A Message from the Manager...

The coastal ecosystems that comprise the JC NERR, especially the Barnegat and Great Bays and the adjacent watersheds, hold a special place in many of our lives and hearts. Much of the work conducted by reserve staff and our partners examine the fundamental changes that have occurred in these systems in response to climate change and human alteration. Key efforts are underway to track the response of Barnegat Bay to the decommissioning of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, detect and assess the increasing presence of invasive species that can potentially alter our bays and estuaries, predict the shifts in distribution of habitats and species, and evaluate the best strategies to restore and enhance the resilience of our coastal systems.

There is much work to be done, but also much reason for hope. Our programs address these challenges through an integrated team approach that involves all sectors of the Reserve-research, education, coastal training, stewardship and science communication. Research is fundamental to this approach, but benefits from the other core programs that are essential to prepare the next generation workforce to tackle complex coastal issues, inform stakeholders on pros and cons of different management strategies, and public engagement in stewardship of our coastal environment.

As Jacques Cousteau said so eloquently, “People protect what they love.” Our mission is to ensure that all people understand the value of our coastal environment, and realize that they have a responsibility to protect it and manage it wisely. In this issue of Life on the Edge, we feature integrated reserve programs that use innovative technologies such as drones to study marsh plant communities, and environmental DNA to assess shifts in fish distribution in response to climate change. Also in this issue are articles on a project to assess risks associated with flooding at public beach access points and a report on the latest “Teachers on the Estuary” program.

With warm personal regards,

Mike De Luca

Together Again - JC NERR & RUMFS

Welcoming back the community!

On the third Saturday in September, around 200 members of the community visited the JC NERR Coastal Center, making it much more lively than a typical Saturday afternoon. What kind of occasion would call for a gathering of this size? An event that had a long standing annual tradition up until the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. On September 17th, we were very happy to welcome our community back for the Rutgers University Marine Field Station (RUMFS) & JC NERR Open House. This open house was not an ordinary celebration: it highlighted the 50th anniversary of RUMFS as well as the 25th anniversary of the JC NERR.

Traditionally, this event was held only at RUMFS, located at the end of Great Bay Boulevard in Tuckerton NJ (check out the throwback photo above!). People from all over the state were greeted by RUMFS and JC NERR staff and volunteers for an inside look at the work we do each day to manage and protect the coastal areas that we love. Tours of the research labs were given, mini lectures were had, touch tanks were visited, and kids crafts were completed. This served as our largest annual event, attracting hundreds of people each year.

With the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic still being felt this past spring, our event planning team convened for a discussion on how to maintain the atmosphere of the event while ensuring the safety of staff, volunteers, and visitors alike. Add in a celebration of the official welcoming back of the community after two long years and two anniversary milestones; it was shaping up to be a tall order. The solution was a reimagining of what the Open House event had been in the past, and how we could expand upon it to make it bigger and better. The first solution: two locations!

To ensure the health and safety of all those present, this year’s Open House was an outdoor-only event. This required some Tetris-like planning of the spaces available both on the deck of RUMFS as well as outside of the JC NERR Coastal Center. Interpretive booths at the JC NERR were a new addition to the Open House festivities. With 11 tables in total, there was plenty for visitors to engage in.

“Today is a really special day, it is the first day that we are reopened to the public in about 3 years. We pride ourselves in accomplishing our mission of making science relatable to people, so that they can make important decisions about the coast….And today is the first day in a while that we have been able to connect with people personally, get to look them in the eye, watch their expression as they are learning something new, and really connect with them individually in a way that, although we have tried to do that remotely and have been successful, nothing really beats doing it in person. And so today is a really big day to feel like we are doing the best we can to connect with people about things that are important to them and things that are important about our coast.”

