of the watershed is publicly owned.

The New Jersey Natural Heritage Program recognizes several Priority Sites for Biodiversity within the Mullica River - Great Bay estuary. These sites are listed here along with their biodiversity ranks: the southeastern tip of the Batsto Macrosite (B1 - outstanding biodiversity significance), Little Egg Inlet Macrosite (B2 - very high biodiversity significance), Ballanger Creek (B3 - high biodiversity significance), Clark's Landing Bog (B3), Dan's Island (B3), northeast of Weekstown (B3), Port Republic (B3), Wading River Tidal Marsh (B4 - moderate biodiversity significance), and Turtle Creek (B4).

The Pinelands National Reserve, including portions of the Mullica River, is part of the Atlantic Coastal Plain Biosphere Reserve designated by UNESCO under the Man and Biosphere Program. The entire E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge has been designated as a Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. The lower Mullica River and Great Bay have been proposed for designation as a National Estuarine Research Reserve for research and education to be managed by the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife and Rutgers University. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has identified the Brigantine/Barnegat wetlands as a priority wetland site under the federal Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986. Brigantine has been designated and mapped as an otherwise protected beach unit pursuant to the federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act, prohibiting incompatible federal financial assistance or flood insurance within the unit. Wetlands are regulated in New Jersey under several state laws, including the Wetlands Act of 1970, the Freshwater Wetland Protection Act, and the New Jersey State Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA); these statutes are in addition to federal regulation under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act of 1977, and various Executive Orders.

 

V. GENERAL AREA DESCRIPTION: The Mullica River drains a 1,471-square hectare (568-square mile) area in the central Pinelands of southern New Jersey, and is the largest watershed in the Pinelands. Unconsolidated sands of the Outer Coastal Plain underlie the region and support vegetation adapted to edaphic drought and fire regimes on the well-drained soils. The upland vegetation in the watershed is primarily pine-oak and oak-pine forests dominated by pitch pine (Pinus rigida) and oaks (Quercus spp.), with riparian and lowland forests composed of Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) and hardwoods. Due to the porous sands in this region, surface water drainage is limited and much of the freshwater input to the estuary is through groundwater flow.

The upper Mullica River drains five major sub-watersheds: the Batsto River, Atsion (upper Mullica) River, Sleeper Branch (Mechesactauxin), Nescochague Creek, and Hammonton Creek. These major watersheds join at the head of tide near the town of Batsto to form the mainstem of the Mullica River. The tidally influenced mainstem from Batsto to the mouth at Great Bay (Deep Point) is about 34 kilometers (21 miles) in length. A number of tributaries enter the mainstem from the north, including Bull Creek, Wading River, and Bass River, with Landing Creek and Nacote Creek from the south. All of these tributaries are tidally influenced and support tidal marsh communities. Salinities in the Mullica River vary with the semidiurnal (twice-daily) tides and the degree of rainfall, evapotranspiration, and consequent freshwater input. Salt water extends up the mainstem of the Mullica as far as about Lower Bank, 21 kilometers (13 miles) from the head of Great Bay. Salinities above this point are generally less than 1 part per thousand (ppt). Great Bay itself is a polyhaline (high salinity), well-mixed estuary with a yearly salinity range of 14 to 30 ppt within the bay proper. Temperatures of -2 to 30C (28 to 86F) and dissolved oxygen values between 2.8 and 11.7 milligrams per liter occur on an annual cycle in the bay.

