The bayfront of Atlantic Highlands is a rich natural environment that includes the marina and adjoining coastal areas to the east and west. This natural world existed before the built world of piers and pilings, ferries and fishing boats, sailboats and yachts, restaurants and retail stores, parking lots and roadways. And it continues to endure today, co-existing with human structures and activities and sustaining many forms of life, as described below.
West of the marina is the mouth of Many Mind Creek. It receives and carries water from 18.7 square miles, including about two-thirds of Atlantic Highlands’ territory. Twice a day, tidal waters from the bay wash into the creek, reaching as far as three blocks from the shoreline.
The creek’s downstream flows deliver valuable nutrients or food to wildlife in the saltmarsh and estuary next to the bay. This “payload,” augmented by decomposed vegetation in the marsh, provides a food source for various plants, juvenile fish, and other animals, including migratory birds, waterfowl, and dragonflies. The wetland also acts like a sponge to trap sediment and pollutants before they can reach the open waters of Sandy Hook Bay.
Bird life along the waterfront is dynamic, with both resident and migratory species of shorebirds and water fowl in season. At various times of the day or year, you can see:
Fish and other aquatic species
Aquatic life that appeals to residents, boaters and other visitors includes blue-claw crabs, horseshoe crabs, spider crabs, sand shrimp, hard and soft shell clams, slipper shells, bay scallops, silversides, blue fish, black fish, fluke, and striped bass. One of the most popular fish to come along the bayfront is the snapper – a baby bluefish around 6 inches long that has strong jaws and sharp teeth. Abundant small fish, often caught for bait, swim in large schools and include silversides or spearing, mummichogs, and killifish.
The old Dutch word “kill” in killifish means stream, and describes where they are found around Many Mind Creek. These small fish are important to our local marine food web, because many game fish, such as striped bass, feed on them. Furthermore, due to their strong schooling behavior, killifish are commonly eaten by many fish-eating birds, such as herons and terns.
Large numbers of horseshoe crabs come on to beaches on either side of the marina in May and June to mate and lay eggs. Many birds, such as Red Knots and Ruddy Turnstones, feed on excess crab eggs during spring migration from South America to northern Canada.
The freshwater wetlands in the shore area serve as a habitat for two kinds of salamanders (Eastern tiger and Eastern mud salamanders), three kinds of frogs (green frogs, bullfrogs, and leopard frogs), four kinds of turtles (map, painted, snapping and musk turtles), and water snakes.
Look at the pilings during low tide for rockweed (coarse, brownish seaweed), colonies of blue musssels, sea anemones, and thousands of acorn barnacles that call these permanent wood structures home. At high tide, the acorn barnacle opens up and extends six pairs of colorful, feathery limbs called cirri to collect and feed on drifting plankton.
The sheer mass of aquatic plants, algae, and plankton provides the foundation for a rich community of microscopic bacteria and zooplankton that, in turn, feeds larger organisms. These organisms provide food for larger critters and animals. For example, saltwater grasses can be seen growing on either side of the marina. While their roots help to stabilize the soil, snails, worms, and bryozoans feed on the leaves and are in turn a food source for fish and shellfish, and so on right up the food chain to ospreys, striped bass, and eventually to humans. Also, blue-claw crabs need these grass beds for the survival of their young, which use them for both food and protection from large predators.
Dunes and saltmarsh
Sand dunes are behind the beach, between the creek mouth and Avenue A. The dunes are stabilized by such plants as grasses and bayberry. Behind that, the upland has a small coastal scrub forest with such vegetation as groundsel trees, black cherry trees, and crabapple.
Beyond that is a large rectangular saltmarsh, bordering the creek. Its waters come from downstream flows in the creek and from the daily tides. It contains both high-marsh and low-marsh spartina vegetation -- saltmarsh cordgrass and salt meadow hay.
The Borough’s official plan envisions that the old pier, the beach and 4-plus acres of land along Many Mind Creek and Avenue A will be available for open space and recreation. Possible use of some land west and north of First Avenue for improved ferry access and permanent commuter parking is for consideration with landowners, a regional transport authority and the ferry company.
For land and wetland west of Many Mind Creek, the Environmental Commission has detailed proposals for saltmarsh enhancement, restoration of fish and wildlife habitat, dune protection, a walking trail, nature observation stations and other low-impact uses of. Proposed plans along the east bank include fringe wetland enhancement, a vegetated buffer, and the final trail of the proposed Many Mind Creek Greenway linking to the Bayshore Trail behind the marina that would lead toward the Highlands. The New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program (HEP), made up of federal, regional, state and local partners, has given the creek’s saltmarsh and fringe wetland priority for acquisition and restoration (#RB-17).
New State stormwater management regulations soon coming into effect require better control of nonpoint pollution, drainage systems, and outfall flows in the marina and related bayfront. Ideas for marina parking areas to have more vegetation, reduce impervious cover, infiltrate stormwater, and enhance parking lot esthetics have been put forward. A multi-state “Clean Marina Initiative,” if adopted by the Harbor Commission, would enlist boaters and officials in better practices involving, for example, boat sanding, painting and washing, disposal of fish remains, sewage pump-outs, etc. Traffic and parking studies in and around the marina that are under way, including one by the NJ Department of Transportation, also have effects on stormwater runoff, vehicular pollution, and space for bayfront access and other public amenities.
From the Environmental Commission of Atlantic Highlands, February 2005
Waterfront/bayfront environment.Rev 4/05