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‘Citizen scientists’ on a mission to restore Navesink River

RUMSON – Environmentally conscious individuals will swap their roles as concerned citizens for “citizen scientists.” 

A “no blame game” approach to restoring the Navesink River is expected to continue until 2020 when it is predicted that the waterway will see a complete restoration after 565 acres of the estuary was downgraded for shell-fishing due to pathogen pollutants discovered in 2016.

The Navesink River is an estuary that is approximately eight miles long and is surrounded by Middletown, Red Bank, Fair Haven and Rumson.

Measures are being taken to help remedy the situation and ensure cleaner water for residents and users of the river for fishing and recreation.

Until then, a proactive group of Monmouth County residents will take on the roles of citizen scientists each Wednesday morning when five teams collect water samples from 20 “hot spot” locations in Red Bank, Fair Haven, Rumson and Middletown as well as Tinton Falls. 

After water samples are collected, The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will test each water sample for pathogens. The test results of the water quality samples will be released Clean Ocean Action within 24 hours of collection.

Clean Ocean Action, an organization that works to improve the degraded quality of marine waters, facilitated a “Rally For the Navesink” meeting on July 25 at Bingham Hall in Rumson. 

The meeting, which served as a citizen scientist training seminar, attracted about 15 individuals.

 Alison McCarthy, coordinator of Coastal Watershed Protection for Clean Ocean Action, explained that citizen scientists have been a part of the river’s restoration effort since June 2017. 

“After two years of participating in the program, our volunteers have come and gone. Availability changes. This is a new opportunity for people to get involved,” McCarthy said. 

McCarthy said that anyone could become a citizen scientist. 

“You don’t have to have a science background to get involved,” McCarthy said. “(Citizen scientists) help us by collecting water quality samples every week. Then we will take those water quality samples down to a lab. The collection process is really straightforward. It’s basically just dipping a bottle into the water and filling it up.” 

 McCarthy explained that the process is simple, yet strategic. Citizen scientists must learn to handle and document the water samples correctly. Volunteers must wear gloves when collecting water samples and change them each time they obtain a new sample. A small metal covering must be securely fastened to the top of the collection vessel.

A Port Monmouth resident, Kevin Halec, recalled that he used to play in a row boat on the Navesink River as a child.

For the past 20 years, Halec has raked for clams in the Navesink River. Due to the downgrade of the waters, Halec said he is now limited to harvesting clams east of the Oceanic Bridge in Rumson.

Halec said clamming is currently permitted in this region of the estuary. West of the Oceanic Bridge, Halec said has “a lot of really good clam batches you can’t touch” due to the downgraded quality of the water.

“I’ve grown up on the Navesink River. I’ve loved the Navesink since 1972 … I really care about the water … The water quality is important. Right now, I’ve got time (to volunteer as a citizen scientist,” Halec said.

In 2020, The New Jersey Department of Environment Protection (DEP) will determine whether the Navesink River is clean enough to resume shellfish harvesting after the waterway was flagged as bacteria-ridden three years ago.

The DEP considers shellfish water classification to be a crucial component when determining the overall health of a waterway, according a report issued by Clean Ocean Action.

According to that same report, the Navesink River’s water quality has been declining over the past 30 years.

Other research initiatives used to detect sources of bacteria in the Navesink River have included the use of “fecal-sniffing” dogs and sewer dye tests which helped locate blockages in sewer systems that rerouted waste into the river.

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