The majority of this habitat complex is composed of open water and tidal marsh. Great Bay averages about 1.5 meters (5 feet) in depth, and extensive areas of the estuarine substratum are covered with benthic algae and some vascular plants (seagrasses). Eelgrass (Zostera marina) beds are an important component of the submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) community in Great Bay, generally where depths are 1 meter (3.2 feet) or less but, due to the slightly greater depth in Great Bay, these are not as ubiquitous as they are in the Barnegat/Manahawkin/Little Egg system to the north. Extensive areas (1,358 hectares [3,355 acres]) of intertidal sandflats and mudflats occur in the bay, a result of the sediment load from the river and the movement of sand in through Little Egg Inlet. According to National Wetlands Inventory data, these flats represent 22% of the total estuarine system area. Benthos in the bay include hard substrate residents like mussels and barnacles; epibenthic residents, including crabs, amphipods and free-swimming mysids; and benthic infauna residents such as polychaete worms and many crustaceans. Deposit feeders make up the bulk of the benthic biomass and are responsible for consuming the detritus that falls to the bottom from dead and dying plants and animals. These organisms are, in turn, consumed as the food of other demersal (bottom-feeding) species higher on the food chain, such as winter flounder (Pleuronectes americanus). The benthic organisms serve an important ecosystem function by recycling nutrients through the bay ecosystem. The transient fish biomass, including winter flounder, bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix), weakfish (Cynoscion regalis), summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus), Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus), and black sea bass (Centropristis striata), exports a substantial portion of the energy of the estuary to the ocean, supporting nearshore fisheries.

The brackish submerged aquatic vegetation in the Mullica River and its tributaries has a greater diversity of vascular plant species than does that of Great Bay, and contains such species as horned pondweed (Zannichellia palustris), water celery (Vallisneria americana), slender pondweed (Potamogeton pusillus), redhead grass (P. perfoliatus), widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima), and naiad (Najas flexilis). In the freshwater tidal reaches, submerged aquatics intersperse with the floating-leaved and emergent plants of the lower tidal marsh that are more characteristic of freshwater communities in the Pinelands, which the Mullica drains, and include ribbonleaf pondweed (Potamogeton epihydrus), arrowheads (Sagittaria latifolia, S. englemannia, and S. spatulata), American mannagrass (Glyceria grandis), bulrush (Scirpus spp.), and other species described below. Macroinvertebrates in the brackish portion of the Mullica at Green Bank are dominated by amphipods (Gammarus spp.), but also include mollusks and six orders of aquatic insects dominated by dipterans (flies).

There are 8,987 hectares (22,206 acres) of salt marsh in the estuary, predominantly high marsh dominated by salt-meadow cordgrass (Spartina patens), with lesser amounts of salt grass (Distichilis spicata) and black grass (Juncus gerardii). Low marsh, dominated by smooth cordgrass (Spartina alternifora), occurs in intertidal areas, especially along tidal creeks. Extensive areas of salt marsh occur on both sides of Great Bay and also extend up the Mullica River as far as Lower Bank and along the lower Wading River. A few areas of unditched salt marsh, unusual on the New Jersey coast, occur along the shores of Great Bay. Smaller areas of brackish tidal marsh complex occur adjacent to the Wading River, Bass River, Nacote Creek, Landing Creek, and Mullica River, dominated by narrow-leaved cattail (Typha angustifolia), big cordgrass (Spartina cyosuroides), common reed (Phragmites australis), and Olney three-square bulrush (Scirpus americanus). Freshwater intertidal wetlands are found in a few locations in the upper reaches of tidal influence in the Mullica and Wading Rivers. These freshwater tidal wetlands can be divided into different zones depending on degree of tidal inundation, i.e., the lower tidal zone, exposed only at low tide and consisting of sparsely vegetated intertidal flats with riverbank quillwort (Isoetes riparia), bluntscale bulrush (Scirpus smithii var. smithii), the regionally rare Parker's pipewort (Eriocaulon parkeri), stiff arrowhead (Sagittaria rigida), grass-leaved arrowhead (S. graminea), and Hudson arrowhead (S. subulata); a mid-tidal zone with wild rice (Zinzania aquatica), spatterdock (Nuphar advena) pickerelweed (Pontedaria cordata), three-square bulrush (Scirpus pungens), arrow arum (Peltandra virginica), water hemp (Amaranthus cannabinus), and dotted smartweed (Polygonum punctatum); and an upper tidal zone dominated by cattails (Typha angustifolia and T. glauca) and a diversity of other species including sensitive fern (Onaclea sensibilis), halberd-leaved tearthumb (Polygonum arifolium), arrowheads (Sagittaria spp.), river bulrush (Scirpus fluviatalis), sweet flag (Acorus calamus), smooth bur-marigold (Bidens laevis), orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), and rose-mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos var. moscheutos), as well as the invasive common reed and exotic purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). Shrubs include knob-styled dogwood (Cornus amomum), buttonbush (Cepahalanthus occidentalis), and swamp rose (Rosa palustris).

