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Science Meets Politics at the NJ Shore

Gov. Christie’s Statements Belied By Brown Tide

Gov. Says: “Heck of a Job, Bobbie!”

This deep red harmful algae, called Lingulodinium polyedrum, often produces brightly colored water discoloration. It has been associated with fish and shellfish mortality events, but its threat to human health is still being evaluated. (photo credit: Kai Schumann, California Department of Public Health volunteer) - Source: NOAA

 [Updates below]

Gov. Christie was down the shore on Monday, touting the “Jersey Comeback”, and he repeated the same whopper he told last September (from Asbury Park Press story):

“I have never seen the ocean cleaner than this summer,” the governor said, commending the job Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin is doing to make sure “the ocean not only looks clean, but is clean.” Martin accompanied the governor to the city Monday.

But, ooops, just 2 days later, some inconvenient science emerged.

The Asbury Park Press reportsDEP: Brownish algae could be hitting shoreline

From the DEP website (8/22/12 report)

Phytoplankton samples are being collected at beaches in Monmouth County to monitor reports of discolored water in areas around Asbury Park, Avon and Bradley Beach. The Monmouth County Health Department has identified a variety of species of dinoflagellates (planktonic plants) in the waters at the swimming beaches. These microscopic plants are generally not toxic to humans but in very heavy concentrations may be toxic to fish and shellfish by removing oxygen from the water. Additional samples are being collected in the ocean by DEP’s Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring and at the beaches by the Monmouth County Health Department this afternoon.

Like the proliferating jellyfish in Barnegat BayHarmful algae blooms are an indicator of ocean ecosystem stress and pollution. Depending on the species of algae, they can be toxic to fish and shellfish and people.

Here’s info from NOAA’s website:

Harmful algal blooms (HAB) affect a number of coastal ecosystems with impacts including the devastation of critical coastal habitats, loss of economically and culturally vital shellfish resources, illness and death in populations of protected marine species, and serious threats to human health posed by algal toxins. Just one harmful algal bloom event can cost tens of millions of dollars to local coastal economies. In 2005, harmful algal bloom events were particularity problematic along the New England Coast (the largest recorded since 1972 forcing shellfish closures from ME to RI) and off the west coast of FL (causing respiratory distress, marine mammal mortalities and widespread hypoxia in bottom waters killing vast areas of coral reefs). In addition to HABs, over half of our Nation’s estuaries experience hypoxic conditions, the largest of which is the recurring “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico which has widespread implications for land-use practices in the US (watershed encompasses greater than 40% of the US) especially with emerging efforts to develop ethanol.

Last September, just after a “Monster Algae Bloom” formed off the Jersey shore in August, Christie said this:

Christie, in a news conference in Bergenfield today, said his environmental record is strong and that the ocean “is the cleanest it’s been in decades”. The beach this year, you saw no type of debris, no type of waste coming up on the beach this year, Christie said.

(for last year’s story, see: Of Monster Algae Blooms and Monstrous Lies).

Unfortunately, the science gets buried by the pervasive political spin.

The DEP and some coastal groups play right into this misleading dynamic by overemphasis on bacterial beach monitoring.

That bacteria monitoring is much like the dissolved oxygen monitoring in Barnegat Bay –  it ignores other important indicators of ecological health and as a result can give deeply misleading results.

This is why we worked to enact the law that created the Coastal and Ocean Protection Council to focus on ecosystem health and ecosystem based management.

Governor Christie’s budgets zeroed the appropriation for that Council. The Governor  has failed to make any appointments to the Council.

DEP actually proposed to abolish the Council under Christie Executive Order #15, a blatant over-reach of Executive power, because the Council was created by the Legislature and can not be abolished by the Governor or DEP.)

And the DEP has done nothing to integrate EBM into existing coastal programs.

When will an intrepid reporter call the Governor out on this spin?

[Update: 8/24/12 – DEP reports that algae bloom not visible from the air so apparently not large, but another problem with fish kill on Toms River reported.

As in other prior episodes on menhaden kills, DEP blames fish schooling behavior for depleting oxygen. But low DO levels are caused by pollution (nutrient enrichment – eutrophication), not fish. This is another sign of poor water quality and declining ecosystem health.

Blaming the menhaden for low DO is like blaming the sun for air pollution. Yes, smog (high ground level ozone) does get formed by sunlight, but the underlying problem is the pollution, not the sunlight.

Remember President Reagan blamed trees for air pollution?

Consultants for sewage treatment plants make similar arguments, i.e. the algae blooms in rivers are caused by sunlight, not their nutrient rich pollution discharges.

These same consultants also argue that wetlands discharge nutrients to rivers – while technically accurate in some locations, this is misleading. Wetlands serve as a pollution sink, not a source.

But DEP TMDL water quality models consider wetlands a pollution source and thereby reduce the burden on polluters to reduce their pollutant loadings and improve treatment of nutrients, especially biological removal of nutrients from sewage treatment plants.

Really perverse, no?

[Update: 9/3/12 – DEP press office just can’t stop lying. This time its about the causes of algae blooms.

I just came across this story by NBC TV news – What’s causing smelly beaches in New Jersey?

Here is what the best science says about the causes (from NOAA Report to Congress):

While marine HABs occur naturally, human actions that disturb ecosystems in the form of increased nutrient loadings and pollution, food web alterations, introduced species, and water flow modifications have been linked to the increased occurrence of some HAB species. 

Here is what Sierra Club said and note the “100% wrong” “no scientific basis” attack  by DEP -

The head of the New Jersey Sierra Club believes pollution from overdevelopment, sprawl, and combined sewer overflow are to blame for the algae bloom. But the State DEP says those claims are 100-percent wrong, made with no scientific basis and that the bloom was completely unpreventable.

DEP claims that WIND caused the algae bloom:

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection says it’s the result of an algae bloom spotted offshore within the past day from Manasquan inlet to the Seaside Area and that it poses no health risks to humans.

Officials say the bloom was caused by winds drawing up water from the bottom of the ocean that provided nutrients for the algae.

Memo to DEP – the large majority of nutrients that spur the growth of the algae are put in the system by human activity – pollution: sewage treatment plants, combined swear overflows, storm water runoff, and atmospheric deposition.

The wind merely moves the nutrients around – the wind dos not “cause” the algae bloom.

That’s like saying the sun causes the bloom!

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  1. E. Kane
    August 24th, 2012 at 12:35 | #1

    Heh My husband was swimming in Seaside Park Late Tuesday after work. Wed. Afternoon he broke out in a massive rash all over his body. By Thursday night we ended up at the hospital, They could not pin point if scallops he eat Tuesday night caused the rash although he has always eaten tons of shellfish without problems, I wonder if the skin rash he has is anything to do with swimming Tuesday night with the algae problem? Has then Been Anyone else with rash problems from Tuesday Night On ?

  1. September 3rd, 2012 at 09:03 | #1
  2. November 10th, 2012 at 12:50 | #2
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