Don’t hide your head in the sand

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure meet up with Jen Miller, a freelance reporter, to discuss some of the little known and finer attributes that the often pesky ‘sand’ brings to our beaches. For instance, did you know that all beach sand contains quartz? The odd thing is that the land surrounding some beaches doesn’t contain any quartz. Read her article from NewsWorksNJ to find out how the quartz arrives on some shorelines, as well as why sand is an integral part of the dune ecosystem that we rely on to protect our homes from big storms and waves.

Please feel free to email with any questions, comments, or suggestions for posts.

A naturalist’s must-see destination: Cape May County (and, the rest of south Jersey)

Earlier this year I was happy to see that the federal government had awarded New Jersey a $1 million grant to protect the ecologically sensitive wetlands in Cape May County (“Where Nature Smiles for 30 Miles” and where my hometown is located). The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will use the money to purchase 140 acres to add to the existing 17,000-acre Cape May Wetlands Wildlife Management Area. These wetlands are not only where I fell in love with the natural world, but are also home to many species of migratory birds and act as a nursery for many commercially important species of fish that spawn in the estuaries.

So with a combination of my pride in the DEP’s award and my feelings that an ‘ode to home’ in the Where We Live series is long overdue, I decided to take the time to compile a list of “10 unique and interesting natural history or maritime features of south Jersey”. I am sure there are plenty more out there, so please feel free to comment below or send me an email at if you have any additional comments or questions.

1. South Jersey sits to the east of the Delaware Bay. The Delaware Bay boasts the second-highest concentration of shorebirds in North America (second to Quivira, Kansas which is mid-point in the United States). The Bay is mid-point in travel for many birds that travel from the warm weather of South America up to the Arctic. The Bay is also a perfect wintering habitat for many species of songbirds and waterfowl.

2. The world’s largest population of Atlantic horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) spawn in Delaware Bay.

3. At the entrance of the Delaware Bay is the Cape May Lighthouse, built in 1859, which documents the beginning of Cape May County’s nautical history. There is also the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, built in 1874, on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Cape May County peninsula in North Wildwood. Speaking of Cape May, the famous Cape May diamonds people have been looking for since the 1880’s are actually quartz crystals that wash up as smooth rock.

4. At 3800 Boardwalk Mall in Wildwood you can see the 43rd Wyland Whaling Wall, “Humpbacks off the Jersey Coast” (pictured right). Wyland is known as “one of America’s most unique creative influences, and a leading advocate for marine resource conservation”.

5. The A.J. Meerwald, New Jersey’s official Tall Ship, began life as a sailing schooner built for oystering,  but was commandeered during World War II to serve as a fireboat on the Delaware Bay.

6. The Stone Harbor Point is one of the few parcels of New Jersey’s coast that has not been stabilized (86% of the shoreline has been stabilized) leaving a remarkable wide open space that has been shaped (and reshaped) by waves and tides for centuries. It also has one of the last thickets of bayberry left on New Jersey’s coast.

7. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine has the impressive achievement of responding to over 3,900 strandings of whales, dolphins, seals, and sea turtles (all, of course, done with a permit and authorization from the state and federal governments).

8. In south Jersey you’ll also find the Pine Barrens, a distinctive natural area spanning over  1 million acres of the Outer Coastal Plain (pictured left) in southern and central New Jersey. Dr. Witmer Stone, an early New Jersey natural scientist described the area as “always sandy and thickly covered with more or less scrubby vegetation, interspersed with swamps and infested by hordes of mosquitoes”. This area is particularly prone to fires and some species, such as the rare pygmy Pitch Pine, have become adapted to the fires and count on the fires to reproduce. The sandy soil of the Pine Barrens is sometimes referred to as sugar sand.

9. Blueberries were officially named the state fruit in 2004. New Jersey produces the second most blueberries in the world (Maine is first). Hammonton is considered the “Blueberry Capital of the World”.

10. After the federal government designated the Outer Coastal Plain as an American Vinticultureal Area, south Jersey started up on the wine trend! Now south Jersey has more than 20 fully functioning wineries and vineyards.

As Jacques Cousteau said, “People protect what they love“. I am sure you can tell from this blog that I do love the ocean. This love no doubt came from growing up in south Jersey and spending time everyday at the beach or the nearby Bay.  Here’s a poem I wrote (almost 12 years ago) about the area. I hope you’re inspired to learn about the natural history of your own area – especially on this upcoming Earth Day weekend.


Don’t be blue!

The annual BLUE Film Festival was held from August 24-29 in beautiful Monterrey, CA. The event is sponsored by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium and has recently become more and more mainstream attracting many high profile ocean community celebrities. The winner of the festival last year, The Cove, even won an Oscar for best documentary!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Rick MacPherson’s overview of his time there this year as he recounted how Julie Packard, Executive Director of Monterrey Bay Aquarium, challenged the highly talented and knowledgeable audience on how to engage the public to “care enough to do something about it”. Sometimes it seems as though we try and try and still make no headway.

Of course, in the past thirty years the movement to create a public that cares certainly has taken some giant leaps forward. We’ve been made aware of the bountiful wonders of the ocean and there is a collective knowledge that the ocean is in peril. But, that is only the beginning. Attitudes, skills and participation must be challenged as well. How that happens and where it begins is a perplexing question and unique to each individual.

For instance, not too long ago, I asked some colleagues to see how they got a foothold into the environmental education field and mostly the answers did revolve around wanting to teach others about what we love: woods, mountains or oceans.

With me it has been the sense of place. People have linked a strong sense of place as a child to advocacy efforts in adulthood. For instance, would I be as interested in the ocean and fishing communities if I did not grow up in Cape May County, New Jersey? (In 2009, Cape May County was the fourth largest valuable fishing port in the United States.)

Maybe how we, the ocean advocacy community, begin to think about challenging attitudes, skills and participation levels is to remain optimistic. However, this is more often than not a very difficult task (I am about to have my first child so I am all about remaining optimistic and hopeful for the future).

But, in an effort not to let ourselves get too blue, here is a list of accomplishments that would not have occurred without such a dedicated ocean community:

This is only a fraction of what has been accomplished! Have another success story? Please add it in the comments to keep the momentum going strong. Thanks!

Image (c)