The tributaries of the Mullica River, especially the Wading and Batsto Rivers, are the most pristine river systems in the Pinelands and support a diversity of aquatic species, including 350 species of algae, 62 species of aquatic macrophytes, 275 species of macroinvertebrates, and 91 species of fish. Pine barrens streams are characterized by low pH (average of 4.4), low nutrient levels, and high humic acid content that give the water its characteristic brown tea color. The resources of these pine barrens streams are described in more detail in the New Jersey Pinelands narrative, p. 207.

 

VI. ECOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE/UNIQUENESS OF SITE: The Mullica River - Great Bay estuary is a large, relatively pristine, unaltered estuarine system. It is believed to be the cleanest estuary in the corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C., owing in large part to the fact that the majority of the watershed is protected by the Pinelands Management Area, several large federal and state wildlife management areas, and state forests. This productive estuary supports a high diversity of aquatic and terrestrial habitats and species, especially marine and estuarine fisheries populations, colonial nesting waterbird colonies on the salt marsh islands, migrating and wintering waterfowl, rare brackish and freshwater tidal wetland communities, plants, and invertebrates.

There are 118 species of special emphasis in the Mullica River - Great Bay estuary, incorporating 84 species of birds and 21 species of fish, and including the following federally and state-listed species. (Living resources and their habitats are dynamic; therefore, the ecological significance and species information presented here may not be complete or up-to-date. State and federal environmental agencies [see Appendix III for office contacts] should be consulted for additional information.) Several other state-listed species occur in pine barrens streams and wetlands just inland of the tidal influence (see below and discussion in the New Jersey Pinelands narrative).

Federally listed endangered
peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Federally listed threatened
piping plover (Charadrius melodus)
sensitive joint vetch (Aeschynomene virginica)

Federal candidate
bog asphodel (Narthecium americanum)

Federal species of concern(1)
rare skipper (Problema bulenta)
precious underwing (Catocola p. pretiosa)
Lemmer's pinion moth (Lithophane lemmeri)
northern diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys t. terrapin)
New Jersey rush (Juncus caesariensis)
pine barren boneset (Eupatorium resinosum)

1Species of concern listed here include former Category 2 candidates.

State-listed endangered
eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma t. tigrinum)
northern harrier (Circus cyaneus)
black skimmer (Rhynchops niger)
least tern (Sterna antillarum)
quill-leaf arrowhead (Sagittaria teres)
coast flatsedge (Cyperus polystachyos var. taxensis)
Virginia thistle (Cirsium virginianum)
small-headed beaked-rush (Rhynchospora microcephala)

State-listed threatened
osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

Fish and invertebrate species abundance and distribution in Great Bay are similar to those of the other New Jersey estuaries. Finfish make up an important component of the bay's ecosystem. The bay provides an important nursery area for bluefish, weakfish, menhaden, and spot (Leiostomas xanthurus), as well as spawning habitat for winter spawners such as sandlance (Ammodytes americanus) and winter flounder and summer spawners like bay anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli), silversides (Menidia spp.), gobies (Gobiosoma spp.), wrasses (Labridae spp.), and northern pipefish (Syngnathus fuscus). Fisheries investigations were conducted in the 1970's by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to determine the fishery composition and life stages of estuarine fish using this specific bay. Sixty-six species were caught during these studies and, as in the Barnegat system, the catches were dominated by forage species, with bay anchovy and Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia) being very abundant. The top ranked fish by their relative abundance were: bay anchovy, Atlantic silverside, silver perch (Bairdiella chrysoura), alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus), striped killifish (Fundulus majalis), sea herring (Clupea harengus), white perch (Morone americana), northern puffer (Sphoeroides maculatus), oyster toadfish (Opsanus tau), and striped anchovy (Anchoa hepsetus). Commercial fisheries activities include the harvest of northern quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria), blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), white perch, winter flounder, and American eel (Anguilla rostrata). The bay is an important spawning and nursery area for blue crab. The area between Graveley Point and the Wading River tributaries supports large eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) beds, many of which are considered extremely productive seed beds.

