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Tidal Exchange: Fall 2003

If you would like to receive a hard copy of the newsletter, please send your contact information to gabriela@harborestuary.org. Also please send us an email if you have any suggestions for topics you would like to see covered in the newsletter, or if you have any questions or comments.

Note: All pictures and graphics associated with articles (as well as this publication's masthead) can be viewed in the pdf version of this newsletter. Please see the Newsletters main page for pdf downloads of this and other issues of Tidal Exchange.


Fall 2003 Issue

Harbor Estuary News Contents

Are there Aquatic Invaders in the Harbor?: The Northeast Rapid Assessment Aquatic Invasive Species Survey Will Begin to Answer the Question (Click Here)
Cathy Yuhas

Lower Passaic River Restoration Project:
A Federal-State Partnership is Formed
(Click Here)
Alice Yeh, Lisa Baron, Tom Shea

No Discharge Zone Designated in Hudson (Click Here)

Capt. Pete Says... Lobster! (Click Here)
Peter L. Sattler

Species Profile: Oysters (Click Here)
Michael Stringer




Are there Aquatic Invaders in the Harbor?: The Northeast Rapid Assessment Aquatic Invasive Species Survey Will Begin to Answer the Question back to top
Cathy Yuhas

What is furry, has eight legs and two claws, and is native to China and North Korea while invading the West Coast, specifically San Francisco Bay? If you didn’t guess it…it’s the Chinese mitten crab. These pesky creatures have been wreaking havoc, ecologically and economically, as they accelerate bank erosion and interfere with commercial and recreational fishing. If you’re wondering why we in the Northeast should be concerned about these crabs that are invading the West Coast, just think of the trouble they might cause if they found their way into our local waters. No, they won’t be able to walk across the continent, but they could hitch a ride in ballast water or arrive through direct human transport. In fact, there have been reports of live Chinese mitten crabs being smuggled into the NY metropolitan area to be sold at local fish markets. Although the Chinese mitten crab itself may seem like a harmless creature, its presence in the U.S. is definitely harmful. Here, they are an aquatic invasive species… and a way to eradicate them has not yet been found.

Aquatic invasive species can affect the health of marine and estuarine ecosystems in many ways. They can upset the balance of established food webs; diminish native populations through competition and predation; and reduce biodiversity by replacing native species altogether. In fact, aquatic invasive species are one of the top five threats to marine biodiversity. Adding to the problem is the fact that they are hard to eradicate once they are established in a new ecosystem. One of the ways in which invasive species are being introduced is through the shipping industry. Plants and animals from foreign ports can be transported in ballast water or through attachment directly to the ship’s hull. Other vectors that have been transporting invasive species, whether accidentally or intentionally, are live seafood fish markets, scientific research projects, and aquariums owned by education institutions or individuals.

So, do we have any aquatic invaders in the Harbor? That is the question that the Northeast Rapid Assessment Aquatic Invasive Species Survey will begin to answer. The Rapid Assessment Survey was conducted this summer from August 3-10, starting in Casco Bay, Maine and ending in the NY/NJ Harbor. The eight Northeast National Estuary Programs (Casco Bay, New Hampshire Estuaries, Massachusetts Bays, Buzzards Bay, Narragansett Bay, Peconic Bay, Long Island Sound, and the NY/NJ Harbor) and MIT Sea Grant were involved in the survey. The Massachusetts Bays Program and MIT Sea Grant organized and led the survey. The purpose of the survey was to assess the presence and general coastal distribution of aquatic invasive species.

This survey is not the first of its kind. From 1993-1997, scientists in San Francisco pioneered the rapid assessment survey. In 1998, a similar survey was conducted in Puget Sound. Researchers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island used the West Coast models to carry out their own rapid assessment survey in 2000. The survey conducted this summer was designed to build on the work done in MA and RI. The survey area was expanded to include the Northeast with the assistance of a grant from EPA.

