A little bit of rain didn’t stop the second Barnegat Bay Blitz as approximately 45 Lacey Township students enthusiastically made their way out into the woods surrounding the high school to pickup trash and debris.
“The Barnegat Bay is one of our treasures,” said Bob Martin, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protect, which ran the cleanup effort.
Martin told the high school students that Governor Chris Christie is concerned the bay is dying and has developed a 10-point restoration plan, which addresses areas such as nutrients going into the waterways and stormwater basins as well as education.
The Blitz fits in with action item number eight in the plan, which calls for increased education efforts to foster public stewardship for the bay, Martin said.
"The Barnegat Bay Blitz is grassroots environmentalism at its finest," Martin said. “We’re getting true hands on involvement.”
A major cause for the ecological decline of the bay is excessive algae growth caused by nutrients from fertilizers and other sources as well as debris that could otherwise enter the bay through the discharge of stormwater, he said.
“We want all of you to be out there and sharing the importance of the Barnegat Bay,” Martin told the students. “The future of the Barnegat Bay has to be with all of you.”
With tools and garbage bags in hand, the students and members of the DEP ventured outside. Martin encouraged the students to “take ownership.”
The students picked up between 20 to 30 bags of garbage.
“There was a lot of garbage,” student Justine Kukowski said. “I was surprised.”
“It’s nice to know we’re helping the environment by cleaning around the schools,” ninth grader Nicole Olscewski said.
Olscewski hopes to take what she has learned back to her neighborhood and clean up the woods behind her house.
“I think it’s a great event,” teacher Sue Pena said. “It’s nice to get the kids involved in something so close to home.”
The DEP is anticipating approximately 5,000 volunteers today compared to 2,400 for the first cleanup in October. Last year, 789 bags of trash and 400 bags of recyclables were collected. Everything from debris to tires and refrigerators were picked up.
“Support for the Blitz is snowballing, taking hold in all corners of the watershed and among a wide variety of people,” added Katie Barnett, also a DEP event coordinator.
Volunteers came from all 37 municipalities in the 660-squaremile watershed, encompassing 33 municipalities in Ocean County and four in Monmouth County.
Following Lacey, the DEP would be meeting groups in Barnegat Light, Point Pleasant and Ocean County College in Toms River. Cleanups targeted a wide variety of locations, including wetlands, stream banks, stormwater discharge points, school grounds, trails, docks, areas around bulkheads and the bay itself.
“You don’t need a certain event to do it,” Martin reminded the students.
Trash collected today will be turned over to the local public works departments for proper disposal.
In addition to picking up trash, the DEP staff is doing field work including identifying and taking GPS coordinates for unknown stormwater outfalls, assessing dozens of water bodies for algae blooms, helping three Eagle Scout candidates and Boy Scout Troop 177 from Egg Harbor Township install a footbridge along the Batona Trail in Bass River State Forest, working with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey in repairing terrapin turtle protection fences along a causeway in Little Egg Harbor and assisting municipalities in the review of stormwater control systems.
For the Blitz, the DEP partners with New Jersey Clean Communities Council, MATES Academy, the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust, Waste Management, the Barnegat Bay Partnership, Clean Ocean Action, ReClam the Bay, Sustainable Jersey, Starbucks, Wawa and the American Council of Engineering Companies.