Lathrop, R.G.; Bognar, J.; Buenaventura, E.; Ciappi, M.; Green, E., and Belton, T.J., 2017. Establishment of marine protected areas to reduce watercraft impacts in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. In: Buchanan, G.A.; Belton, T.J., and Paudel, B. (eds.), A Comprehensive Assessment of Barnegat Bay–Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey.
To help address the adverse effects associated with motorized boating activities in the Barnegat Bay National Estuary, New Jersey, a network of marine protected areas was identified to receive special consideration and management. Officially designated in spring 2012, the boundaries for these ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs) were based on best professional judgment and a geographic information system–based assessment using extant maps of habitat natural features, including shellfish beds, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), presence of endangered species, and proximity to bird nesting areas. The need for and the subsequent effectiveness of ESA designation in managing the adverse effects of recreational boating activities were evaluated. Two indicators of boating usage and impact were mapped using visual interpretation of high-spatial-resolution aerial photography: (1) concentrations of boating activity (either moored or in transit) and (2) damage caused by both propeller-driven and personal watercraft–type boats to SAV habitats. The mapping clearly shows extensive prop scarring, with hot spots of damage in specific ESAs, confirming that some form of spatial zoning, with slow speed regulations or outright closures, are warranted to protect SAV. The mapping documents significant levels of boating usage and boat scarring still occurring within the ESAs postdesignation. Additional management actions to reduce boating impacts are clearly warranted. To reach a spectrum of the recreational boating community, a three-pronged approach that includes public education in responsible boating practices, placement of appropriate signage at the ESA boundaries, and routine enforcement by state marine police and conservation officers is recommended.