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Development of Benthic Indicators for Nearshore Coastal Waters of New Jersey – a REMAP Project

Charles J. Strobel 1, Henry A. Walker 1, Darvene Adams 2, Robert Connell 3, Nancy Immesberber 3 and Michael Kennish 4

1 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ORD, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Atlantic Ecology Division, Narragansett, Rhode Island
2 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2, Division of Environmental Science and Assessment, Edison, NJ
3 New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection, Water Monitoring and Standards Division, Trenton, New Jersey
4 Rutgers University, Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, New Brunswick, New Jersey

EPA's National Coastal Assessment (NCA) is providing the first complete, consistent dataset on the condition of benthic communities in the nation's estuaries. Prior to NCA, New Jersey based its evaluation of the ecological condition of its coastal waters solely on dissolved oxygen (DO) measurements because such biological data did not exist. As a result of the availability of NCA benthic data, and a Benthic Index developed through a REMAP project, New Jersey plans to include an ecological assessment of the benthic communities in one of its estuaries, Raritan Bay, its 2006 Integrated Assessment. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) plans to expand this type of ecological assessment to its remaining estuarine waters. NJDEP would also like to extend ecosystem-based assessment to the state’s ocean waters. New Jersey currently lists the majority of these waters as being impaired, based on a DO criterion of 5mg/L. To investigate if this hypoxia adversely affects the benthic communities, NJDEP, Rutgers University, and USEPA will collect samples along the Jersey coast during the summer of 2007. An expert workshop was held in November, 2006 to develop a design for this work, and to begin the process of developing a benthic index for the nearshore environment. Based on the findings of this workshop, the field study will utilize a probabilistic survey design and modified NCA sampling methods. The survey is expected to result in a biological assessment of New Jersey’s coastal waters, and an evaluation of the effects of seasonal hypoxia on benthic communities.

Keywords: National Coastal Assessment, benthic communities, New Jersey, hypoxia, biological assessment

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