Raritan Bay - Sandy Hook Bay Complex

List of Species of Special Emphasis



I. SITE NAME: Raritan Bay - Sandy Hook Bay Complex


II. SITE LOCATION: Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays form the southeastern portion of the New York - New Jersey Harbor between the southern shoreline of Staten Island, Richmond County, New York, and the northern shoreline of Monmouth County, New Jersey.

TOWNS: Atlantic Highlands, Bound Brook, East Brunswick, Highlands, Keansburg, Keyport, Matawan, New Brunswick, Old Bridge, Perth Amboy, Piscataway, Sayreville, South Amboy, South River, Union Beach, NJ; Staten Island Borough, New York City, NY

COUNTIES: Middlesex, Monmouth, NJ; Richmond, NY

STATES: New Jersey; New York

USGS 7.5 MIN QUADS: Long Branch, NJ (40074-31), Sandy Hook, NJ (40074-41), Keyport, NJ (40074-42), South Amboy, NJ (40074-43), New Brunswick, NJ (40074-44), Narrows, NJ-NY (40074-51), Arthur Kill, NJ-NY (40074-52), Perth Amboy, NJ (40074-53), Plainfield, NJ (40074-54), Bound Brook, NJ (40074-55)

USGS 30 x 60 MIN QUADS: Long Branch, NJ (40073-A1), Trenton, NJ (40074-A1), Newark, NJ (40074-E1).


III. BOUNDARY DESCRIPTION AND JUSTIFICATION: The boundary includes the nearshore portions of Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays, adjacent tidal wetlands, and small remnant freshwater wetlands and forest on the New Jersey and Staten Island shorelines. The boundary also includes the Raritan River and tidal wetlands from the first impassable barrier to fish migration at the Calco Diffusion Wier Dam upriver of the town of Bound Brook, down to the mouth on Raritan Bay, the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers, including the Swimming River Reservoir and Shadow Lake down to the confluence with Sandy Hook Bay, and the entire Sandy Hook Peninsula. The outer boundary of the complex in the bay parallels the shoreline from the tip of Sandy Hook west towards the mouth of the Raritan River, then east and north to New Dorp Beach on Staten Island.  This outer boundary generally defines an area in the bays that is relatively shallow and strongly influenced by terrestrial inputs, with relatively wide intertidal and shallow subtidal areas along the shoreline. It is thus distinguished from Lower New York Bay, which has deeper water and is more exposed to the marine influence of New York Bight. This estuarine habitat is regionally significant for shellfish and marine, estuarine, and anadromous fish, as well as for its significant migratory and wintering waterfowl concentrations. The wetlands and uplands along the shoreline of the bay are important as fish nursery areas, foraging areas for shorebirds and waterbirds, nesting and foraging areas for terrapins, migratory and wintering stopover habitat for songbirds and raptors, and as sites of rare communities and plants.


IV. OWNERSHIP/PROTECTION/RECOGNITION: Sandy Hook in New Jersey and Great Kills on Staten Island are both part of the Gateway National Recreation Area administered by the National Park Service. Portions of the New Jersey shoreline are owned by the U.S. Department of Defense, including the Highlands Army Air Defense Reservation, Earle Ammunition Depot, and the Raritan Arsenal. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection manages two natural areas within this complex, Cheesequake Creek and Swimming River. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation owns part of the Lemon Creek watershed on Staten Island; New York City owns other parts of the watershed. Portions of the uplands in New Jersey are contained within the Monmouth County Park system and parts of the Staten Island shoreline, including Wolfe's Pond, are city-owned and managed by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and New York City Parks Department. Other portions of the shoreline are a mix of public and private ownership. Although much of the area is unprotected, some wetlands are regulated in New York under the state's Freshwater Wetlands Act of 1975 and Tidal Wetlands Act of 1977, and in New Jersey under the Freshwater Wetland Protection Act and Wetlands Act of 1970; 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. The New Jersey State Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA) applies to the New Jersey shoreline as far west as Cheesequake Creek. The New York State Department of State, Division of Coastal Resources, has designated Lemon Creek as a Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat. Navesink/Shrewsbury, Seidler Beach, and Conaskonk Point have been designated and mapped as undeveloped beach units as part of the Coastal Barrier Resources System pursuant to the federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act, prohibiting federal financial assistance or flood insurance within the unit. Sandy Hook and Cliffwood Beach have been designated and mapped as otherwise protected beach units pursuant to the federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act.