-Lisa Auermuller

The public reception and feedback from the event was exceptional. To be able to hear from those that have been attending this event for many years, and those that were experiencing the JC NERR and RUMFS for the first time was very rewarding. This year’s celebration was one for the books, and a wonderful way to celebrate 50 years of research at the Rutgers University Marine Field Station and 25 years of research, stewardship, and education at the JC NERR. As Jacques Cousteau once said: “People protect what they love, they love what they understand, and they understand what they are taught.” This is what we strive to do each and every day, and this wouldn’t be possible without the support from our community. Here’s to the many years ahead!

Learn more about how we engaged the community at BOTH the JC NERR and RUMFS! 

It's our 25th Birthday!

Looking back to look ahead...cheers to many more years!

On October 20th, 1997, the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve was dedicated in honor of Jacques-Yves Cousteau by Congressman James H. Saxton of NJ's 3rd District (an old friend of Cousteau's). Captain Cousteau died June 25th, 1997, at the age of 87, and Congressman Saxton passed a bill officially naming the Reserve in the Captain's honor.

Every day, we work to uphold our mission to improve management of New Jersey coastal environments through science, education, and stewardship. We cannot do that without our community and partners, and we are eternally grateful for your steadfast support.

What would you like to see in the next 25 years for the JC NERR?

“I’d like to see a continuation of the difference that the reserve staff have made with respect to the key coastal challenges that we have been facing such as climate change, habitat restoration, reducing marine debris in the environment…I’m very proud of the staff that we’ve assembled. They are talented, creative, and we’re making a difference, so I want to see us continue to do that on the emerging coastal issues such as offshore wind energy development, invasive species, and continuing our work on adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change.”

-Mike De Luca

What impact has the JC NERR had on you?

“I've been volunteering for 14 years and it has been absolutely great. I’ve learned so much and everybody is willing to share, from the head scientists all the way down to the techs, the other volunteers, and just constantly learning and enjoying the heck out of it. It has been great!”

-Patrick Filardi

Stay tuned! To ring in the new year, we'll be sharing a treasure trove of stories & articles that dive into the 25 years of rich history at the JC NERR!

'22 Summer Internship Program

Wrapping up a summer of research, field work, and lifelong memories!

This past June, we welcomed this year’s summer undergraduate interns: Salvatore Fricano, Jamin Brako, and Celin Escobar-Gonzalez. Jamin and Celin came to us from the Garden State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (GS-LSAMP), an alliance with seven NJ universities. Jamin attends Rutgers University - New Brunswick, and Celin attends Essex County College. Sal just started his senior year at Rutgers University. Each intern was responsible for the completion of a main research project, which was presented at a practice poster presentation event held at the JC NERR Coastal Center on August 3rd.

Before bidding their goodbyes, attendees and interns alike reflected upon their experience in the program, and their career aspirations for the future. Our favorite staff memory was a story told by Dr. Thomas Grothues:

“I was working late into the afternoon one day, and then interns hadn’t gone home yet, they were in the room next to mine. And I heard one of them ask the other if they had ever seen a real jellyfish before, and I was like “Oh my god, we have to get in the water now!” This is early on, but I’m like ‘we have boats here, Mike will pay for it’. So we just went down and got on the boat to go see what we could see, and we weren’t out very long, but dolphins came up right next to the boat in a pod, and we saw jellyfish which are great too, but the dolphins! We got to see the spectrum of things, and it was fun to feel the excitement of that. Thank you dolphins!”

Impromptu moments like these are ones that we treasure the most with our interns, and the ones that make lasting memories. All were involved in this sharing of reflections and memories:

“I am overall very thankful for such a privileged experience. I never thought that I would be able to get an internship let alone one that would be paid and provide a living space. I was always very afraid to venture out of my comfort zone with school, my career, and overall personal life. This internship allowed me to realize just how much control I have over my life and how much potential I have and to see that I am capable of so much more than just the standard college route. I hope to use these lessons in my life for now on and I am extremely appreciative of this experience and the people I was able to meet.”