The saline waters of the Mullica River estuary buffer the acid waters draining the Pinelands, enabling common peripheral fish species intolerant of acid waters to occur. This group of fishes is common in the lower reaches of the Tuckahoe, Maurice, Great Egg Harbor, and Mullica Rivers, and includes golden shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas), spottail shiner (Notropis hudsonius), white sucker (Catostomus commersoni), white catfish (Ictalurus catus), banded killifish (Fundulus diaphanus), mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus), fourspine stickleback (Apeltes quadracus), threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), white perch, pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus), and yellow perch (Perca flavescens). The presence of golden shiner, yellow perch, and pumpkinseed generally indicate human intervention, especially in the impoundments, as a result of stocking programs for small game fish and forage for larger predatory fish. The Wading River has never been stocked and supports only native populations. Anadromous fish, including blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis), alewife, and striped bass (Morone saxatilis), spawn in streams and tributaries of the Mullica River in the Pinelands; the estuary serves as the major thoroughfare in the spring to the upriver sections and as the nursery area for newly-hatched fish. Hickory shad (Alosa mediocris), another anadromous species, is present, as is the catadromous American eel. American shad (Alosa sapidissima) once spawned in the river, but is no longer found in the drainage. Fish passage, especially upstream migrations, is impeded by obstructions, usually dams, which generally restrict anadromous fish spawning activity to the lower reaches of these rivers.

The coastal salt, brackish, and freshwater marshes in the Mullica River - Great Bay estuary are extremely important to waterfowl, raptors, wading birds, and shorebirds. Small numbers of colonial nesting waterbirds, mostly common tern (Sterna hirundo), with lesser numbers of black skimmer, laughing gull (Larus atricilla), herring gull (L. argentatus), and great black-backed gull (L. marinus), nest on the salt marshes and beach bars along the Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area peninsula and islands including Tow Island, Fish Island, and Seven Islands. Tow Island is located directly adjacent to Little Egg Inlet and has been an especially important nesting area for black skimmer that forage in the inlet; 200 black skimmers nested on Tow Island in 1995. Least terns have nested on the sandy shoreline of Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area and, at one time, nested on the Mullica River near the inland extent of tidal influence in Sweetwater. Piping plover have nested on the southern tip of the Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area and nest on either side of Little Egg Inlet at Holgate and Little Beach Island (see narratives for Barnegat Bay and Brigantine Bay and Marsh Complex). A small heronry occurred on a small upland area on one of the Seven Islands in 1985, with nesting by great egret (Casmerodius albus), cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis), black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), and glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus). Yellow-crowned night-heron also occasionally nest in the area. No nesting waders were recorded on either the 1989 or 1995 surveys, however. Other marsh-nesting birds include clapper rails (Rallus longirostris), which nest throughout the tidal marshes, and sora (Porzana carolina), Virginia rail (Rallus limicola), and marsh wren (Cistothorus palustris), which breed in the brackish and freshwater tidal marshes along the Mullica and Wading Rivers.

Raptors utilize the tidal marshes for nesting and for foraging throughout the year. Osprey nest on platforms in numerous locations throughout the salt marshes of this system. Northern harriers nest and feed in the salt and brackish marshes. Peregrine falcon nesting towers occur at two Wildlife Management Areas. Bald eagle have recently begun to nest along the Mullica River and roost and forage throughout the year in the tidal portions of the Wading and Mullica Rivers. Other wintering raptors foraging in the marshes include merlin (Falco columbarius) and short-eared owl (Asio flammeus).

