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Earth Team Assistance for Barnegat Bay Soil Survey

FY13 Earth Team Group Volunteer Award Nomination  

This is the text of the nomination of the Earth Team volunteer team that assisted with the Barnegat Bay Subaqueous Soil Survey. The nomination was submitted by Soil Scientist Rob Tunstead.

1. Magnitude of Work: The Subaqueous Soil Survey of Barnegat Bay will produce a soil map of the bottom sediments of the bay (under the water). NRCS soil scientists are collecting and describing soil samples by boat.

The Barnegat Bay/Little Egg Harbor estuarine system (known as Barnegat Bay) was accepted into the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Estuary Program in 1995, one of only 28 in the nation recognized as an "estuary of national significance."  Barnegat Bay contains an array of environmentally-sensitive habitats and diverse biological resources, including migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, and commercially and recreationally important species of fish and shellfish throughout its 42 miles of shoreline in the southern half of New Jersey. Since it is the most heavily used estuary in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, the bay has seen significant negative human impacts, especially over the past 30 years, and urgently needs restoration. It was particularly hard-hit by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.

To create the soil survey, field notes and soil pedon descriptions are collected at particular locations throughout Barnegat Bay to document the differing soil types and landforms.

The 13 volunteers have contributed over 200 hours, assisting NRCS soil scientists primarily with boating logistics and data collection; recording soil color, texture, fluidity, odor, depths. Samples were collected for over 182 field notes, and the volunteers helped tremendously with this documentation for the soil survey. Each and every map unit on the soil survey legend is required to have 30 points of observation to truly confirm the map unit composition and component inclusion.  Each field note can take upwards of 1 to 2 hours to complete.

2. Need for the Service and Achievement: The subaqueous soil survey will connect the mainland to the bay and to the barrier islands in a seamless soils product; it will provide information on the depth, slope, physical and chemical properties of the sediments. Researchers and scientists will use this valuable data to make informed and wise decisions on restoration plans for aquatic vegetation and shellfish habitat, dredge management, carbon storage capability, and other applications.

Volunteers have performed every necessary supporting task, from navigation, boat maintenance and safety, to conducting a trace metal analysis project with specialized equipment. The entire project has been extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive and could not have been accomplished timely by the NRCS soils staff alone. One volunteer even saved the boat from the destructive force of Superstorm Sandy, by trailering it to a safe area beforehand, thus protecting USDA property from certain loss.

3. Challenges: Challenges faced by the volunteers included wet, dirty working conditions, varying weather, ranging from cold and windy with rough seas to hot and humid, and tight spaces on the small boat. Many of the volunteers, being from the local Barnegat Bay area, experienced much personal turmoil, long power outages and some property damage from Superstorm Sandy’s direct hit on the Jersey shore.

4. Partnerships: Many local and state organizations advocate and work for the restoration of Barnegat Bay, including Save Barnegat Bay, ReClam the Bay, Barnegat Bay Partnership, and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). All of these organizations have provided volunteers in some way or another. They support the subaqueous soil survey tremendously through public awareness efforts, as well, including conferences, trainings, and social media. Basically, they all have a vested interest in restoring the bay and bay research, and some have become avid spokespersons for our soil efforts on the bay. They understand that, for the restoration to be successful and sustainable, it must be informed by science. The overall effect has been one of enhancing NRCS’ value to the local partners and strengthening the bond between government and the citizens we serve.