Barnegat Bay Complex

List of Species of Special Emphasis



I. SITE NAME: Barnegat Bay Complex


II. SITE LOCATION: The Barnegat Bay complex contains the open water and tidal wetlands of Barnegat Bay, Manahawkin Bay, and Little Egg Harbor between the barrier beach and the mainland along the Atlantic coast of New Jersey, and portions of Island Beach and Long Beach barrier islands from Point Pleasant south to Little Egg Inlet about 115 kilometers (70 miles) south of New York City.

TOWNS: Barnegat Light, Beach Haven, Berkeley, Dover, Eagleswood, Little Egg Harbor, Mantoloking, Ocean, Tuckerton


STATE: New Jersey

USGS 7.5 MIN QUADS: Beach Haven, NJ (39074-52), Tuckerton, NJ (39074-53), New Gretna, NJ (39074-54), Long Beach NE, NJ (39074-61), Ship Bottom, NJ (39074-62), Barnegat Light, NJ (39074-71), Forked River, NJ (39074-72), Seaside Park, NJ (39074-81), Toms River, NJ (39074-82), Point Pleasant, NJ (40074-11), Lakewood, NJ (40074-12)

USGS 30 x 60 MIN QUAD: Hammonton, NJ (39074-E1)


III. BOUNDARY DESCRIPTION AND JUSTIFICATION: The Barnegat Bay complex significant habitat boundary includes: the open waters and wetlands of Barnegat Bay, Manahawkin Bay, and Little Egg Harbor; the lower portions of the major tidal rivers (Metedeconk River and Toms River) and smaller coastal streams (Cedar Creek, Forked River, Oyster Creek, Mill Creek, Cedar Run, Westecunk Creek, and Mill Branch) feeding into these bays; the less developed segments of the barrier islands (Mantoloking Beach, Island Beach, Long Beach, and Holgate); and the nearshore zone of the New York Bight extending out about 1/4 mile seaward from the barrier beach. This segment of coastline is part of a system of barrier beaches and productive, shallow, backbarrier lagoon estuaries along the Atlantic coast of New Jersey that are of tremendous importance to resident and migratory bird and fish species, especially estuarine fish and shellfish, migratory and wintering waterfowl, migratory shorebirds, colonial nesting waterbirds, migratory passerines and raptors, and resident terrapins, as well as other fish and wildlife species.


IV. OWNERSHIP/PROTECTION/RECOGNITION STATUS: Underwater lands in the bays are in public (state and federal) ownership. Much of the salt marsh and segments of the barrier beach are also in public ownership. The rest of the shoreline is a mix of public and private ownership. The entire Barnegat Division (7,052 hectares [18,909 acres]) and part of the Brigantine Division (9,676 hectares [23,910 acres]) of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge Complex are located in this area, including major portions of the salt marshes along the mainland shoreline, and the southern end of Long Beach barrier island (Holgate Unit) which is designated as a wilderness area. State-owned lands consist of Manahawkin Wildlife Management Area, including Manahawkin Natural Area; Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area, including Great Bay Natural Area; Sedge Islands State Wildlife Management Area; and Island Beach State Park, including Island Beach Southern Natural Area, Island Beach Northern Natural Area, and Swan Point Natural Area. Ocean County Parks include Cattus Island County Park. The New Jersey Natural Heritage Program recognizes several Priority Sites for Biodiversity within the Barnegat Bay complex. These sites are listed here, along with their biodiversity ranks: Barnegat Light (B2 - very high biodiversity significance), Holgate (B2), Little Egg Inlet Macrosite (in part) (B2), Forked River Pond (B3 - high biodiversity significance), Island Beach Macrosite (B3), Mantoloking Beach (B3), Bonnet Island (B4 - moderate biodiversity significance), East Carvel (B4), East Ham (B4), Forked River Woods (B4), Manahawkin Bay Macrosite (B4), Mikes Island (B4), Sedge Islands at Island Beach (B4), and West Vol Sedge (B4). The entire E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge has been designated as a Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. Barnegat Bay has recently (1995) been designated as an estuary of national significance by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the National Estuary Program. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has identified Brigantine/Barnegat wetlands, Manahawkin Lake, and Reedy Creek as priority wetland sites under the federal Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986. The Brigantine/Barnegat wetlands is a focus area under the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. The plan recommends acquiring and protecting 9,649 hectares (23,400 acres) in this area. Metedeconk Neck has been designated and mapped as an undeveloped beach unit 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. Brigantine, Bonnet Island, and Island Beach have been designated and mapped as otherwise protected beach units pursuant to the Coastal Barrier Resources Act. 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 barrier beach/backbarrier lagoon system extends for 154 kilometers (95 miles) along the New Jersey coastline from Point Pleasant south to Cape May. The Barnegat Bay complex as defined here includes the northern 68 kilometers (42 miles) of this system from Point Pleasant south to Little Egg Inlet. This part of the backbarrier system is distinguished from the more southern New Jersey lagoons by having a smaller watershed, fewer inlet connections with the New York Bight, more open water and subtidal aquatic beds, and less emergent marsh. The variety of highly productive shallow water and adjacent upland habitats found in this system include barrier beach and dune, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) beds, intertidal sand and mudflats, salt marsh islands, fringing tidal salt marshes, freshwater tidal marsh, and palustrine swamps.