V. GENERAL AREA DESCRIPTION: Raritan Bay - Sandy Hook Bay is a large embayment measuring nine by twelve miles (109 square miles) with a surface area of about 28,000 hectares (69,188 acres). The inshore portion of the bays within this habitat complex has a total area of 13,500 hectares (33,500 acres). Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays are divided between the states of New Jersey and New York, and receive direct inflow from the Raritan River, the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers, and numerous smaller tributaries along the shorelines of Staten Island and New Jersey. The bays also receive indirect inflow from the Hudson through lower New York Bay and the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers via Newark Bay and the Arthur Kill. Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay drain a watershed of approximately 3,630 square kilometers (1,400 square miles), not including the Hudson, Hackensack, or Passaic Rivers. Dredged channels in Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays range in width from 24 to 427 meters (80 to 1400 feet) and are 3 to 11 meters (10 to 35 feet) in depth. Except for the channels, the bay is relatively shallow, usually less than 6 meters (20 feet) in depth. The tidal range averages 1.7 meters (5.5 feet), entering and leaving the bay in a counter-clockwise gyre. High-salinity ocean water enters at the flood tide from the Ambrose Channel, mixes with the fresh and brackish water, and exits at ebb tide through the Sandy Hook Channel. Compared with other parts of the New York - New Jersey Harbor Estuary, the shorelines of Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays have more remaining natural shoreline and open space. The area is subject to a wide variety of fluctuations in temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, both from natural and anthropogenic activity, especially industrial and sewage effluent and storm-water runoff. The sediments of Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay are predominantly sand, with some areas of gravelly sand overlaid with coarse to fine silt and fine to very fine sand, respectively. Though the majority of the Raritan River watershed drains from the Piedmont physiographic province, the Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays and their shorelines are located on the gravels, sands, and clays of the Coastal Plain physiographic province. The terminal moraine of the most recent glaciation follows the southeastern Staten Island shoreline of Raritan Bay, reaching its southernmost extent in this region at Perth Amboy.

The Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers are wide tidal rivers surrounded by mostly residential development and separated from the Atlantic Ocean by developed barrier beaches. A few dredged material and salt marsh islands exist at the confluence of the two rivers. The north shore of the Navesink River contains a hilly forested area in Hartshorne Woods County Park. The south shore of Raritan Bay - Sandy Hook Bay, from the confluence of the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers and Sandy Hook Bay in Highland, New Jersey, west to the mouth of the Raritan River, includes a narrow strip of bayshore marshes, creeks, beaches, dunes, and remnant forests. Intertidal and shallow subtidal mudflats and sandflats extend out an average of 1/4 mile offshore of these habitats. A total of 1,460 hectares (3,600 acres) of flats was mapped in the National Wetlands Inventory for this portion of shoreline. The salt marshes along this shoreline consist of high and low marsh cordgrass (Spartina patens and S. alterniflora) with lesser amounts of black grass (Juncus gerardii), marsh elder (Iva frutescens), and groundsel bush (Baccharis halimifolia) in the high tide zone, and common reed (Phragmites australis) is invasive in many places. The upland forests are composed primarily of oaks (Quercus spp.), black cherry (Prunus serotina), and tree-of-heaven (Ailianthus altisima), with an understory of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and arrowwood (Viburnum spp.) and lowland forests composed of cottonwood (Populus heterophylla) and sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua). These wetlands, uplands, and nearshore waters form a bayshore complex which is critical for migratory and resident birds and fish. Especially important are the many small tidal creeks entering Sandy Hook and Raritan Bays including, from east to west: Wagner Creek, Many Mind Creek, Ware Creek, Compton Creek, Pews Creek, East Creek, Flat Creek, Chingarora Creek, Matawan Creek, Whale Creek, Marquis Creek, and Cheesequake Creek. Several of these creeks, Matawan Creek, East Creek, and Flat Creek, still have natural creek mouths and a few, such as Cheesequake Creek, have forested headwaters. Also important are the large tracts of bayshore salt marsh such as those at Conaskonk Point and the stretch of shoreline from Flat Creek to Thorn's Creek.

