Innovative and Effective Approach to Wetland Restoration

The Pin Oak Forest Conservation Area is a 97-acre tract of open space that contains an extremely valuable wetland complex at the headwaters of Woodbridge Creek. The site is located in a heavily developed landscape of northern Middlesex County and is surrounded by industrial, commercial, and residential development. As such, the area suffered from wetland and stream channel degradation, habitat fragmentation, decreased biodiversity due to invasive species, and ecological impairment. The site was viewed as one of only a few large-scale freshwater wetland restoration opportunities remaining in this highly developed region of New Jersey.

Recognizing the unique qualities and great potential for rehabilitating and enhancing ecological function on this county-owned parkland, a dynamic partnership between government agencies, NGOs, and private industry, was formed to restore the natural function of the wetlands complex, transform the Pin Oak Forest site into thriving habitat teeming with wildlife, and steward this property back to life. The team designed a restoration plan that converted 28.94 acres of degraded freshwater wetlands, 0.33 acres of disturbed uplands dominated by invasive species, and 1,018 linear feet of degraded or channelized streams into a species-rich and highly functional headwater wetland complex.

BEFORE
View of stream restoration area upon commencement of excavation activities. View of containerized plant material staged prior to installation.

 

We used an innovative approach to restore the hydraulic connection of the stream channel with its floodplain in order to support wetland enhancement. Additionally, to further enhance wetlands with hydrologic uplift, the team incorporated microtopography techniques, which creates a variable surface that increases groundwater infiltration and niches that support multiple habitat communities. This resulted in a spectrum of wetland and stream habitats, including the establishment of a functional system of floodplain forest, scrub shrub, emergent wetlands and open water. Biodiversity was also increased through invasive species management, which opened the door for establishing key native flora such as red maple, pin oak, swamp white oak, and swamp rose. The restored headwater wetland system also provides stormwater quality management, floodplain storage, enhanced groundwater recharge onsite, and surface water flows to Woodbridge Creek.

Completed in 2017, the integrated complex of various wetland and upland communities continues to provide high quality habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species including the state-threatened Black-crowned Night heron and Red-headed Woodpecker. The work done at the site significantly enhanced ecological function, providing high-quality habitat on indefinitely-preserved public lands that offer countless benefits to both wildlife and the community.

AFTER
Post-restoration in 2018, looking Northeast. View of wetland enhancement approximately 2 months after completion of seeding and planting activities.

 

Public and private partnerships were and continue to be critical to the success of this project. The diverse partnership includes Middlesex County Office of Parks and Recreation, Woodbridge Township, Woodbridge River Watch, New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Mitigation Council, GreenTrust Alliance, GreenVest, and Princeton Hydro. The partners joined together as stakeholders to identify long term restoration and stewardship goals for Pin Oak Forest Preserve, and nearly four years later, the partners all remain involved in various aspects of managing the property and this project itself, ranging from fiscal oversight by New Jersey Freshwater Wetland Mitigation Council and GreenTrust Alliance, to permit and landowner access coordination performed by Woodbridge Township and Middlesex County, or the ongoing stewardship, maintenance, and monitoring of the project and the larger park, being conducted by being conducted by GreenTrust Alliance, GreenVest, and NJ Department of Environmental Protection.

This project was funded through the New Jersey Freshwater Wetland In-Lieu Fee program. In 2014, GreenTrust Alliance, GreenVest, and Princeton Hydro secured $3.8 million dollars of funding on behalf of the Middlesex County Parks Department to restore three wetland sites, which included Pin Oak Forest.

The Pin Oak Forest project is a great model for showcasing a successful approach to the enhancement of public lands through a dynamic multidisciplinary, multi-stakeholder partnership. And, because of proper planning and design, it has become a thriving wildlife oasis tucked in the middle of a densely-populated suburban landscape.

Princeton Hydro specializes in the planning, design, permitting, implementing, and maintenance of wetland rehabilitation projects. To learn more about our wetland restoration, creation, and enhancement services, visit: bit.ly/PHwetland

A Scientist’s Journey to the Antarctic: A Princeton Hydro Blog Series

This two-part blog series takes us on an adventure to the southernmost continent and explores how changes to Antarctica’s ecosystem have worldwide impacts.

Welcome to Part Two: The Continent of Science

Antarctica, the most remote and inaccessible continent in the world, is also, on average, the coldest, windiest and driest continent. Quick Fact: Antarctica is actually a desert! Additionally, with an average elevation of about 7,200 feet above sea level, it is also the world’s highest continent.