Barnegat Bay is a shallow lagoon-type estuary with an estuarine drainage area of 3,500 square kilometers (1,350 square miles), a surface area of 167 square kilometers (64 square miles), and a volume of 238 million cubic meters. The bay's long axis parallels the mainland for 48 kilometers (30 miles) and has irregular basin widths from 2 to 6.5 kilometers (1.2 to 4 miles). The bay is considered a shallow estuary with a mean depth of 1.5 meters (5 feet) and a maximum depth of 6 meters (20 feet). In general, the eastern portions of the Bay are shallower, due to overwashes from the barrier island and sediment inflow from the inlets, than are the central and western portions, and the bay is deepest along the Intracoastal Waterway which is dredged for navigation purposes to maintain a depth of 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet).

The bay system connects with the nearshore waters of the Atlantic Ocean through two major natural inlets, Barnegat Inlet and Little Egg Harbor Inlet, and also through the Bay Head-Manasquan Canal and Manasquan Inlet at the northern end of the complex. The tidal range of 0.95 meters (3 feet) pushes high salinity water through the Barnegat Inlet, but damping reduces this range to 0.15 meters (0.5 feet) further into the bay. Mean tidal currents at Barnegat Inlet are 1.1 meters per second during flood and 1.3 meters per second during ebb. The resultant salinity tends to increase from north to south within the bay. The average salinity in the central bay is 25 parts per thousand (ppt) and ranges from 19 to 30 ppt, with lower salinities at the mouths of rivers and creeks and greater salinities at the inlets. Water temperature ranges from a recorded winter low of -1.4C (29.5F) to summer highs of 28C (82F). Barnegat Inlet has an estimated exchange rate of 7% per tide, and a net discharge rate of 56.7 cubic meters (2,002 cubic feet) per second. This small exchange ratio of bay water escaping each tidal cycle means that complete turnover takes about 50 days. The inflow of high salinity water at Bay Head and Barnegat Inlet has its most profound effect on the circulation patterns and salinity regime in the northern and central bay. Wind action keeps this generally weakly stratified estuary mixed; occasionally, temperature inversions occur at the river mouths. Freshwater enters the estuary directly from surface runoff and groundwater seepage along the mainland. The freshwater discharge from tributaries that drain the New Jersey Pinelands equals 10.2 cubic meters/second (360 cubic feet/second). Toms River has by far the greatest freshwater flow (5.7 cubic meters/second [201 cubic feet/second]), followed by Cedar Creek (3.1 cubic meters/second [109 cubic feet/second]). Some of the other tributaries from north to south include Forked River, Oyster Creek, Mill Creek, Cedar Run, Westecunk Creek, and Mill Branch.