The Staten Island shoreline along Raritan Bay from New Dorp Beach to Tottenville includes beach, forest, wetland, and pond areas. Also included in this area are the intertidal and shallow subtidal mudflats extending out from the shoreline an average of about 1/4 mile. A total of 510 hectares (1,260 acres) of flats was mapped in the National Wetlands Inventory. The Great Kills Harbor and Park, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, include large areas of disturbed common reed marsh with grassland and shrub thicket at Crookes Point dominated by bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica), beach plum (Prunus maritima), sumac (Rhus spp.), hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), and black cherry. The outer shoreline follows a narrow, sandy, groined beach. A large area of flats in Great Kills Harbor extends southwest along the Staten Island Shoreline as far as Wolfe's Pond. The southeastern coast of Staten Island from Wolfe's Pond to Tottenville is the only portion of the Raritan Bay shoreline where the terminal moraine of the last glaciation actually touches the bay. The network of ponds and freshwater wetlands along this section of shoreline is often referred to as the Staten Island Blue Belt. Stream corridor and wetland properties in the blue belt have been purchased by the city of New York and are managed by the New York City Departments of Environmental Protection and Parks to provide stormwater management by maintaining the natural stream/wetland complexes in place of constructed infrastructures; in addition, these natural complexes provide habitat for resident fish, amphibians, and reptiles as well as migratory birds and insects. Wolfe's Pond Park includes an upland forest dominated by oak, hickory (Carya sp.), and American beech (Fagus grandifolia) as well as a lowland forest dominated by sweetgum, red maple (Acer rubrum), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), and pin oak (Quercus palustris), with two ponds and some beach and marsh areas. Lemon Creek includes a freshwater stream, tidal freshwater/brackish marsh, and salt marsh, with a waterfront recreation area development at the mouth. Lemon Creek is the only remaining natural tidal creek and wetland ecosystem on the south shore of Staten Island.

Sandy Hook is a club-shaped, 15-kilometer (9-mile) sand spit extending north from the New Jersey mainland into New York Harbor. The peninsula divides the open ocean of the New York Bight Apex to the east from the shallow, protected bays (Sandy Hook Bay and Raritan Bay) to the west. Sandy Hook is extremely narrow at its southern end and gradually widens to an average width of about 900 meters (3,000 feet) at the northern end. The shoreline on the ocean side is reinforced at the southern end with a seawall and groin field, but continues to erode; sandy beach is accreting at the northern end of the spit with a fairly extensive foredune vegetated with American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata). Extensive areas of backdune habitat occur toward the northern end, with dry sandy soils supporting shrubby vegetation dominated by winged sumac (Rhus copallina), bayberry, beach plum, and tree-of-heaven. Two distinct maritime forest areas occur in Sandy Hook, including a mixed-deciduous forest of about 90 hectares (225 acres) with dense vegetation dominated by American holly (Ilex opaca), black cherry, hackberry, serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia), and poison ivy (Toxidendron radicans). A second, smaller (25-hectare [60-acre]) forest occurs on the bay side of the peninsula with greater dominance by holly and presence of red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). The backside of the spit consists of extensive tidal mud and sandflats and salt marsh dominated by low marsh cordgrass inhabited by a variety of invertebrates including ribbed mussel (Geukensia demissa). There are a few small inland marsh areas dominated by common reed. The inland side of the northern end of the spit is the former Fort Hancock site with mowed lawn areas and buildings now used by the National Park Service, U.S. Coast Guard, and National Marine Fisheries Service.


VI. ECOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE/UNIQUENESS OF SITE: The significance of this complex relates to its geographic location and to the variety and quality of habitat types found here; these include shallow estuarine open waters, sandy beach, maritime forest, salt marsh, mudflats, and riparian forest. These habitats support a large number of regionally rare and important species. The Sandy Hook Peninsula separates the Atlantic Ocean from the southern portion of the New York - New Jersey Harbor Estuary and serves as a dividing line between certain groups of species, with marine, estuarine, and anadromous species concentrated on the outside, shorebirds and waterfowl concentrated on the inside, and migratory landbirds (raptors and passerines) concentrated on the peninsula itself. As is true with Jamaica Bay and Breezy Point on the other side of the Harbor entrance, Sandy Hook and Sandy Hook Bay are at the turning point of the primarily east-west oriented coastline of New England and Long Island and the north-south oriented coastline of the mid-Atlantic coast. This geographic location and configuration acts to concentrate marine and estuarine species migrating between the New York Bight portion of the North Atlantic and the Hudson-Raritan Estuary. Also, shorebirds, raptors, waterfowl, landbirds, and a variety of migratory insects migrating in both directions are concentrated in the Harbor by these coastlines. These migratory species are further forced by the surrounding urban developed land into the remaining open space and open water of Raritan and Sandy Hook bays and surrounding coastlands. Due to its complex geology and glacial history, Staten Island supports an unusual diversity of habitat types and rare plant species.