There are no native people in Antarctica, but scientists from all over the world visit the continent to conduct research. During the summer, approximately 4,000 scientists visit “the continent of science” to carry out research in a wide range of physical and biological sciences – from the vastness of space to the minutest scale of microorganisms. The research conducted here has helped to highlight global problems, including climate change.

Tourists also visit Antarctica during the summer to enjoy the spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife. In Part One of our two-part blog series, we take you on an Antarctic journey through Sophie Breitbart’s experience aboard the National Geographic Explorer ship. Sophie saw a variety of wildlife during her 10-day educational excursion, including Crabeater and Leopard seals, gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins, Humpback and Killer whales, migrating Red Knots, and more.

Polar tours like the National Geographic Lindblad Expedition help to raise climate change awareness and create lifelong wildlife ambassadors, and the profits from responsibly managed tourism help to fund critical scientific expeditions to the Antarctic.

Just last year, a research mission conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration discovered that sea ice cover in the Antarctic is near record lows – 18.2%, or 520,000 square miles, below the 1981-2010 average. That is the second lowest sea ice report since record-keeping began in 1979, with the first being recorded in 2016. Smaller ice shelves in the Antarctic Peninsula are currently retreating, breaking up into vast fields of icebergs, likely due to rising temperature and surface melting.

Snow and ice make up more than 95% of Antarctica’s surface terrain. The continental ice sheet contains approximately seven million cubic miles of ice, representing about 90% of the world’s total ice. The average thickness is about 1.5 miles. To understand its extent, if Antarctica’s ice were to melt today, global sea levels could rise 150 – 200 feet. It’s massive.

Climate change impacts are already being documented in Antarctica. The Antarctic Peninsula’s glaciers have been warming faster than the rest of the continent. As the snow and ice decrease, the land cover increases and absorbs more heat, which in turn increases the rate of warming. In 2017, a study published in Current Biology found that over last 50 years, temperatures have been rising, and therefore have caused a steady growth of moss on the continent.  So, scientists are now predicting that, “terrestrial ecosystems will alter rapidly under future warming, leading to major changes in the biology and landscape of this iconic region—an Antarctic greening to parallel well-established observations in the Arctic.”  And, another study by researcher Bill Fraser has reported that Adélie Penguin populations have decreased from 32,000 breeding pairs to 11,000 in 30 years because of the changes in temperature.

Changes to the global sea ice cover reported by NOAA not only carry major implications for the continent of Antarctica, but for the entire world. 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that earth’s climate is warming, and the evidence that the Arctic’s ice caps are melting at an accelerated rate due to climate change is blaring. And, more than 62% of Americans say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming. Yet, not many people are taking daily actions to slow global climate change.

We must make every effort we can to limit our own carbon footprint and mitigate climate change. It has been said that there are most likely no greater ambassadors for Antarctica than the tourists who have been there and return home to share information about the need for its protection.

When Sophie returned from her trip, she said “I became an environmental scientist because I have a passion to conserve biodiversity. Being immersed in this wild place and experiencing firsthand the magnificent yet fragile Antarctic landscape acts as a reminder of why it’s so important to do this work. Those memories inspire me to keep at it.”

To learn more about Antarctica and what scientists with World Wildlife Fund are doing to protect it, go here. If you have any questions for Sophie about her journey, please email us or comment below.

 

Sophie Breitbart worked for Princeton Hydro from March 2016 until May 2018, first as an intern and then as a staff scientist. She is now pursuing her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, where she will study how urban development affects the ecology and evolution of interactions between the plant common milkweed, its herbivores, and pollinators.

 

A Scientist’s Journey to the Antarctic: A Princeton Hydro Blog Series

A trip to Antarctica has long been at the top of the bucket list for Sophie Breitbart, former Staff Scientist at Princeton Hydro, and her father. Ultimately inspired by the extraordinary spirit of adventure in “South: The Endurance Expedition,” the story of British explorer Ernest Shackleton‘s 1914 attempt to reach the South Pole, the two decided that it was time to make the journey to the white continent. What they experienced was far more than a travel dream fulfilled.

This two-part blog series takes us on an adventure to the southernmost continent and explores how changes to Antarctica’s ecosystem have worldwide impacts.