The target collection areas for the Northeast Rapid Assessment Survey are waters that receive a large amount of international and domestic shipping; areas where ships may be discharging their ballast water; marinas where recreational boats may be visiting from other regions; docks where larvae may detach themselves from a ship’s hull and reattach on a nearby pier; and live seafood markets where invasives may reach the Harbor via street runoff.

On August 9th, the Rapid Assessment Survey team reached NY/NJ Harbor for their final day of sampling. The team was comprised of about 25 scientists from across the country and abroad, as well as graduate students and support staff. The sampling was conducted primarily on permanent floating docks, which often accumulate a variety of attached invertebrates and algae. Samples were also taken from other substrates, such as piers and rocky areas, if they were found at the sampling sites. The three sampling locations in the Harbor were South Street Seaport in Manhattan, and Great Kills Park and Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island.

The South Street Seaport site was chosen because of its proximity to the Fulton Fish Market where live seafood is sold. The sampling was conducted from a floating dock that sits along the north side of Pier 16. The team also took specimens from an oyster cage that is deployed in the East River as part of the NY/NJ Baykeeper’s Oyster Gardening Project (see article on page 8).

At Great Kills Park, sampling was conducted from floating docks at a privately owned marina. A large number of recreational boats visit the marina and many are hoisted from the water and stored on land for the winter. This site is also adjacent to the main shipping channels in the Lower New York Bay.

Snug Harbor Cultural Center, on the banks of the Kill van Kull, was chosen for its proximity to major port facilities in New Jersey. The team sampled from a floating platform across the street from the Cultural Center.

Staff from the Harbor & Estuary Program participated in the Rapid Assessment Survey, which was launched at a November 2002 conference in Boston, Massachusetts, “Eyes on the Estuaries: A conference on preventing and detecting marine invasive species in the northeastern United States”. HEP also helped to identify survey sites in the Harbor and assisted with the logistics of the sampling as the team traveled from site to site.

Once compiled, data collected during the Rapid Assessment Survey can be used to identify pathways that may be introducing aquatic invasive species. When these pathways are identified, prevention strategies and rapid response protocols can be developed to stop new invasions before they start. The survey results may also help to further understand the overall dynamics of aquatic invasive species. Perhaps the most immediate outcomes of the survey will be in determining which species are present and therefore need to be monitored more closely, and whether certain environments are more prone to invasions.

Although the final survey results are not yet complete, the scientists did perform on-site identification of some of the species found in the Harbor, both native and invasive. Some invasive species found were the tunicate Molgula manhattensis and the Asian shore crab Hemigrapsus sanguineus. It is no surprise that aquatic invasive species do exist in the Harbor, but their quantity and diversity are yet to be determined. There will be much more information to come as the team identifies all of the specimens collected. Keep an eye out for more on aquatic invaders in future issues of The Tidal Exchange, on our website, www.harborestuary.org, and on your next excursion out to the waters of the Harbor Estuary.

Cathy Yuhas (NJMSC NJ Sea Grant Extension Program) is the Technical Specialist for the NY-NJ Harbor & Estuary Program.




Lower Passaic River Restoration Project:
A Federal-State Partnership is Formed
back to top
Alice Yeh, Lisa Baron, Tom Shea

The Lower Passaic River has a long history of industrialization, which has resulted in degraded water quality, sediment contamination, loss of wetlands, and abandoned or underutilized properties along the shore. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) have formed a partnership to address the environmental issues that face this historic urban river segment and restore it as a centerpiece of the region’s aquatic environment.

From its headwaters near Morristown, New Jersey, the Passaic River flows over 80 miles of suburban and urban areas, cascading 70 feet over the Great Falls at Paterson and descending over Dundee Dam, to connect to Newark Bay. Along its journey, the river drains nearly a thousand square miles of New Jersey and New York, and is used for water supply, recreation, navigation and wastewater assimilation. The Lower Passaic River is the 17-mile tidal stretch of the river, from Dundee Dam to Newark Bay.