Extensive areas of the estuarine substratum are covered with submerged aquatic vegetation including benthic algae and vascular plants (seagrasses). Light is essential for the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation and, under low turbidity conditions, sunlight can reach the majority of the shallow bay bottom. Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is the dominant seagrass in Barnegat Bay. Dense beds of eelgrass occur at depths of 1 meters (3.2 feet) or less, especially on the flats around the inlets and along the backside of the barrier beach and in Manahawkin Bay. Widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima) also occurs in the bay, primarily in the sandflats of the eastern part. Lower salinity areas in the northern part of the bay also support sago pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus). Eelgrass is an important component of the ecosystem because of its ability to convert the sun's energy into food for higher organisms. The plants contribute to primary production in the detritus-based food chain and also indirectly through epiphytic algae that grow on the stems and leaves. Eelgrass beds create food and cover for invertebrate species which are, in turn, eaten by fish, waterfowl, and larger invertebrates; the beds also provide essential spawning and nursery habitat, as well as refugia for many invertebrates such as blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), mollusks, and juvenile fish. At least 116 species of benthic algae, including both macroalgae and epiphytic algae, have been identified from Barnegat Bay. The overall composition varies greatly, but the consistently dominant seaweed species are sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca), red seaweed (Gracilaria tikvahiae), green fleece (Codium fragile), banded weed (Ceramium fastigiatum), and red seaweed (Agardhiella subulata).

Benthic invertebrates in the bay include hard substrate residents like mussels and barnacles, epibenthic resident crabs, amphipods and free-swimming mysids, and benthic infauna residents including polychaete worms, clams, and 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. In converting that energy into growth, these organisms are in turn consumed as 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), menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus), and black sea bass (Centropristis striata), exports a substantial portion of the energy of the estuary to the ocean.

The extensive salt marshes along the mainland shoreline and salt marsh islands in the bay are predominantly high marsh with salt-meadow cordgrass (Spartina patens) as the dominant species. Along the mainland shoreline in areas influenced by fresh water, common reed (Phragmites australis), narrow-leaved cattail (Typha angustifolia), and bulrushes (Scirpus spp.) commonly occur. Low marsh, dominated by smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), occurs in intertidal areas, especially along the tidal creeks and channels. Swamps occurring along the upland border include red maple (Acer rubrum), Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), sweetbay (Magnolia virginica), and black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), with blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), and swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum) dominant in the shrub layer.

Barnegat Bay is both separated and protected from the high energy environment of the New York Bight by an extensive barrier beach system composed of two major segments, the Island Beach spit that extends from Bay Head south to Barnegat Inlet and the Long Beach barrier island that extends from Barnegat Inlet south to Little Egg Inlet. Both barriers have substantial segments of commercial and residential development; nonetheless, there are two sizable and relatively natural areas: Island Beach State Park (15.5 kilometers [9.6 miles]) and the Holgate Unit (3.5 kilometers [2.2 miles]) of the E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge at the southern tip of Long Beach Island. The natural stretches of barrier islands have sand beaches with extensive primary and secondary dune systems along the ocean side of the barrier and salt marsh and tidal flats on the backside of the barrier. The primary or foredune is dominated by American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligata) in association with several other species, including seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) and beach pea (Lathyrus maritimus). Behind the secondary dunes at Island Beach Northern Natural Area, there is a coastal dune woodland community, or maritime forest, consisting of red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)-dominated forest and associated trees, including American holly (Ilex opaca), black cherry (Prunus serotina), sassafras (Sasssafras albidum), willow oak (Quercus phellos), southern red oak (Quercus falcata), and serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), and shrubs including bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), blueberry, sweet pepperbush, hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), and vines. Other areas have more open woodlands dominated by pitch pine (Pinus rigida) with Atlantic white cedar and scattered holly and oak trees and a shrub layer dominated by highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). Coastal shrub thickets in the secondary dunes at Island Beach and Holgate (southern tip of Long Beach) are dominated by beach plum (Prunus maritima) and bayberry, with a few red cedar trees and patches of beach heather (Hudsonia tomentosa). Sections of the barrier islands at Mantoloking Beach and Barnegat Light have light residential and commercial development, but have maintained a natural beach and dune system that supports important beach-nesting bird colonies, especially in areas that are accreting sand.


