EPA grant to protect Barnegat, Delaware estuaries

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NEW YORK, NY, Nov. 19, 2010 -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today awarded nearly $400,000 to Ocean County College to evaluate the health of Barnegat Bay's coastal marshes. The grant will also allow the college to assess the ability of the marshes to perform natural functions that benefit coastal communities. This grant will enhance and expand monitoring and assessment work being conducted by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, a non-profit organization established to restore and protect the Delaware Estuary. Estuaries are bodies of water where salt water from the sea mixes with fresh water from rivers and streams.

"Marshes and coastal wetlands protect coastal communities from flooding, provide important habitat for fish, birds and mammals, and improve water quality," said Judith Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. "Healthy tidal marshes are critical as we begin to address the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels. The Ocean County College project will give us a better understanding of conditions in the estuaries and lead to the restoration and protection of our wetlands."

Ocean County College will use the EPA grant to evaluate the general condition of wetlands in the estuaries using indicators like the characteristics and health of plants. The college will also collect more extensive data on sediment and water quality and use it to analyze the health of the wetlands and diagnose the causes of wetlands degradation. The data collected will help the public and policymakers assess vulnerabilities due to climate change, and focus protection and restoration efforts on effective ways to adapt to sea level rise. EPA previously awarded $248,000 in Wetland Program Development Grants to the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection gave $150,000 in 319 grants for monitoring in the Barnegat Estuary.

Estuaries and their coastal wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems on earth and are particularly vulnerable to climate change. The need to monitor and assess our coastal wetlands has been identified as one of the highest priorities in the Delaware and Barnegat estuaries. Healthy wetlands protect against rising seas, contribute to improved water quality, sequester carbon and nutrients, and provide fish and wildlife habitat. Healthy estuaries provide a critical line of defense against climate change to coastal communities. Wetlands surrounding estuaries like the Barnegat and the Delaware Bay act as buffers that can help protect against some of the impacts of rising seas.

Wetlands in the Mid-Atlantic have historically been poorly monitored compared to other aquatic habitats. Wetlands inventory data is limited and often out-of-date, but satellite imagery and local information indicate that we are losing coastal wetlands. Wetlands lost on Delaware Bay shores due to rising sea levels and degradation has doubled since the 1990's. Over half the coastal wetlands are gone, and over a quarter of the Barnegat Bay's tidal wetlands have been lost to development.

EPA's partners in this grant project include Ocean County College; Partnership for the Delaware Estuary; Barnegat Bay Partnership; Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia; New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection; New Jersey Coastal Management Office, United States Fish and Wildlife Service; and Rutgers University -- Haskins Shellfish Research Lab.

The Partnership for the Delaware and Barnegat Bay Partnership are two of EPA's 28 National Estuary Programs. The Delaware and Barnegat Bay Estuaries are members of EPA's "Climate Ready Estuaries" program. For more information on this program, visit: http://www.epa.gov/climatereadyestuaries. For more information on EPA's National Estuary Program, visit: http://www.epa.gov/owow/estuaries.

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