There are 205 species of special emphasis regularly using the waters and shorelands of Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook, 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.)

Federally listed endangered
peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
Atlantic (=Kemp's) ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)
sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis)
humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
sperm whale (Physter catodon)

Federally listed threatened
piping plover (Charadrius melodus)
loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)
northeastern beach tiger beetle (Cincindela d. dorsalis)

Federal species of concern(1)
northern diamondback terrapin (Maclemys t. terrapin)

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

State-listed endangered - New Jersey
Cooper's hawk (Accipter cooperii)
red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus)
northern harrier (Circus cyaneus)
black skimmer (Rhynchops niger)
least tern (Sterna antillarum)
meadow horsetail (Equisetum pratense)
coast flatsedge (Cyperus polystachyos var. taxensis)
seabeach knotweed (Polygonum glaucum)

State-listed threatened - New Jersey
great blue heron (Ardea herodias)
yellow-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax violaceus)
osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

State-listed endangered - New York
bleeding heart (Dicentra exima)
white boneset (Eupatorium leucolepis)

State-listed threatened - New York
whorled mountain mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. verticillatum)

State-listed special concern animals - New York
common loon (Gavia immer)

State-listed rare plants - New York
hyssop loosestrife (Lythrum hyssopifolia)
soapwort gentian (Gentiana saponaria)
blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica)

Over 90 species of fish have been reported in various fisheries investigations of the bays. The most abundant are some of the estuarine species that use the lower salinity areas as their permanent residence, in particular, mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus), white perch (Morone americana), and hogchoker (Trinectes macalatus). The bay complex supports recreational fisheries for weakfish (Cynoscion regalis), bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix), winter flounder (Pleuronectes americanus), summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus), striped bass (Morone saxatilis), sea bass (Centropristis striata), tautog (Tautoga onitis), scup (Stenotomus chrysops), and spot (Leiostomas xanthurus). Commercial pound net, fyke net, and staked shad net fisheries exist for American shad (Alosa sapidissima); American eel (Anguilla rostrata) and American lobster (Homarus americanus) are landed in pot fisheries, and blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) and horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) are taken in a dredge fishery. Although the bays are closed to direct market harvest of shellfish due to pollution, there are commercial quantities of northern quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria) and soft clam (Mya arenaria), which are harvested for depuration or relay. There are also areas of blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) and eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) beds as well as an Atlantic surf clam (Spisula solidissima) bed in the deeper waters north of Sandy Hook. Spawning habitat in the shoal waters for horseshoe crab provides an important food source in the spring for migrating shorebirds. There are several harbor seal haulouts on both sides of the Sandy Hook Peninsula, and both harp and ringed seals are regularly sighted. Loggerhead turtles occur off the northern tip of Sandy Hook, and Atlantic ridley sea turtles feed in Horseshoe Cove.

