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New Jersey Salt Marsh Ponds as Harmful Algae Reservoirs

Dr. Ling Ren taking algae samples.
Dr. Ling Ren taking algae samples. Photo courtesy of Ling Ren and NJDEP.

Ling Ren, Research Assistant Professor, Environmental Science and Policy, is currently on a project that aims to provide baseline documentation for salt marsh ponds (SMPs) as potential reservoirs of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in New Jersey  coastal ecosystems under current climate change and sea level rise conditions. The project study area is the Tuckerton peninsula which offers a large expanse of unaltered salt marsh along the southern New Jersey coast.

The research team believes that tidal salt marsh ponds serve as inoculum for HAB species and potentially function as HABs reservoirs for New JerseyJ coastal water. They are investigating the temporal and spatial changes of HABs and associated algal communities in SMPs using field sampling, microscopy observations, and Next-generation DNA sequencing in three areas of the Tuckerton peninsula: unaltered marsh (reference), areas altered with parallel grid ditching and open marsh water management (OMWM). This project is a first effort to focus on HABs presence in SMPs and will provide a novel documentation and reference database on the potential role and function of SMPs as reservoirs of toxic and harmful algae for coastal ecosystems. Field collections have been carried out since July 2022, and will continue through July this year. 

During each field trip, two (2) water samples are collected from each sampling pond for microscopic examinations of the algal community, and DNA sequencing work. In addition, YSI measurements are taken for basic physical and water quality conditions (temperature, dissolved oxygen, salinity, conductivity) of each pond. Microscope observation revealed the presence of various harmful species reaching highest abundances during the 2022 summer season. The next step will be to assess species composition, seasonal variations, their toxicity, and the role of climate change and sea level rise on SMPs’ potential function as HABs inoculants. The project final report is set for release in 2024. Research titled “New Jersey Salt Marsh Ponds as Harmful Algae Reservoirs” is conducted in coordination with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, George Mason University Drs. Ling Ren and Patrick Gillevet, and Rutgers University, Dr. Thomas Grothues. This project was made possible through an EPA grant (CD 96246800-0) to Dr. Mihaela Enache at the NJDEP. 

Article originally appeared in the New Jersey Sea Grant Newsletter, COASTadian.