Seagrass decline in New Jersey coastal lagoons: A response to increasing eutrophication

Michael J. Kennish, Scott M. Haag, Gregg P. Sakowicz

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

26 Scopus citations


Results of a comprehensive 3-year (2004 to 2006) investigation of the seagrass (Zostera marina L.) demographics in the Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor Estuary, a lagoonal system located along the central New Jersey coastline, reveal a dramatic decline in plant biomass (g dry wt m-2), density (shoots m-2), blade length, and percent cover of bay bottom associated with increasing eutrophic conditions. Quadrat, core, and hand sampling, as well as digital camera imaging, at 120 transect stations in four disjunct seagrass beds of the estuary during the June to November period in 2004, 2005, and 2006 indicate distinct changes in demographic patterns leading to significant shifts in ecosystem services provided by the beds, such as the loss of habitat for bay scallops (Argopecten irradians), blue mussels (Mytilus edulis), blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus), and seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus). Of all the metrics analyzed, seagrass biomass exhibited the most significant decrease over the study period, which was evident estuary-wide. For example, the mean aboveground biomass and belowground biomass of Z. marina decreased by 50.0% to 87.7% between 2004 and 2006, with the greatest decrease occurring in Little Egg Harbor. Shoot density of Z. marina also decreased from a mean of 292 shoots m-2 in 2005 to 241 shoots m-2 in 2006. The mean blade length of Z. marina was relatively consistent during 2004 (31.83 to 34.02 cm) and 2005 (25.89 to 32.71 cm), but decreased greatly during 2006 (18.61 to 19.37 cm), thereby reducing overall plant biomass. A progressive seasonal reduction in the percent cover of seagrass in the estuary was apparent during each year of the study and correlated well with diminishing eelgrass biomass. The percent cover of seagrass in the study area over the June to November period dropped from 45% to 21% in 2004, 43% to 16% in 2005, and 32% to 19% in 2006. The reduced growth and spatial cover of Z. marina during 2006 correlated with lower shoot density and biomass measurements. Declining seagrass abundance and biomass in the coastal lagoons of New Jersey signal an ongoing negative response to nitrogen over-enrichment, which has also been correlated with the occurrence of phytoplankton and benthic macroalgal blooms which are detrimental to seagrass habitat. Macroalgae completely cover extensive areas of the bay bottom during blooms, particularly when comprised of sheet-like forms such as Ulva lactuca. These blooms appear to cause significant dieback of seagrass in some areas of the estuary. Recovery of seagrass beds in the estuary will depend on management intervention, including an accelerated remediation program involving a reduction of nitrogen loading from coastal watershed areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCoastal Lagoons
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Habitats of Environmental Change
PublisherCRC Press
Number of pages35
ISBN (Electronic)9781420088311
ISBN (Print)9781420088304
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Science(all)
  • Engineering(all)


  • Barnegat bay-little egg harbor estuary
  • Eutrophication
  • Nitrogen loading
  • Seagrass
  • Zostera marina


Dive into the research topics of 'Seagrass decline in New Jersey coastal lagoons: A response to increasing eutrophication'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this