To keep clean from human waste, Barnegat Bay is going to the dogs.
Rally for Barnegat Bay, a collaboration among environmental organizations, student volunteers and government officials, completed a weeklong investigation of pollution in the Toms River watershed Monday — and they did so using a dog specially trained in sniffing out and identifying sources of sewage waste.
Britta Forsberg, executive director of Save Barnegat Bay, a constituent group of Rally for Barnegat Bay, said this dog-led approach can, at times, be more efficient than other methods of pollution prevention.
“There’s a lot of data collected on the Toms River, but actually this unique and innovative approach we think will lead us to problems that are undiscovered, that are much easier to be found perhaps with the strong nose of a dog versus a lot of equipment and man-hours and expense,” Forsberg said at a news conference Monday at the Barnegat Bay EcoCenter in Toms River.
The other constituent groups of Rally for Barnegat Bay include Clean Ocean Action and a group of student volunteers from the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, or MATES. These groups contracted with Environmental Canine Services, whose dogs provide their waste-identifying services to river cleanup efforts.
Scott Reynolds, who co-founded Environmental Canine Service with his wife, Karen Reynolds, said they were inspired to train dogs to clean up the ocean by their experiences with canine-aided search-and-rescue missions and by his childhood growing up near a lake in Michigan.
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“The lake that I played in and that I fished in had changed so bad that the lake was dying, putrefaction,” Reynolds said Monday. “So we decided to bring the dogs in and use them to clean up the waterways.”
Problem spots identified by the dogs will inform ongoing monitoring and analysis of water quality by groups including Save Barnegat Bay and Clean Ocean Action.
The groups will issue reports based on the dog-aided investigations to municipal officials in early December, and recommendations about further action will be made public sometime in 2022.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection awarded a grant to fund the Rally for Barnegat Bay and dog-aided cleanup.
Lynette Lurig, a DEP research scientist, extolled the efforts of activists at the Monday news conference. She added the state would also be aiding these efforts by advising local officials and by working on public education and enforcement with the Ocean County Sheriff's Office.
"How awesome this project is, whatever they find, we know that's not the end, that's just the beginning," Lurig said.
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Six municipalities on Barnegat Bay are participating in the Rally — Beachwood, Island Heights, Ocean Gate, Pine Beach, South Toms River and Toms River.
South Toms River Mayor Gregory Handshy said Monday that Barnegat Bay waters were “jewels,” and that its protection from pollution was a civic duty.
“I enjoy swimming at the beaches, fishing, clamming, crabbing, all those things. I love the waterways," Handshy said. “The jewels that we have are natural resources that we have to really take care of for our future, so at this point South Toms River is totally committed to the future of our environment and our clean water."
Ocean County Commissioner Joseph Vicari said the conservation of Barnegat Bay is essential.
“What we have to do is make sure we plan for the future, and make (Ocean County waterways) as pristine as possible,” Vicari said.
Vicari later gave Remi, the dog that was conducting the cleanup of the bay, a certificate of honor on behalf of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners.
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The work on the watershed is part of a broader effort to ensure waterways remain clean.
Activists from Clean Ocean Action and Environmental Canine Services have previously worked together on a similar project.
In 2016, the two organizations joined forces for a Rally for the Navesink, which sought to identify sources of waste polluting the Navesink River in Monmouth County.
Alison Jones, the COA watershed program coordinator, said that initial effort served as a template for further efforts to help keep ocean waters clean.
“The Rally for the Navesink was envisioned to be a model," Jones said. "So that’s what brings us to Barnegat Bay, and specifically to the Toms River,” Jones said.
Forsberg, of Save Barnegat Bay, said she was hopeful similar programs could eventually be implemented in Atlantic County, saying she hoped police dogs in local K-9 units could be used as part of a potential future project.
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Clean Ocean Action Executive Director Cindy Zipf said the Rally for Barnegat Bay work was just one step toward protecting New Jersey waters from pollution, including from fertilizer and oil.
“That's what we're trying to do with this project, is not only raise the awareness of the 'poolution' (from sewage waste), but also the other pollution that we people contribute," Zipf said.
For the student volunteers from MATES, a secondary school that allows students to take a more science-oriented curriculum, doing work for Rally for Barnegat Bay was a natural.
"I'm a Toms River resident, and I didn't really recognize that the Barnegat Bay watershed is under these conditions," said MATES junior Bethany Suliguin, whose sister Brianna is also a MATES junior volunteering for the project. "Seeing the numbers, it really just opens your eyes to what needs to be done in this community, so that's why I'm glad to be a part of this."
Contact Chris Doyle