VI. ECOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE/UNIQUENESS OF SITE: The Barnegat Bay barrier beach/backbarrier lagoon complex is a productive and regionally significant coastal area throughout the year. Especially notable are marine and estuarine fisheries populations, colonial nesting waterbird colonies on the beaches and salt marsh islands, migrating and wintering waterfowl throughout the system, migrating shorebirds, especially in the fall, migrating passerines and raptors, rare coastal woodland communities on the barrier beaches, and pine barrens coastal streams with rare plant occurrences.

There are 156 species of special emphasis in the Barnegat Bay complex, incorporating 52 species of fish and 79 species of birds, 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.)

Federally listed endangered
peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
roseate tern (Sterna dougalii)

Federally listed threatened
piping plover (Charadrius melodus)
swamp pink (Helonias bullata)

Federal species of concern(1)
northern pine snake (Pituophis m. melanoleucus)
northern diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys t. terrapin)
black rail (Laterallus jamaicensis)
pine barren boneset (Eupatorium resinosum)

1Species of special 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)
seabeach knotweed (Polygonum glaucum)

State-listed threatened
great blue heron (Ardea herodias)
little blue heron (Egretta caerulea)
osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
barred owl (Strix varia)

Finfish make up a critical component of the bay's ecosystem. The finfish community in Barnegat Bay is composed of different categories, including 31% residents, 65% warm-water migrants, 3% cool-water migrants, and 1% marine and freshwater strays. A three-year study of Barnegat Bay in the late 1970s documented 107 fish species of 57 families. 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 such as bay anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli), silversides (Menidia spp.), gobies (Gobiosoma spp.), tautog (Tautoga onitis), cunner (Tautogolabrus adspersus), and northern pipefish (Syngnathus fuscus). The anadromous striped bass (Morone saxatilis) is found year-round; however, there is no evidence to suggest spawning. Bay anchovy, a primarily estuarine and coastal fish that is tolerant of a wide range of salinities (2.2 to 21.2 parts per thousand), is the mainstay Barnegat Bay forage fish, and a ubiquitous inhabitant of the bays, creeks, and lagoon systems. This species appears in samples nine months of the year, with peak abundance occurring in summer. Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia) is another abundant forage fish in this system. The ten most common fish, ranked by their relative abundance, are bay anchovy, Atlantic silverside, fourspine stickleback (Apeltes quadracus), spot, winter flounder, inland silverside (Menidia beryllina), northern pipefish, mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus), bluefish, and oyster toadfish (Opsanus tau). In the Manahawkin Bay - Little Egg Harbor system, 66 species of finfish were reported in a 1976 New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Energy study. The five most abundant species, making up to 80% of sampling for all gear types, were bay anchovy, Atlantic silverside, fourspine stickleback, mummichog, and tidewater silverside. The next most abundant fish were Atlantic menhaden, banded killifish (Fundulus diaphanus), silver perch, winter flounder, white perch (Morone americana), bluefish, and weakfish. River herrings utilize several coastal streams up to the first impassable barriers for spawning; these include Beaverdam Creek, Metedeconk River, Kettle Creek, Cedar Creek, Mill Creek, and several unnamed tributaries. Dams and tide gates limit the extent of spawning habitat for river herrings. Some of the first obstructions to passage are: Lake Carasaljo Dam on the South Branch of the Metedeconk River; Lake Riviera Dam on Kettle Creek; New Jersey Dam #113 on Polhemmes Brook; Pine Lake Park Dam on Union Brook, a tributary of the Toms River; Holiday Heights Dam on the Davenport Branch of the Toms River; Double Trouble North Dam on Cedar Creek; Parker Street Dam on the North Branch of the Forked River; Manahawkin Pond Dam on Cedar Creek tributary; and Pohatcong Lake Dam on Tuckerton Creek.