The migratory and mid-winter concentrations of waterfowl in this complex are especially significant, with 20-year midwinter averages of over 60,000 birds. The combination of geographic location and configuration coupled with productive bay wetlands, flats, and waters in Raritan Bay make it an important migratory staging area for many species of waterfowl on the Atlantic Flyway, with peak migration occurring in late October. November aerial counts in New Jersey waters average nearly 45,000 birds. The number of horned grebes as well as common and red-throated loons during migration is regionally significant. Especially notable are the overwintering scaup concentrations, primarily greater scaup, which have increased in this area recently and comprise an important component of the Atlantic Flyway population. Other significant species populations include Canada goose (Branta canadensis) in the Raritan River and the Navesink system, American black duck (Anas rubripes), canvasback (Aythya valisneria), mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), and brant (Branta bernicla), along with lesser numbers of bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), oldsquaw (Clangula hyemalis), mergansers, primarily red-breasted merganser (Mergus serrator), common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), and American wigeon (Anas americana). These waterfowl are not evenly distributed but, rather, tend to concentrate along the southern Raritan Bay and Staten Island shorelines and in the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers. Moderate sized flocks of scaup and American black duck and smaller rafts of brant occur along the Staten Island shoreline. The mouth of the Raritan River and the area around Perth Amboy and South Amboy is especially important for canvasback. The south shore of Raritan Bay is important for American black duck and scaup. The ponds and creeks of the Shrewsbury and Navesink system are extremely important in the winter for dabbling ducks, canvasbacks, and scaup, with bufflehead and Atlantic brant throughout the system. Double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) also occur in large numbers, as well as notable numbers of great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) in the winter. Breeding birds along the bayshore include American black duck, mallard, clapper rail (Rallus longirostris), king rail (Rallus elegans), green-backed heron (Butorides striatus), marsh wren (Cistothorus palustris), and willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus). The forest remnants support nesting by forest birds, including over 50 pairs of wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) in the forests adjacent to Cheesequake Creek as well as various vireos, warblers, flycatchers, and other forest interior-nesting birds.

The shorelines of Raritan Bay, both the south shore in Monmouth County, New Jersey, and the Staten Island, New York shoreline, concentrate migratory shorebirds and Neotropical migrant landbirds. Shorebird surveys done in the early 1980s have indicated the importance of the greater Raritan Bay for spring and fall shorebird migration with seasonal totals of over 20,000 birds based on weekly surveys. The peak months are June and August, and the primary concentration areas are Great Kills on Staten Island, the flats inside Sandy Hook, and the south shore between Chingora Creek and Conaskonk Point; three species, sanderling (Calidris alba), ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres), and semipalmated sandpiper (Calidris pusilla), make up about 85% of the total of migratory shorebirds using this area.

The embayment from Point Comfort to Conaskonk Point is a nearly uninterrupted salt marsh shoreline with natural creek mouths that is an important feeding area for shorebirds as well as black skimmer and yellow-crowned night-heron that nest just inland at Natco Lake. There are several osprey pairs nesting on poles along this stretch of marsh. Diamondback terrapin feed in the marsh and creek system and may nest in this area. Further to the west at the Raritan River mouth, egrets and ibis are often seen foraging, probably representative birds from the Harbor Herons Complex on the Arthur Kill (see narrative). A fill and marsh area at South Amboy supports a diversity of fauna and flora that, with protection and management, has potential to be an important forested shoreline area.

Notable upland areas along the Staten Island shoreline include the hybrid oak woods area in Tottenville where a number of oak hybrids with willow oak (Quercus phellos) and blackjack oak occur: Quercus x bushii, Q. x heterophylla, Q. x brittonii and Q. x rudkinii. It is suspect that willow oaks in this area are indigenous, but nonetheless the resulting hybrids are of considerable interest to the scientific community. Also occurring here is the state-listed endangered bleeding heart at the northern limits of its range and a small paw-paw (Asimina triloba) community apparently naturalized from an introduced specimen. Other rare plant species along the Tottenville shoreline include giant yellow hyssop (Agastache nepetoides), hyssop loosestrife, whorled mountain mint, and possible occurrence of white boneset. A small, unusual forest dominated by hackberry exists at Wards Point. This hackberry forest supports a population of the regionally rare tawny emperor butterfly (Asterocampa clyton). The Lemon Creek area, located to the northeast of Tottenville, contains tidal, freshwater, and adjacent upland areas that support concentrations of waterfowl, waterbirds, and songbirds throughout the year, including the only known purple martin (Progne subis) colony in New York City.