Although the name Passaic is derived from an Algonquian word meaning “peaceful valley”, the area around the Lower Passaic River, in the 1800s, became a focal point for our nation’s industrial revolution. By the 20th Century, Newark had established itself as the largest industrial-based city in the country. The urban and industrial development surrounding the Lower Passaic River, combined with associated population growth, have resulted in poor water quality, contaminated sediments, fish that can’t be eaten, lost wetlands, and degraded habitat.

In the early 1980s, EPA and NJDEP found soil contaminated with dioxin at a manufacturing site in Newark, next to the Passaic River. Cleanup work was initiated and, in 1984, EPA added the site to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for cleanup funds under the federal Superfund program. Contaminants, such as metals, persistent organic chemicals, pesticides and dioxin, were also found in the sediments of the six miles of the Lower Passaic River bordering the manufacturing site. In some areas of the Passaic River, there were concentrations of harmful contaminants at levels that are unsafe according to federal and state standards. Some locations had levels several times higher than the standards.

Several more studies of the Passaic River by EPA, USACE, and others showed that contaminated sediments and other sources of hazardous chemicals exist along the 17-mile tidal stretch of the Passaic River. The studies also documented severely degraded habitats and loss of wetlands.

EPA is pursuing over 40 industrial companies along the Lower Passaic River who have potentially released a variety of hazardous substances to the river. The companies reflect the long history of industrialization along the river, representing many of the following activities:

EPA’s Superfund program is continuing to investigate the contribution of other industries in the Lower Passaic River watershed.

EPA, USACE, NJDOT, and NJDEP have formed a partnership to carry out a comprehensive study of the Lower Passaic River. The partner agencies are bringing the authorities of the Superfund program, the Water Resources Development Act, the Clean Water Act, and other laws to identify opportunities to improve water quality, remediate contaminated sediments, and restore the ecological health of the river. The agencies are also coordinating closely with the Federal and State natural resource trustee agencies to ensure that an assessment of injuries and related damages to natural resources is included in the study. All partner agencies are gearing up to reach out to stakeholders along the Passaic River, so that our united efforts will be brought to bear to remediate and restore this precious River to good health. More information is available at www.ourPassaic.org. v

Alice Yeh (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2), Lisa Baron (New Jersey Department of Transportation, Office of Maritime Resources), and Tom Shea (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District) are the project managers for the Lower Passaic River Study with their respective agencies.




No Discharge Zone Designated in Hudson back to top

On October 9, 2003, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the State of New York, and the Hudson Riverkeeper, announced approval of a “No Discharge Zone” in the NY waters of the Hudson River from the Battery in New York City to the Troy Dam. This action should make incremental progress towards meeting the pathogen and nutrient water quality targets in the Harbor & Estuary Program’s draft Targets and Goals.

Under the Clean Water Act, states may petition for a “No Discharge Area” designation from EPA. EPA reviews the application to determine if the protection and enhancement of the specified waters require the discharge prohibition and if there are adequate and reasonably available facilities for the safe and sanitary removal and treatment of sewage. In this case, thirty-five pump-out facilities exist along or around the 153-mile stretch of the Hudson at marinas, yacht clubs, industrial facilities and other locations. EPA has found this number to be sufficient for the 35,000 vessels that sail the Hudson from the Battery to Troy. Many of the small number of large commercial vessels (greater than 225 feet in length or 20 feet in draft) that sail the Hudson are equipped with on-board sanitation devices that do not have holding tanks and allow sewage, once treated, to simply “flow-through.” Because of the time and cost necessary to retrofit these large vessels with holding tanks, EPA has given these vessels one year to comply with the No Discharge Zone requirements. New York State is exploring options for creating additional pumpout facilities to make it more convenient for large boat owners to discharge sewage.