Part One: Antarctic Adventure

The National Geographic Lindblad Expedition trip began with a flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Sophie and her father met up with the other travelers and an expedition crew that consisted of an exploration leader, eight veteran naturalists, a National Geographic photographer, a Lindblad-National Geographic certified photo instructor, an undersea specialist, a Global Perspectives guest speaker, and a video chronicler.

Ushuaia, Argentina

In Buenos Aires, the group, totaling approximately 140 people, boarded a private charter flight to Ushuaia, Argentina, the world’s southernmost city. After taking in views of the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel, which is commonly referred to as The End of the World, the group climbed aboard the National Geographic Explorer ship and set sail for a 10-day Antarctic adventure.

The National Geographic Explorer is a 367-foot expedition ship that accommodates 148 guests in 81 cabins. The Explorer is uniquely equipped with an ice-strengthened hull, advanced navigation equipment, a variety of exploration tools, and vast expanses of windows that provided the ultimate vantage point for spotting dolphins and sea birds as the ship left the Beagle Channel.

Before reaching the Antarctic, the ship would have to pass through the infamous Drake Passage, the body of water between Cape Horn in South America and the South Shetland Islands in Antarctica, where the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern seas converge. Because the currents in the Passage meet no resistance from any nearby landmass, they can be some of the choppiest waters in the world. Luckily for Sophie and the other Explorer travelers, the Drake Passage was cooperative for the most part and the journey through it was relatively smooth. (Editor’s Note: The journey back was another story.)

On day five of the journey, the ship arrived in the Antarctic Peninsula.

“The ice was so shocking and jaw-dropping,” said Sophie reflecting on her first impression of Antarctica. “I had never seen anything like it before. There were so many different shades of blues and whites and countless textures. It was truly incredible to see.”

With close to 24 hours of daylight, the exploration opportunities were endless. Sophie and her father participated in kayaking tours, expeditions on an 8-person zodiac boat, around the clock wildlife watching, and even a few hikes on the Antarctic Peninsula. There they saw indigenous rocks and artifacts, remnants of British research stations from the 1950s, and lots of wildlife, including nesting South Polar Skua Birds, penguins swimming and jumping out of the water, and a playful group of Leopard Seals.

Humpback and Killer whales skirted the ship as well. A Killer Whale research team aboard the Explorer took blow samples, which would be genetically sequenced, and shared  with passengers their aerial imagery findings, which they captured in order to record the whales’ dimensions, family structures, and health. Sophie and her father enjoyed a variety of whale sightings. During one of their kayaking expeditions, a large Humpback Whale surfaced just 10 feet away from them, then swam right underneath the kayaks and resurfaced, showing lots of playfulness and curiosity.

Check out this incredible video showing a fascinating strategy that killer whales use to hunt seals:

While Sophie struggled to choose a favorite moment from the trip, she quickly recalled the memory of kayaking along the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula among a field of stunning icebergs. “They each possess a unique mixture of color, density, shape, and size… like pieces of artwork, truly breathtaking in their composition and enormity.” Another easy highlight: “One day, the captain lodged our ship into an ice floe and we had a cookout complete with BBQ and lawn chairs. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Sophie described this journey as the “most amazing scientific field trip” she’s ever been on. It left her feeling inspired to continue her work as an environmental scientist and acted as a reminder about why it’s so important to continue to be involved with projects that conserve biodiversity and protect water resources.

Check out Part Two of this Princeton Hydro blog series.

 

Sophie Breitbart worked for Princeton Hydro from March 2016 until May 2018, first as an intern and then as a staff scientist. She is now pursuing her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, where she will study how urban development affects the ecology and evolution of interactions between the plant common milkweed, its herbivores, and pollinators.

Princeton Hydro Photo Contest

To celebrate Earth Week 2017, Princeton Hydro founder Steve Souza launched an internal company photo contest for which he asked everyone to submit their best photos of nature.

A panel of judges reviewed the photos through a blind judging process, narrowed it down to the top five, and ultimately chose a winner. Without further ado, we’d like to congratulate Michael Rehman for scoring the 1st place win! His “Barred Owl” photo won him a $100 gift certificate and lots of bragging rights.

So many great photos were submitted – we just had to share them! The photo album below includes Michael’s winning pic, the runners up, and a selection of photos submitted by each of the contest participants. Thanks to everyone who had a hand in the photo contest! Keep getting out there and enjoying nature!

Winning Photo "Barred Owl" by Michael Rehman

Winning Photo
“Barred Owl” by Michael Rehman

Read about Princeton Hydro’s 2016 Earth Day Photo Contest here.