Sandy Hook is the only undeveloped barrier beach area on the northern end of the New Jersey coastline north of Island Beach State Park, located 55 kilometers (34 miles) to the south. There are currently five beach-nesting bird colonies on the ocean beach at Sandy Hook, with an average of 20 pairs of piping plover from 1985 to 1995. There has been a steady increase from eight nesting pairs of plovers in 1985 to 43 pairs in 1995 at Sandy Hook. Productivity of piping plovers at Sandy Hook is also consistently the highest in New Jersey, with an average of nearly 1.5 chicks fledged per nesting pair, compared with the statewide average of about 1.0 chick fledged per nesting pair. Over 600 least terns nested along with the piping plover at the five Sandy Hook sites in 1995, the largest number of least terns in New Jersey that year. Common tern (Sterna hirundo) also nest at one site, and black skimmer have recently nested at another beach site. Seabeach knotweed and seabeach sandwort (Honckenya peploides) occur at several beach sites at the northern tip of the island, and beach wormwood (Artemisia campestris ssp. caudata) occurs throughout the area. Historically, the federally listed threatened northeastern beach tiger beetle nested at Sandy Hook; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service are experimenting with reintroduction of this species at two locations at the northern tip, and the initial experiments have been successful. The backdune areas on Sandy Hook support spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata), box turtle (Terrapene c. carolina), eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum), and several regionally rare plant species such as Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana). Cut-leaved evening primrose (Oenethera laciniata) occurs in the sandy shoreline of Horseshoe Cove on the inside of the peninsula. Willet breed on the sandy spit at the northern end of Spermaceti Cove and clapper rail nest in the salt marsh. American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) nest on Skeleton Hill Island and feed throughout the protected wetlands and shallow waters on the inside of the hook.

Maritime holly forests that occur at Sandy Hook occur at only a few other locations in the region and are a globally imperiled community due to their rarity. The forests are important as roosting and nesting locations for a variety of birds, and include historical nesting by great blue heron, historical nesting and present roosting by black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), and nesting by several pairs of osprey and several species of passerines. The holly is also a host plant for the regionally rare butterfly Henry's Elfin (Incisalia henrici).

Spring hawk counts at Fort Hancock on Sandy Hook average nearly 5,000 birds between March and May dominated by kestrel (Falco sparverius) and sharp-shinned hawk (Accipter striatus), with lesser numbers of northern harrier (Circus cyaneus), red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus), merlin (Falco columbarius), Cooper's hawk (Accipter cooperii), turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), and osprey.


VII. THREATS AND SPECIAL PROBLEMS: Much of the upland and wetland shoreline of Raritan Bay and the watersheds of these bays have been developed, impaired, or degraded by industrial, commercial, and residential uses. Historical and present industrial uses in the watershed have resulted in the discharge of toxics including heavy metals, especially copper, hydrocarbons, PCBs, and PAHs. The sediments in western Raritan Bay were found to be relatively toxic, with diminishing toxicity to the east closer to the harbor entrance. Oil and chemical spills in the bays and surrounding areas are still common; major spills in the Arthur Kill occurred in the early 1990s. Nutrients, organic matter, and suspended solids continue to enter the watershed from sewage treatment plants and other point and nonpoint sources. Western Raritan Bay also had some of the lowest bottom water dissolved oxygen concentrations in the New York - New Jersey Harbor in recent years. There are several proposals to construct additional marinas and residential areas in the few remaining areas of undeveloped marsh and coastlands along the Raritan Bay's south shore. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating the hardening of the Staten Island shoreline for flood protection. Hardening of the remaining natural shoreline would result in loss or degradation of the shoreline and nearshore habitats. The multiple local, county, and state jurisdictions around Raritan Bay make regional planning especially challenging, particularly for fish and wildlife conservation.

Direct harvest of shellfish is not permitted in much of the bay due to high fecal bacteria counts; often after storms some bathing beaches are closed because of excessive bacterial contamination. Fish and shellfish that reside in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary are under health advisories due to contamination from a variety of toxics, including PCBs, PAHs, DDT, other pesticides, metals, radioisotopes, dioxins, and furans. In the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Status and Trends Program, the Hudson-Raritan Estuary was ranked highest overall among estuaries sampled in contaminant concentration. Floatable garbage and debris continue to impact wildlife and the shoreline of this estuary. During the summer warmwater periods, there are still large fish kills; although these are generally from unknown causes, there is mounting evidence that the cause is low dissolved oxygen (DO). These events could be driven by excessive turbidity and eutrophic microalgal blooms that occur in the nutrient-rich water. The area supports a rather large concentration of recreational watercraft; the impacts of their individual effects (unburned fuel and oil residues, antifouling paints, noise, waves, trash, and marina infrastructure), when taken as a whole, are not yet fully understood.

