November 30, 2013 at 7:54 pm #1545MikeKeymaster
N.J. DEP monitors outbreak of algae
But EPA halts water sampling
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 05/30/07
BY TODD B. BATES
The heaviest bloom of algae in years continued to discolor waters in Raritan and Sandy Hook bays and ocean waters from Sandy Hook to around Shark River Inlet on Tuesday, according to officials.
Meanwhile, for the first time in 30 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not intend to have a helicopter sample ocean bottom waters for dissolved oxygen levels, EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears said. A drop in those levels can indicate the water is polluted.
Instead, the EPA will pursue a larger-scale effort to study nutrients in the waters off New Jersey and New York and may do some helicopter sampling to support New Jersey’s shellfish program, EPA officials said.
“It’s outrageous,” said Cynthia A. Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, a Sandy Hook-based coalition, referring to the curtailed helicopter monitoring program. “It’s completely unacceptable.”
“First thing tomorrow morning, we’re going to demand that this program begin,” said Rep. Frank J.
Pallone Jr., D-N.J.
As a big bloom of brown algae affected New Jersey coastal waters, EPA officials said their helicopter monitoring program will still check for floating debris in the New York-New Jersey Harbor area. But the chopper will not be doing its traditional monitoring for dissolved oxygen off the Jersey Shore, they said.
The chopper also has traditionally sampled for fecal bacteria near bathing beaches.
Instead, the “EPA is looking into doing . . . water sampling with a helicopter . . . up and down the shore to support the state’s shellfish program,” Mears said.
“Brown foam” alert
The algae, which state officials first noticed during a surveillance flight Saturday, was affecting waters and beaches in Raritan and Sandy Hook bays, according to Virginia Loftin, a research scientist in the state Department of Environmental Protection, and the DEP Web site.
“Patches of heavy algae were also observed in the surf to approximately 600 feet offshore from Sandy Hook south to Avon,” the DEP Web site said.
Water quality samples were collected Tuesday, and results will be available today, the Web site said.
The DEP began getting lots of calls to its hot line about the algae bloom on Saturday, said Loftin, who oversees the Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program.
“It’s a brown foam,” she said.
State monitors do not normally fly along the coast on Wednesdays, but they will do so today because of the scope of the algae bloom, Loftin said.
“This isn’t unusual,” she said of the bloom. “This happens every spring. This is very heavy this year, but we always have at some point in the spring heavy blooms of brown algae. It sort of coincides with a lot of nutrients in the water.
“People fertilize their lawns, and it rains and those fertilizers run down the storm drains and help to feed . . . this excessive growth,” she said.
William Simmons, environmental health coordinator in the Monmouth County Health Department, said the bloom is dominated by a species of diatom, which is a form of algae.
The bloom was “driven by sunlight” and probably other factors, such as nutrients in Raritan Bay and possibly circulation, Simmons said.
Flights started in ’77
In a 1992 interview, an EPA official said the helicopter program was launched in 1977 in response to a massive die-off of shellfish and bottom-dwelling fish in 1976. A huge algae bloom that year helped strip ocean waters of oxygen.
But Kevin Bricke, deputy director of the water program in EPA Region 2’s New York City office, said “we’re not finding (the dissolved oxygen sampling) as useful” as a broader effort to look at nutrients in Long Island Sound, harbor areas and ocean waters.
Nutrients are a significant contributor to dissolved oxygen problems in those waters, Bricke said.
In addition, the helicopter was not able to sample for bacteria in the surf zone and the data cannot be used to decide whether beaches should be open or closed to swimming, according to Bricke.
In previous years, the helicopter has taken ocean samples once a week along the New Jersey coast for fecal bacteria and periodically for dissolved oxygen and temperature in bottom waters offshore, according to the EPA report.
“To pull the plug on this scientific research without any discussion is outrageous,” said Zipf, of Clean Ocean Action.
“It’s not acceptable to me, and we’re going to get it reversed,” Pallone said.
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