-Celin Escobar-Gonzalez

To say that we are grateful to have had the opportunity to work with these students would be an understatement. Their passion for STEM and their drive to engage in experiences other than anything they have experienced before was commendable. We have learned a great deal from them, and are looking forward to not only seeing where their paths lead them, but how we can continue to help them reach their goals. Staff at the JC NERR, NJAIC, and GS-LSAMP have already begun preparations for the interns that we will welcome in the summer of 2023. If you would like to learn more about the program, and inquire about next year’s endeavors, please reach out to Andrea Habeck at habeck@marine.rutgers.edu and Amy Plantarich at plantarich@marine.rutgers.edu.

Boots in the Mud & Boats in the Water

Our team has been hard at work in the field!

This past field season proved to be an eventful one for our Research and Coastal Training teams. It was all hands on deck...and in the marsh...with projects with our partners whose reach extends far beyond the boundaries of our reserve:

1) In August, Gregg Sakowicz, Patty McHugh, and Andrea Habeck from the JC NERR research team collaborated with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) to study marshes in the reserve using both established methods and new technologies. That's right, bring out the drones! A multispectural drone survey was launched to classify marsh plant communities based on health.

2) New Jersey law ensures the public’s right to access coastal shorelines and waters. However, the impacts of climate change are likely to affect public access to New Jersey’s coast. Many locations are already experiencing flooding several times each year from high tides, sea level rise, and/or storms.

At the end of September, we partnered with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Rutgers University to publish an assessment of inundation risks at these public access points. The goal of this assessment was to then identify planning and adaptation options that are critical to building resilience to the impacts felt by flooding.

To learn more and view the full report, visit the StoryMap that was created to provide a comprehensive view of this project.

3) Last quarter, the JC NERR started up a new eDNA research project. eDNA is environmental DNA, or DNA released from an organism into an environment. We are one of 10 National Estuarine Research Reserve programs that are participating in these preliminary efforts, and sampling will be conducted on a quarterly basis starting with our first sampling event performed back in May 2022. The main goal for this project is to look at these findings in comparison with long term fish sampling already being conducted.

Grassle Marsh Trail

Anniversary celebrations & some much needed TLC for the trail

Did you know that 2022 not only marks the 25th anniversary of the JC NERR, but also the 10th anniversary of the Grassle Marsh? Where the Grassle name came from, how did the trail and the Life on the Edge interpretive exhibit came to be, and how has it become a treasured place in our local community.

Learn more here!

This past summer, an Eagle Scout from the Boy Scout Troop 61 (Manahawkin, NJ) approached us to ask if they can complete their Eagle Scout project at the JC NERR. After enthusiastically agreeing, the project that the scout will be completing will include fundraising to fund the construction of benches that will be installed on the Grassle Marsh Trail boardwalk and along the trail.

Then, on September 10th, the entirety of the Boy Scout Troop truly showed their dedication to community service by performing some much needed maintenance to our trail in preparation for the Open House event. (The Scouts community service time goes toward the completion of their conservation service hours badge.)

Huge thanks all members and troop leaders for Boy Scout Troop 61 for your help in keeping our trail cleared and maintained for the local community. Keep an eye out for more on the Eagle Scout project!

Hurricane Ian in New Jersey

Capturing impacts using SWMP!

Hurricane Ian made its initial landfall on September 28th. As it approached the Florida shore it strengthened to a category 4 storm, resulting in devastating impacts on many areas in Florida. The hurricane proceeded to move up the coast, with the remnants hitting New Jersey on September 30th. What were the coastal changes seen in NJ? This is a question that our System Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) can help answer.

The System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) is a network of monitoring stations among the 29 NERRS. Each reserve carries a minimum of four water-quality stations and one meteorological station. The water-quality stations are arranged along the salinity gradient of the Mullica River-Great Bay estuary; the easternmost station (“Buoy 126”, a.k.a. jacb6) is located near the mouth of the Little Egg Inlet, and the westernmost station (“Lower Bank”, a.k.a. jacba) is located far up the Mullica River at the freshwater interface between the river and estuary at low tide. These stations are permanent and monitoring is continuous, occurring at 15 minute intervals. SWMP water-quality monitoring has been conducted at the reserve since 1996, and meteorological monitoring has been conducted since 2002.