Extensive use of the beaches at Sandy Hook has resulted in some disturbance of nesting birds and has created increasing public pressure for additional parking lots and open beach areas that would further diminish natural habitats in this area. Southern portions of the beach at Sandy Hook are threatened by erosion. In addition, sea level rise and dredging of channels and borrow pits have resulted in the loss of productive shallow water areas in the bays. Dams at Shadow Lake and the Swimming River Reservoir on the Navesink River and on other tributaries in the area, such as Matawan Creek and Cheesequake Creek, are impediments to anadromous fish runs that historically occurred there.

Accidental releases of oil and other hazardous materials are a major threat in this area. Spills can occur during each mode of transportation and during product transfer. Severity of spill impacts is affected by numerous factors, such as type of oil product, behavior of the product on water, volume of the spill, weather conditions, time of year, and habitats impacted. Biological resources at risk include all stages of benthic organisms, the eggs, larvae, and juvenile stages of fish and shellfish, waterfowl, seabirds, shorebirds, beach strand plants, colonial waterbirds, marine mammals, and sea turtles. Nonpoint sources, less easily recognized, contribute up to half of all the oil-related pollution, and result from municipal and urban wastes, urban runoff, atmospheric deposition of incomplete combustion products from autos and trucks, unrecovered spent motor oils, leaks from offshore operations, and burned and unburned fuels and lubrication products from boating. This chronic low-level pollution has devastating and widely differing effects on fish, invertebrates, and algae, with the early life stages being most vulnerable.


VIII. CONSERVATION RECOMMENDATIONS: The remaining undeveloped shoreline, especially the natural creek mouths along Raritan Bay, are some of the last remnants of this type of habitat in the urban core; they need to be kept in as natural a state as possible and protected in the event of oil or chemical spills. Restoration of forest on vacant sites along the bay shoreline is a priority, due to the scarcity of this habitat type along the bay. Monitoring of sites within this complex, especially the 20-year long-term bird monitoring program being conducted by New Jersey Audubon at a network of sites along the south shore, provides valuable information and should be continued and monitoring plans developed using these data. A regional conservation plan focusing on the protection of the remaining natural communities along the bayshore would help address the multiple concerns and jurisdictions involved in Raritan Bay.

It is not necessarily best, nor possible, for government agencies or conservation organizations always to acquire all the lands needed to protect a rare community type or important habitat. Various approaches and strategies exist for protecting valuable wildlife habitats; each provides different degrees of protection and requires different levels of commitment by regulatory agencies, conservation organizations, and landowners. These techniques include combined public and private financing, land exchanges, conservation easements, cooperative management agreements, mutual covenants, purchase of development rights, comprehensive planning, zoning and land-use regulations, enforcement of existing local, state, and federal regulations, and fee simple acquisition. Techniques can be combined to develop a strategy for land protection that is tailored to a specific site. Partnerships among individual landowners within habitat complexes offer an exciting, practical, and innovative approach to the large, landscape-scale habitats recognized here.

Recent efforts to restore eelgrass in Raritan Bay have failed, but might be possible with additional improvements in water quality. Efforts should be made to maintain and restore eelgrass beds in the Shrewsbury and Navesink system. Maintaining eelgrass beds will depend on reducing inputs of nutrients and suspended solids into this system. The Navesink River Water Quality Improvement Project in Monmouth County being conducted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Department of Agriculture should be continued and expanded to other watersheds along the south shore of Raritan Bay.

The American Littoral Society has conducted surveys of impediments to spawning at creeks feeding into New York Harbor. They have recommended that fish passage be restored through the installation of fish ladders at Shadow Lake and Swimming River Reservoir, part of the Navesink system. Other possible fish passage techniques such as cleanup of tributaries and herring heaves (manual movement of fish) may be feasible on other small tributaries such as Matawan Creek and Cheesequake Creek on the south shore.

On Sandy Hook, the National Park Service should continue to protect both current and potential beach nesting areas and adequate buffers; additionally, it should limit or restrict the recreational use of beaches and development of recreational facilities that would reduce or disturb beach nesting by rare species. Sandy Hook contains some of the largest and most successful beach-nesting bird populations in the region, and the protection of these should be a high priority. Protection efforts such as fencing for beach-nesting birds should be expanded to include rare beach strand plants where appropriate. Once successful reintroduction techniques are developed, the northeastern beach tiger beetle should be reintroduced at several locations on Sandy Hook. The National Park Service should also continue to maintain protection of maritime forest and backdune areas and ensure the perpetuation of natural coastal processes on the barrier spit.