Significant concentrations of migrating and wintering waterfowl occur in the Mullica River - Great Bay estuary, with an average of over 12,000 waterfowl counted on midwinter aerial surveys. The most abundant species observed in the estuary are, in descending order, American black duck (Anas rubripes), brant (Branta bernicla), greater and lesser scaup (Aythra marila and A. affinis), mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), and bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), with lesser numbers of tundra swan (Cygnus colombianus), Canada goose (Branta canadensis), red-breasted merganser (Mergus serrator), common merganser (M. merganser), hooded merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), oldsquaw (Clangula hyemalis), American wigeon (Anas americana), northern pintail (Anas acuta), canvasback (Aythra valisneria), and green-winged teal (Anas crecca). Dabbling ducks and bufflehead are fairly evenly distributed along the shorelines and tidal creeks of the estuary, while diving ducks occur mostly in the more open water areas of Great Bay and sea ducks occur near the inlet. Flocks of tundra swans averaging over 600 and up to as many as 2,500 individuals are found in the Wading River where they feed on the abundant submerged aquatic vegetation. This is one of the largest consistent wintering concentrations of tundra swans north of Chesapeake Bay. Little Egg Inlet has concentrations of migrating scoters and other seabirds during fall migration, and flocks of oldsquaw in fall and winter. The marine waters of the inlet are an important concentration area for many species of waterfowl during harsh winters when other areas freeze up. Breeding waterfowl in the estuary include American black duck, gadwall (Anas strepera), mallard, and Canada goose. The unditched salt marshes in this estuary provide an important larval insect food source for newly hatched-out ducklings, particularly American black duck. The Mullica River is one of the few locations in the state where American black duck breeds in freshwater marshes.

The Atlantic coastal corridor of New Jersey is an important migratory corridor for shorebirds, passerines, waterfowl, and raptors. Shorebirds feed on the sandflats and mudflats of Great Bay, and roost and forage on adjacent salt marshes. Important shorebird concentration areas occur at Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area (see Barnegat Bay narrative), Brigantine Beach, and the Brigantine Unit of the E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (see Brigantine Bay and Marsh Complex narrative).

Nearly 90 species of birds were recorded as probable or confirmed breeders in or adjacent to the Mullica River and Great Bay in the first two years of New Jersey's Breeding Bird Atlas. These include marsh-nesting birds mentioned above, as well as songbirds typical of the pine barrens, such as pine warbler (Dendroica pinus) and gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis).

Northern diamondback terrapin occur throughout the New Jersey backbarrier estuarine system, including the Great Bay and Mullica River, and likely nest on available sandy uplands adjacent to salt marshes and tidal creeks. Eastern tiger salamanders (Ambystoma t. tigrinum), which are not as tolerant of the acidic conditions in the Pinelands as are other salamander species, occur along the edges of tidal marshes near the estuary.

Several rare insect species occur in and adjacent to the estuarine marshes, including rare skipper along Turtle Creek and the precious underwing moth and Lemmer's pinion moth along the upper tidal Mullica River. A concentration of rare Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) occurs just upriver of the tidal influence in the Batsto watershed. Historically (1976), the federally listed threatened northeastern beach tiger beetle (Cicindela d. dorsalis) occurred on the sandy shoreline of Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area and, more recently, across the intercoastal waterway at the Holgate Unit of E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

Brackish and, especially, freshwater tidal communities are limited in extent in the New York Bight region and generally contain one or more regionally or globally rare plant species. In the Mullica River - Great Bay estuary, brackish and freshwater tidal communities are where the aquatic communities of the Pinelands interface with typical estuarine species. Rare plants include the federally listed threatened sensitive joint vetch, which has its northernmost known occurrence in the Wading River brackish marsh. The Wading River marshes also support quill-leaf arrowhead and marsh rattlesnake master (Eryngium aquaticum). Parker's pipewort occurs in the freshwater or brackish tidal segments of the Bass, Wading, Nacote, and upper Mullica (above Green Bank). Smooth orange milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata) occurs in brackish marshes along Turtle Creek. Wooded islands within the marshes are also important sites for rare plants; several islands in the Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area support Virginia thistle.