The commercially harvested northern quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria) is the most valuable of the food species harvested in the bays. The densities of hard clams are highest in the open water and sandflats areas at the southern end of Barnegat Bay and in Little Egg Harbor. Other species supporting commercial fisheries activities include blue crab, white perch, winter flounder, and American eel. The bay is an important spawning and nursery area for blue crab. Adult crabs can be found from late May, when crabs come out of their wintering habitat in the bottom sediments, until October when they return. Crabbing has always been important to this area; one hundred years ago, more crabbing was done in this bay than in any other area on the East Coast. Because blue crab is sensitive to a number of environmental perturbations, including recreational and commercial harvest, anthropogenic effects on the environment, and vagaries of absolute abundance, its population is likely to continue to vary widely in the future.

The northern diamondback terrapin lives and feeds in the bays, especially among the salt marsh islands, and nests above the high tide line on the back sides of barrier islands, sandy beaches, dredged material islands, dirt roads, causeways, and other suitable locations with sandy soil.

The aquatic habitats of this lagoon system are especially productive during the spring and summer months, supporting a large forage fish and invertebrate food base which, in turn, supports a large variety and concentration of migrating and breeding birds. Osprey nest, generally on platforms, in the salt marshes and marsh islands throughout this backbarrier lagoon system. Barnegat Bay is an important area for osprey, with about 50 active nests in 1993. Sedge Islands Wildlife Management Area has been particularly important for breeding birds in recent years. Colonial nesting waterbirds include wading birds such as herons, egrets, and ibises which generally require shrubs and trees for nesting, beach-nesting birds such as least terns and piping plover (which also occasionally nest on dredged material islands), and other colonial nesters such as some gull and tern species which nest on salt marsh islands and dredged material islands. The most recent comprehensive aerial colonial waterbird surveys were conducted in 1989 and 1995. There was a total of about 500 long-legged waders at seven heronries in 1989, and 435 waders at 14 heronries in 1995. For both years combined, the most abundant birds, in descending order, were snowy egret (Egretta thula), great egret (Casmerodius albus), glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), little blue heron, tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor), and yellow-crowned night heron. Middle Island had the highest nesting abundance in 1989 with 179 birds, and Harvey Sedges had the highest total nesting abundance in 1995 with 88 birds. Other islands used as heronries include Flat Island, Chadwick Island, Goosebar Sedge, Story Island, Island Beach and Barnegat Inlet. There were over 11,000 gulls in 1989 and 5,000 gulls in 1995, dominated by laughing gulls (Larus atricilla) in 1989 and herring gulls (Larus argentatus) in 1995, with lesser numbers of great black-backed gulls (Larus marinus). There were nearly 5,000 terns in 1989 and 2,600 terns in 1995, almost all common tern (Sterna hirundo). There was one colony of least tern on Pelican (Mike's) Island in 1985 and one colony of Forster's tern (Sterna forsteri) in 1989 on Story Island. There were three colonies of Forster's tern in Barnegat Bay in 1995, including 320 adults on Bunting Sedge. Bonnet Island has supported small numbers of least terns, which have occasionally used several other islands in the bays. Black skimmer also nests in small numbers at several islands in Barnegat Bay and on the beaches. Other marsh-nesting birds in Barnegat Bay include northern harrier, sharp-tailed sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus), seaside sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus), clapper rail (Rallus longirostris), Virginia rail (Rallus limicola), and black rail (Laterallus jamaicensis). Manahawkin Wildlife Management Area and the Holgate Unit of the E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge are two areas with known sizable historical populations of black rail. Black rails were reported at Manahawkin in recent (1988) surveys.

Beach-nesting least tern, piping plover, and black skimmer are surveyed annually. Important stretches of beach for piping plover include Mantoloking Beach, Barnegat Light, and Holgate. Holgate supported an average of 13 nesting pairs of piping plover from 1985 to 1995, and in recent years has supported the highest numbers of black skimmers in the state and in the region with 1,500 birds counted in 1993, although only about 45% of these birds nested. Barnegat Bay was the most important area for nesting black skimmer in 1995; 570 birds were counted at ten sites through a combination of aerial and ground surveys. Barnegat Light had the highest abundance of nesting skimmers in 1995. Holgate and Barnegat Inlet have the highest nesting in New Jersey by least terns, with 400 adults and 307 adults, respectively, in 1993. Least tern and black skimmer also nest in small numbers on islands in the bay. Island Beach State Park historically has supported beach-nesting birds and remains important potential habitat for these species. Flooding and predation by mammals and gulls have reduced the reproductive success at Holgate. There are also several historical occurrences of the federally listed threatened northeastern beach tiger beetle (Cincindela d. dorsalis) at Island Beach and Holgate, including a fairly recent occurrence. These may be appropriate sites for reintroduction of the species.