Oil industry use of best management practices, training programs, equipment maintenance, and strict adherence to industry standards and government regulations is essential to preventing oil spills. Government support and oversight is needed to evaluate techniques and materials to decrease the frequency and impacts of spills. Identification and mapping of significant habitats should be included in oil spill contingency plans. Planning efforts and practice drills by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Regional Response Teams and the USCG - Captain of the Port Oil Spill Area Contingency Plans Area Committees must be conducted annually for readiness to contain and remediate spills.



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Cech, R. 1993. A distributional checklist of the butterflies and skippers of the New York City area (50-mile radius) and Long Island. New York City Butterfly Club.

Durkas, S.J. 1992. Impediments to the spawning success of anadromous fish in tributaries of the NewYork/New Jersey Harbor watershed. A report prepared for the American Littoral Society Baykeeper, Sandy Hook, Highlands, NJ.

Durkas, S.J. 1993. A guideline to restore anadromous fish runs in selected tributaries of the New York/New Jersey Harbor watershed. A management paper prepared for the American Littoral Society Baykeeper, Sandy Hook, Highlands, NJ.

Kane, R. and P. Kerlinger. 1993. Raritan Bay habitat and wildlife inventory, 1992-1993. New Jersey Audubon Society, Bernardsville, NJ.

Kane, R. and P. Kerlinger. 1994. Raritan Bay wildlife habitat report with recommendations for conservation. New Jersey Audubon Society, Bernardsville, NJ. 24 p.

MacKensie, C.L. Jr. 1992. The fisheries of Raritan Bay. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 1995. Magnitude and extend of sediment toxicity in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration technical memorandum NOS ORCA 88. National Status and Trends Program, Silver Spring, MD.

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

New York City Department of Environmental Protection. 1994. New York Harbor water quality survey: 1994. Marine Sciences Section, Wards Island, NY.

New York State Department of State. 1992. Significant coastal fish and wildlife habitats program, a part of the New York coastal management program and New York City's approved waterfront revitalization program. Lemon Creek habitat narrative and map. New York State Department of State, Division of Coastal Resources and Waterfront Revitalization, Albany, NY.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 1990. Programmatic environmental impact statement on Staten Island freshwater wetlands preservation. Long Island City, NY

O'Connell, A. 1980. The relationships of mammals to the major vegetation communities in Gateway National Recreation Area (Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Breezy Point, and Sandy Hook) including a soil analysis of selected areas. Gateway Institute for Natural Resource Sciences. Gate-N-012-II.

Siebenheller, N. 1981. Breeding birds of Staten Island, 1881-1981 including Shooter's Island, Prall's Island and Hoffman and Swinburne Islands. Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences, Staten Island, NY.

Stalter, R. 1979. Some ecological observations on an Ilex forest, Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Castanea 44:202-207.

Stalter, R. undated. Rare plants of Gateway National Recreation Area, New York, New Jersey: a report for the National Park Service. Unpublished report.

U.S. Department of the Interior 1979. Final environmental statement, general management plan. Gateway National Recreation Area - New York/New Jersey. 256 p.

U.S. Department of the Interior. 1989. Mammals. Pamphlet for Gateway National Recreation Area, National Park Service.

U.S. Department of the Interior. 1992. Amphibians and reptiles. Pamphlet for Gateway National Recreation Area, National Park Service.

U.S. Department of the Interior. 1994. Personal communication with staff of Gateway National Recreation Area including: John Tanacredi, Robert Cook, Don Reipe, Ann Scaglione, and Michael Byer.

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

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1994. Northeastern beach tiger beetle (Cincindela d. dorsalis) recovery plan. Hadley, MA. 48 p.

Venezia, K. and R. Cook. 1991. Flora of Gateway National Recreation Area. U.S. Department of the Interior. Unpublished report. 39 p.

Wilk, S.J., W.W. Morse, D.E. Ralph, and T.R. Azarovitz. 1977. Fishes and associated environmental data collected in the New York Bight, June 1974-75. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration technical report, National Marine Fisheries Service, special scientific report SSRF-716. 53 p.

List of Species of Special Emphasis


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