Several directly adjacent nontidal wetlands that are considered priority sites for biodiversity by New Jersey Natural Heritage Program have been included in this estuarine habitat complex. Abandoned cranberry bogs on upper Ballanger Creek contain two rare plants, marsh rattlesnake master and pine barren boneset. The upper reaches of Nacote Creek (Port Republic Priority Site) not only contain rare tidal species such as Parker's pipewort and coast flatsedge, but also include adjacent nontidal wetlands, Sphagnum bogs, and Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) swamps along the streams that contain rare plants such as New Jersey rush, bog asphodel, and curly-grass fern (Schizaea pusilla) and the rare northern pine snake (Pituophis m. melanoleucus). A bog immediately adjacent to Landing's Creek (Clark's Landing Bog) contains small-headed beaked-rush.

Pine barrens streams, wetlands, and riparian areas just inland of the tidal areas contain an array of rare species typical of pine barrens wetlands, including pine barrens treefrog (Hyla andersonii), northern pine snake, timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), southern bog lemming (Synaptis cooperi), and barred owl (Strix varia); plant species include New Jersey rush, bog asphodel, curly-grass fern, Barratt's sedge (Carex barrattii), pale beaked-rush (Rhynchospora pallida), federally listed threatened Knieskern's beaked-rush (Rhynchospora knieskernii), and pine barren gentian (Gentiana autumnalis).

 

VII. THREATS AND SPECIAL PROBLEMS: Degradation of Great Bay's water quality is primarily caused by nonpoint sources of pollution. The chief nonpoint source is land development and its associated activities, such as septic systems, lawn and garden maintenance, golf course maintenance, and automobile use, all of which increase as the human population in the Pinelands increases. Excessive nutrient loading results in higher levels of phytoplankton growth, high turbidity, and increased macroalgal growth. These eutrophic (high nutrient) conditions tend to shift primary production from eelgrass-dominated to phytoplankton and seaweed-dominated systems. Other factors that cause declines in eelgrass include eelgrass wasting disease, dredging and filling operations, and disturbance by boats. Loss of eelgrass beds may eliminate species by no longer providing them with their specific benthic habitat requirements. Disturbance of waterbird colonies in the bays may reduce habitat suitability and productivity. Gulls are competing for nest sites with terns and skimmers, and are predators on terns and plovers. Invasion by common reed and purple loosestrife has resulted in loss of salt marsh and brackish tidal marshes. Dams limit the extent of spawning habitat for river herrings and other anadromous fish.

Diamondback terrapins are run over by cars on coastal roads as they cross or attempt to nest. They are frequently caught and drowned in crab traps and are sometimes collected for pets or food. Eggs and hatchlings are susceptible to predation by raccoons, foxes, and gulls. Tire tracks left by off-road vehicles can trap turtle hatchlings.

 

VIII. CONSERVATION RECOMMENDATIONS: In order to maintain the relatively pristine aquatic communities in the Pinelands and the Mullica River estuary, stringent land and water management measures need to be implemented and/or maintained in the Pinelands, including: clustering development; establishing standards for stormwater and sanitary wastes based on ambient physical, chemical, and biological conditions throughout the watershed; encouraging innovative techniques in wastewater management; prohibiting wastewater discharge into pristine surface waters and lakes; discouraging the use of lawn fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides in the watershed; and preserving the natural riparian and floodplain vegetation along streams and around lakes. Point and nonpoint source pollution into the mainstem and tributaries of the Mullica River should be limited, especially in the upper tributaries such as Hammonton Creek and Nescochague Creek, which pass through urban and agricultural areas.

Disturbances to wintering and nesting bird populations need to be minimized or eliminated entirely, particularly for colonial beach-nesting birds such as least terns and piping plovers. Human intrusions into beach nesting areas during the critical nesting season (April to August) should be prevented using a variety of methods, including protective fencing, posting, warden patrols, and public education. Public education and cooperative approaches with landowners are essential to successful protection of beach species in this area. When determined to be a problem, as it is at most mainland-connected nesting beaches, predator control and/or removal should be instituted. Those tasks and objectives of the piping plover recovery plan that are applicable to this area should be undertaken, including restoration or enhancement of degraded sites where appropriate.

Important diamondback terrapin nesting sites and foraging areas should be determined and protected through public education and enforcement, and public outreach used to eliminate collection. The use of crab traps in areas of the bay known to support concentrations of diamondback terrapin should be limited. Traps that are used should have terrapin excluder devices on them. The use of off-road vehicles should be limited in diamondback terrapin nesting areas. Predator control should be investigated in terrapin nesting sites.