Breeding waterfowl include mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), American black duck (Anas rubripes), gadwall (Anas strepera), blue-winged teal (Anas discors), and Canada goose (Branta canadensis). Breeding landbirds are also significant in the coastal fringe. Nearly 100 species of birds were recorded as probable or confirmed breeders in or adjacent to Barnegat Bay in the first two years of the state's Breeding Bird Atlas. Forest adjacent to the salt marshes supports nesting by songbirds such as black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia) and ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus). Forty-one species of landbirds have been documented from the Barnegat Division of E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, including ovenbird, scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea), yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia), and pine warbler (Dendroica pinus).

Total mid-winter aerial waterfowl counts in the bays average nearly 50,000 birds, including significant concentrations, in descending order, of greater and lesser scaup (Aythya marila and Aythya affinis), brant (Branta bernicla), American black duck, bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), canvasback (Aythya valisineria), mallard, Canada goose, common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), mergansers (Mergus spp.), and oldsquaw (Clangula hyemalis). These birds are not evenly distributed over the bays, but are often rafted in significant concentration areas. Although daytime rafting areas do not reflect the total area used by these birds, some correlation can be drawn between rafting location, habitat, and food preferences. Dabbling ducks such as mallard, which feed on plants and some animals, occur throughout this system; diving ducks, including canvasback and scaup, which rely largely on bivalve mollusks and gastropods for food, are found primarily in the deeper open water habitats where bottom sediments are rich in this food base. Some known concentration areas include rafts of canvasbacks in Silver Bay, concentrations of waterfowl around West Point Island, and concentrations of American black ducks around Sedge Island and the backshore of Island Beach.

The Atlantic coastal corridor of New Jersey is one of most important migratory corridors in the hemisphere for shorebirds, passerines, waterfowl, and raptors. The southbound fall migration actually begins in late June and extends through November. Shorebirds are concentrated in the shallow intertidal sand and mudflats and tidal creeks. The International Shorebird Survey has found the Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area to be a regionally important shorebird site, especially for red knot (Calidris canutus) in the fall. Nearby Brigantine Beach has important fall concentrations of dunlin (Calidris alpina), American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus), black-bellied plover (Pluvialis squatarola), piping plover, sanderling (Calidris alba), and semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus); the Barnegat Division of the E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge also has important spring and fall concentrations of many species of shorebirds, including ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres), semipalmated sandpiper (Calidris pusilla), least sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), and short-billed dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus).

Waterfowl migrating through this area in November average over 25,000 birds. The most abundant species, listed in declining order of abundance, include brant, American black duck, scaup, mallard, bufflehead, Canada goose, and mergansers. Migratory populations of sea ducks such as oldsquaw and diving ducks such as canvasback, scaup, and common goldeneye occurring in significant concentrations in the mid-winter surveys are not yet present in as large numbers during the fall.

The barrier beach is an important autumn migration route for raptors. A hawk watch at Island Beach State Park documented mostly osprey, northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus), American kestrel (Falco sparverius), merlin (Falco columbarius), and peregrine falcon.

Seabirds migrating along the coast include loons (Gavia spp.), northern gannet (Sula bassanus), cormorants (Phalacrocorax spp.), scoters (Melanitta spp.), sooty shearwater (Puffinus griseus), and Wilson's storm petrel (Oceanites oceanicus). Nearly 900,000 seabirds were counted migrating past Avalon (Cape May County) from July through December 1995.

A study of migrating Neotropical landbirds on Cape May and the Delmarva Peninsula found that both bird abundance and species richness were higher in the coastal areas than in inland areas and bird abundance was almost twice as high on barrier islands as on the mainland. It is likely that these trends extend up the coast to include the Barnegat Bay area.