Treated wastes from boats often contain microorganisms, nutrients and/or chemical additives such as chlorine, formaldehyde or phenyls, that can degrade water quality in areas of the river where they are discharged. Among the potential effects from these waste discharges is nutrient loading, which can deplete oxygen levels in the water and significantly damage fish and other aquatic life. In addition, the release of toxic materials and pathogens also can harm marine and estuarine life and potentially spread diseases such as hepatitis to humans who come in contact with contaminated waters. The problem is worse in poorly flushed areas.

The No Discharge Zone will be enforced by state police, New York State DEC police, New York State Department of Parks police, county sheriffs and deputy sheriffs, local police officers, harbormasters and bay constables.




Capt. Pete Says... Lobster! back to top
Peter L. Sattler

For those who don’t dive, there’s fishing. For those who dive, there’s lobster!! I never met a crustacean that I didn’t like and Homarus americanus is no exception. The hunt for this quarry requires patience, strength – to haul pots or scuba tanks – quick hands and a large pot. Oh yeah, and a license. This regulated species has a recreational daily bag limit of six with a minimum carapace length of 3.25 inches in NY and 3.34375 (exactly) in NJ. The challenge to the scuba diver is that no devices can be used; that is, hands only–watch those fingers!! These animals are nocturnal; they walk and forage at night. So another challenge for the diver is scoring during the day. Regardless, an underwater light is another essential tool necessary for looking for lobster.

A versatile culinary delight, the lobster can be grilled, boiled or steamed; and simply served with lemon, drawn butter and tabasco. Here are the exact cooking times that will guarantee a gastronomical extravaganza.

GRILL: Place lobster on its back, split lobster longitudinally, remove brain sack and anal tract, crack claws with hammer. Brush with butter, place back side down on direct heat for10 minutes, turn over for 4 minutes.

BOIL: Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add lobsters and start the timer when the water boils again: 14 minutes for a 1-pound lobster, 18 minutes for 2 pounder and for lobsters over 2 pounds, add 3 minutes per pound.

STEAM: Place about 1 inch of water (substitute white wine or beer) with basil leaves in a steamer (large pot with tray). When steam starts, set timer for 20 minutes. v

Peter L. Sattler is Principal Environmental Planner with the Interstate Environmental Commission





Species Profile: Oysters back to top
Michael Stringer

New York restaurants once boasted that their finest tasting and freshest oysters were harvested directly from New York Harbor. Before the 1920’s, oysters were a major part of the culture and ecology of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary. Oyster beds flourished in many parts of the Estuary, from the lower Hudson River, to Newark Bay, to the lower Raritan River and Raritan Bay, to the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers and even Jamaica Bay.

Oysters were not just a staple food; they were a keystone species. Research has demonstrated that healthy oyster populations are key to a healthy estuary. Oysters are natural filter feeders. An adult oyster is capable of filtering an astounding 50 gallons of water a day. As they feed, oysters limit algae populations and improve water clarity by removing suspended sediments. Oysters are also bioengineers. Oysters actually grow attached to old oyster shells or other hard surfaces, rising off the bottom of the Estuary and creating a complex reef habitat. Oyster beds provide a home for a host of small organisms including anemones, shrimp, mud crabs. This abundance of prey species attracts large fish like striped bass and blackfish.

Oysters populations have suffered the impacts of the growth of the metropolitan region. As Joseph Mitchell wrote, “the Dutch and English were...gluttonous oyster eaters,” and by the mid 1800’s most of the natural oyster beds were overharvested and oysters from other estuaries were imported and grown on private leases. After overharvesting took its toll, increased sediment runoff buried most of the old oyster beds. However, oysters still occur in small groups in the Estuary.

Baykeeper is leading the effort to restore oyster beds by growing oysters and rebuilding oyster habitat. Recovery of this cornerstone species will be essential to the recovery of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary. The task of bringing back the oyster is tall and will take many years, but with the loss of eel grass and increased siltation, restoring the structured of oyster beds is key to enhancing benthic habitat.

To find out how you can volunteer to grow oysters and help in this effort, please visit the Baykeeper website, www.nynjbaykeeper.org.

 

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