This graph represents cumulative rainfall totals per day (blue) in relation to the barometric pressure change (green). You can see the initial pressure drop when the storm first appeared in New Jersey between 9/30 and 10/1 with large spikes in rainfall each day. The cumulative rainfall totals per day were as follows:

10/1- 1.00 inches

10/2- 2.86 inches

10/3- 1.86 inches

10/4- 0.40 inches

Data such as this allows the public as well as stakeholders to access both real-time and long-term data sets to make informed choices for safety, planning, and management of our coasts. SWMP data and metadata reports are publicly-available and free of charge at www.nerrsdata.org

NEW Grant Project with Pinelands Regional High School

Earlier this fall, we embarked on a subset of a watershed grant project with partners from Steven Institute of Technology and Rutgers University, along with teachers and students from Pinelands Regional High School.* This project involved educating the students and installing a "green" filter in the culvert located nearby the school. Dr. Subhasis Giri of Rutgers University, Dr. Zhiming Zhang & Mr. Olayinka Olayiwola of Stevens Institute of Technology, and Lisa Auermuller & Amanda Archer from the JC NERR worked to install the filter and educate students of their water testing responsibilities. This project is a subset of a larger grant project "Developing a Watershed Restoration Plan for Southern Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor Tributaries". Follow this link to learn more about the watershed restoration plan.

Learn more and check out more photos from the project by following "The CAT EYE PRSD" on Facebook!

And BIG NEWS: Pinelands Regional High School also just launched a brand new course for students: "Honors Ecology: From the Barrens to the Bay".

New Jersey Estuaries, from Top to Bottom!

Teacher TOTE Workshop - back in-person!

From August 10th-12th, the JC NERR 17-hour “Teachers on the Estuary” workshop or (TOTE) took place. This year, TOTE was conducted both online and in-person. The first day was online in the morning and days two and three were conducted in-person at the NJ Sea Grant Consortium and JC NERR locations respectively. A total of 18 formal and informal educators participated each day. Topics that were covered included: salt marsh ecosystem services, common flora and fauna of salt marshes, water quality, coastal acidification, comparative studies of northern and southern estuaries of New Jersey and eDNA. Over the course of the workshop, participants received high quality resources and materials to enhance their science teaching, received a TOTE stipend, received STEM and NGSS resources and gained access to the Estuary Education and New Jersey Sea Grant websites, resources, and much more. Participants also heard directly from local experts and scientists. TOTE is often popular and desired among educators for its hands-on, in-the-field experiences.

"I was excited that we were able to conduct most of TOTE as an in-person experience this year since the last two years have been all online due to COVID-19. In addition, I was excited to partner with our colleagues at the NJ Sea

Grant Consortium for TOTE as well. This collaboration gave teaches a different TOTE experience and (I feel) a better quality program."

-Kaitlin Gannon

Read some of the feedback and Ah-Ha moments from teachers:

“Sampling and comparison activity between two separate locations: Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area and Jacques Cousteau NERR (a distance of approximately 70 miles). My expectation was that the sampling data and wildlife found in these two distinct areas would be completely different. However, on several parameters, the findings were similar. The similarities between an urban estuary and conservation estuary were encouraging and surprising.”

“The teams at JCNERR and the NJ Sea Grant Consortium (at Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreational Area) serve as outstanding ambassadors for environmental education. I appreciate their time and expertise in communicating ways to engage students in the process of scientific inquiry and discovery. My gratitude to them and to the other educators attending this event. They all contributed so much to my concept formation and engagement.”