Rare plants found on the barrier beaches include seabeach knotweed (Polygonum glaucum) at Island Beach and Holgate. Palustrine (inland nontidal) wetland communities adjacent to the salt marshes and tidal creeks on the mainland side of Barnegat Bay also support rare species typically found on the salt marsh fringes, including smooth orange milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata) and rare species typically found in the pine barrens wetlands, such as the federally listed threatened swamp pink and federal candidate pine barren boneset. Other rare and local species, including curly-grass fern (Schizaea pusilla), fragrant ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes odorata), mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum), and southern twayblade (Listera australis), are also found here.


VII. THREATS AND SPECIAL PROBLEMS: Degradation of Barnegat Bay water quality is primarily caused by nonpoint sources of pollution. The chief nonpoint source is land development along the immediate shoreline and in the coastal watershed and its associated activities, such as septic systems, lawn and garden maintenance, golf course maintenance, automobile use, and agriculture, all of which increase as human population increases. The current distribution of primary production in the bay reflects excessive nutrient loading resulting 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 causing declines in eelgrass include eelgrass wasting disease, dredging and filling operations, excessive nutrient loading which causes blooms of phytoplankton that reduce light penetration, and disturbance by power boats. Loss of eelgrass beds may eliminate other species by no longer providing them with specific benthic habitat requirements.

Disturbance of waterbird colonies in the bays and on the beaches may reduce habitat suitability and productivity. Gulls, whose populations are increasing, compete with terns and skimmers for nesting sites and prey on terns and plovers. Beach colonies of least terns, piping plovers, and black skimmers are particularly susceptible to human disturbance and predation by gulls, foxes, raccoons, opossum, cats, and rats. Off-road vehicle use on beaches limits their suitability for successful nesting by piping plover, least tern, and other beach-nesting birds. Erosion and flooding also threaten beach colonies. Rare dune shrubland and woodland communities are easily disturbed by vehicular and pedestrian activities.

Invasion by common reed has resulted in a major change in salt marsh, brackish tidal marsh, and freshwater pond communities.

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.

Warm water from the Oyster Creek Nuclear Power station results in higher water temperatures than those of the surrounding area. Juvenile marine and estuarine turtles are impinged on cooling water intakes for the Oyster Creek power station. Dams limit the extent of spawning habitat for river herrings.


VIII. CONSERVATION RECOMMENDATIONS: Through a combination of public outreach, signs, fencing, and enforcement, disturbance of colonial nesting waterbird colonies should be reduced and historical beach nesting areas should be restored. Predator exclosures should be used to limit predation of piping plover eggs, where appropriate, and nesting pairs closely monitored and protected. Predator control should be used when necessary to limit predation of beach-nesting birds. Off-road vehicle use of the remaining natural beaches at Island Beach State Park and the Holgate Unit of the E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge should be banned during the summer nesting season when birds are present and limited during the rest of the year, particularly during the shorebird migration period. It is critical to maintain the full range of natural coastal processes on the barrier islands, including inlet formation, overwash, and dune building and erosion cycles. Dredged material could be used beneficially to create and maintain nesting areas for least terns and black skimmers on beaches and islands by reducing the amount of vegetation and increasing sandy areas.

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.

Invasive common reed should be controlled through various means where it has invaded salt and brackish marshes in this area. Efforts to restore salt marshes in the area through open marsh water management (OMWM) should be designed to benefit a variety of fish and wildlife, especially shorebirds.

River herring spawning habitat should be expanded by placing fish passage facilities at dams and other impediments on the tributaries. Analyses of existing impediments to fish passage should be undertaken to determine the amount of fish spawning and nursery habitat available above each obstruction, and priorities developed so that any restoration monies would be wisely spent.