River herring spawning habitat should be expanded by placing fish passage facilities at dams and other impediments on the tributaries to the Mullica River.

Invasive common reed and exotic purple loosestrife should be controlled where they have invaded brackish and freshwater tidal marshes. The sensitive joint vetch population on the Wading River should be protected, and water quality and quantity of freshwater and brackish tidal habitats maintained to allow for expansion of the population and protection of other rare tidal plants.

 

IX. REFERENCES:

Able, K.W., R. Lathrop, and M.P. DeLuca. 1996. Background for research and monitoring in the Mullica River - Great Bay Estuary. Technical report, Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ. Contribution #96-07 of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences.

Able, K.W., R. Hoden, D. Witting, and J.B. Durand. 1991. Physical parameters of the Great Bay - Mullica River Estuary with a list of research publications. Marine Field Station, Rutgers University, Tuckerton, NJ.

Brady, S.A. 1980. An assessment of the birdlife of the Pinelands National Reserve/Pinelands Area. Prepared for the New Jersey Pinelands Commission.

Breden, T. 1989. A preliminary natural community classification for New Jersey. In E.F. Karlin (ed.) New Jersey's rare and endangered plants and animals, pp. 157-191. Institute for Environmental Studies, Ramapo College, Mahwah, NJ.

Castelli, P. 1994. Personal communication. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish, Game, and Wildlife, Port Republic, NJ.

Conservation and Environmental Studies Center, Inc. 1980. Reptiles and amphibians of the New Jersey Pinelands. A status report prepared for the New Jersey Pinelands Commission.

Durand, J.B. 1979. Nutrient and hydrological effects of the Pine Barrens on neighboring estuaries. In R.T.T. Forman (ed.) Pine barrens ecosystem and landscape. Academic Press, NY.

Hastings R.W. 1984. The fishes of the Mullica River, a naturally acid water system of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Bulletin of New Jersey Academy of Science 29(1):9-23, Spring 1984.

Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, et al. 1996. Proposed Mullica River - Great Bay national estuarine research reserve in New Jersey, draft environmental impact statement and draft management plan. Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Environmental Planning, Trenton, NJ, and U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service, Silver Spring, MD.

Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences. 1993. A national estuarine research reserve for New Jersey: a report and preliminary recommendations. Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Report #93-19. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ.

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McCloy, T.W. and J. W. Joseph. 1985. Inventory of New Jersey's estuarine shellfish resources. Completion report 3-332-R, Dec. 1, 1979 to June 30, 1985. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Energy, Trenton, NJ.

Morgan, Mark D., R.W. Hastings, G.W. Wolfe, and K.R. Philipp. 1983. A comparison of aquatic species composition and diversity in disturbed and undisturbed Pinelands waters. Rutgers University, Center for Coastal and Environmental Studies, New Brunswick, NJ.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. 1996. Unpublished 1995 colonial waterbird survey data. Endangered and Nongame Species Program, Trenton, NJ.

New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Shellfish. Undated. Studies of the Mullica River - Great Bay Estuary. Report 26M. Bureau of Marine Fisheries Reports. 141 p.

New Jersey Natural Heritage Program. 1993. Site reports for Ballanger Creek, Batsto Macrosite, Clark's Landing Bog, Dan's Island, Little Egg Inlet Macrosite, Port Republic, Turtle Creek, Wading River Tidal Marsh, and Weekstown.

Stone, S.L. T.A. Lowery, J.D. Field, C.D. Williams, D.M. Nelson, S.H. Jury, M.E. Monaco, and L. Andreasen. 1994. Distribution and abundance of fishes and invertebrates in mid-Atlantic estuaries. ELMR Rep. no. 12. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/NOS Strategic Environmental Assessments Division, Silver Spring, MD. 280 p.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1995. Piping plover (Charadrius melodus) Atlantic coast population revised recovery plan, technical/agency draft. Region 5, Hadley, MA.


List of Species of Special Emphasis

Maps

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