“Always awesome and inspiring”

55% of TOTE participants said that they intend to integrate the workshop's educational or scientific resources within the first semester. 33% of TOTE participants said they plan to integrate workshop's educational or scientific resources within the second semester. One teacher said they were unsure if they were going to integrate the workshop’s educational or science resources into their classroom. Follow up surveys and outcomes will be collected and analyzed over the next few months.

New Faces at the Cousteau Center

Let's meet the three new members of the JC NERR family!

The past few months were quite exciting at the JC NERR, as we welcomed three new members to our team: Amanda Archer as our new Costal Training Program Coordinator, Katherine Dollman as the 2022/2023 NJ Americorps Watershed Ambassador for WMA 14 (Mullica River). and Kyra Fitz as our next Margaret A. Davidson Graduate Research Fellow!

Amanda Archer

Being an undergraduate of Stockton University’s environmental science program, she was captivated by the Mullica River-Great Bay estuary and pine barrens ecosystem, and thought "This feels like home". For the last five years, she has been immersed in coastal communities - as a resident, as a volunteer for nonprofits, and as a participant in local events. In her previous role, she was a biological field technician for Edwin B. Forsythe and Cape May National Wildlife Refuges, with emphasis on saltmarsh system health and restoration. She has experience in saltmarsh restoration, endangered species monitoring, and hydrology. Her favorite bird is the American Oystercatcher. In her spare time, you will find her volunteering for various biological work, going on hikes, and camping with her Australian Shepherd named “Trip”. She is very excited to represent coastal resilience for the JC NERR in her new role.

Katherine Dollman

"I have been connected with the environment from a young age. Growing up I spent time volunteering at my local nature center, and was apart of a marine science academy at my high school. I received my bachelor’s from Delaware Valley University and studied Conservation and Wildlife Management. Throughout the past few years I’ve developed a strong interest in sustainability, aquaculture, and aquaponics. In my spare time, my sister and I run a small business where we make eco-friendly soy candles, hand printed organic cotton totes, and macramé. I also love traveling, and spending time with my family, and my rescued dogs and cat.

I’m excited to be the Americorps New Jersey Watershed Ambassador for the Mullica watershed (WMA 14) this term. New Jersey has beautiful natural spaces that many are unaware of. Within the first month of my service, I have had trainings in how to conduct rain barrel workshops, compost bin workshops, community clean ups, enviroscape presentations, biological stream assessments, and more. I can’t wait to spread awareness of our natural resources and what we can do to protect and conserve it moving forward.”

Kira Fitz

Kyra is a Ph.D. candidate in the Ecology and Evolution Graduate Program at Rutgers University. She is studying how marine species are responding to climate change and how they may adapt to future changes. Her projects span the globe from studying clownfish and damselfish in the Philippines to researching Atlantic croaker on the East coast. She hopes to continue studying marine species and developing plans for their conservation throughout her career.

Kyra grew up with ample freshwater ecosystems in Michigan but found a love for the ocean at a young age. She completed a B.S. in Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. While there, she studied the habitat and movement of northern elephant seals and the heat tolerance and resilience of corals. She also studied the impacts of ocean acidification on coastal fish as a NOAA Hollings Scholar at the NOAA Sandy Hook, NJ Laboratory. In her free time, she enjoys playing tennis, going to the beach, wildlife watching, and cooking.

As a Margaret A. Davidson fellow, Kyra will be working with JC NERR to develop a range projection for Atlantic croaker along the East coast. Atlantic croaker is a species fished recreationally and commercially that has been moving north as waters warm. Kyra will be generating maps that show changes to the Atlantic croaker range based on how environmental conditions are projected to change and the species’ potential to adapt to the changes. The range projections will help the reserve and fisheries managers develop management strategies for the species that will sustain its population going forward. Kyra is looking forward to working on a collaborative project with JC NERR staff and stakeholders.


130 Great Bay Boulevard
Tuckerton, NJ 08087


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The JC NERR promotes informed use and management of our coastal environment and communities through science, education, and stewardship.