The coastal forests and other uplands adjacent to the mainland marshes on Barnegat Bay and in the coastal watersheds are extremely productive and provide important buffers for the bay. These forests should be protected through a variety of methods, including acquisitions for the adjacent National Wildlife Refuge or State Wildlife Management Areas, conservation easements, and strict regulations. The high water quality of the streams in the Barnegat Bay watershed in the New Jersey Pinelands needs to be maintained and the riparian forests protected. The Trust for Public Land recently published a study, The Century Plan, which describes 100 conservation sites in the Barnegat Bay watershed. Conservation of the sites described in this plan will protect a network of bay island, coastal/nearshore, pineland, and other habitats, and should be given high priority by federal, state, and local conservation agencies and organizations.



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.

Blanchard, P.B. III. 1995. The century plan: a study of one hundred conservation sites in the Barnegat Bay watershed. Trust for Public Land, New York, NY.

Burger, J. 1993. Least tern and black skimmer survey report: 1993. Submitted to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Endangered and Nongame Species Program, Trenton, NJ.

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

Clark, K.E. and Jenkins, C.D. 1993. Status of ospreys nesting in New Jersey, 1984 through 1993. New Jersey Audubon Society Records of New Jersey Birds 19(4):74-77.

Festa, P.J. 1979. The fish forage base of the Little Egg Harbor Estuary. New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, Bureau of Marine Fisheries. Report 24M. 271 p.

Galli, J. and R. Kane. 1981. 1979 colonial waterbird populations of New Jersey, occasional paper no. 139. New Jersey Audubon Society Records of New Jersey Birds 8(3):36-43.

Heintzelman, D.S. 1986. The migration of hawks. Indiana University Press. 369 p.

Himchak, P.J. 1979. Food items of important fishfood organisms in the Little Egg Harbor Estuary. New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, Bureau of Marine Fisheries. Report 45M.

Kennish, M. J. and R. A. Lutz, (eds.). 1984. Ecology of Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. Lecture notes on coastal and estuarine studies, 6. Springer-Verlag, NY.

Kerlinger, P. and C. Sutton. 1989. Black rail in New Jersey. New Jersey Audubon Society Records of New Jersey Birds 15(2):22-26.

Mabey, S.E., J.M. McCann, L.J. Niles, C. Bartlett, P. Kerlinger. 1993. The neotropical migratory songbird coastal corridor study final report. A report of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, Washington, D.C.

Martin, W.E. 1959. The vegetation of Island Beach State Park, New Jersey. Ecological Monographs 29:1-46.

McClain, J.F., J. Makai, and P.J. Himchak. 1976. Studies of the Manahawkin Bay - Little Egg Harbor system, 2 vols., New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, Bureau of Marine Fisheries. Report 17M. 463 p.

Murawski, W.S. 1969. A study of the striped bass, Morone saxatilis, foulhooking problem in New Jersey waters. New Jersey Division of Conservation and Economic Development, Fish and Game, miscellaneous report. no. 4M. 38 p.

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

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Energy. 1993. A watershed management plan for Barnegat Bay, 2 vols. Trenton, NJ.

New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Shellfish. 1975. Studies of the Mullica River - Great Bay Estuary. Report 26M. Bureau of Marine Fisheries Reports. 141 p.

New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Shellfish. 1973. Studies of the upper Barnegat System. Report 10M. Bureau of Marine Fisheries Reports. 224 p.

New Jersey Division of Lands and Forests, Office of Natural Lands Management. 1984. Island Beach northern natural area. Trenton, NJ. 73 p.

New Jersey Natural Heritage Program. 1993. Site reports for Barnegat Light, Cedar Bonnet Island, East Carvel, East Ham, Forked River Pond, Forked River Woods, Holgate, Island Beach Macrosite, Little Egg Inlet Macrosite, Manahawkin Bay Macrosite, Mantoloking Beach, Mikes Island, Sedge Islands at Island Beach, West Vol Sedge.

Robichaud, B. and M.F. Buell. 1973. Vegetation of New Jersey: a study of landscape diversity. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ. 340 p.

Rogers, Golden and Halpern, Inc. 1990. Profile of the Barnegat Bay. Prepared for the Barnegat Bay study group. Final report.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1994. Final environmental assessment and land protection plan proposal to expand the boundary of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Hadley, MA.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Undated. North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Atlantic Coast Joint Venture.

List of Species of Special Emphasis


Return to table of contents