Living near the Shrewsbury River, watching the waves and breathing in the fresh, salty air has always put me at ease. In recent years, I have noticed changes in the water: murky flow ebbing around drainpipes, debris stuck in the green marsh and the presence of dead fish. Concerned by these changes, I researched the reasons why these phenomena were occurring. While the causes of the unprecedented deaths of large marine mammals on our shoreline largely remain a mystery, nutrient pollution has led to toxic algae blooms, and increased bacteria has killed populations of menhaden fish.
More than ever, we must start asking ourselves what we can do as a shore community. Nutrient pollution, the leading cause of water pollution in New Jersey, occurs when stormwater runoff contaminates bodies of water with nitrogen and phosphorus, lowering levels of oxygen and causing algae overgrowth. This detrimental effect is illustrated by the fact that one pound of phosphorus generates 500 pounds of algae. Due to the lowering of dissolved oxygen, aquatic life cannot survive. This is not just an aquatic life problem. Infants are vulnerable to nitrates in drinking water caused by nutrient pollution, and 50 percent of our oxygen comes from the ocean. Our very breath could be affected if we do not take care of earth’s amniotic fluid, our rivers and oceans.
On a large scale, waste from water treatment facilities, farm fertilizer, and chemical pollutants are responsible for exacerbating this environmental issue. Although in 2020, New Jersey beaches closed 35 times due to contaminated stormwater, the health of our waters is improving. In our community, human-related sources of pollution include fertilizer, pet waste and storm system runoff from our streets can magnify this toxic problem.
The following are some proactive solutions to help reduce nutrient pollution:
- Choose phosphorus- and nitrogen-free cleaning products, detergents and fertilizers.
- Bring your car to a commercial car wash, where water is recycled to prevent runoff of detergent into our rivers.
- Clean up after your pets, and walk them in grassy areas rather than near waterways.
- Switch to sustainable forms of transportation like electric and hybrid vehicles, walk or ride a bike.
- Use water efficiently by running appliances at full capacity and selecting WaterSense-labeled products.
Nutrient pollution is one of our most pressing environmental problems. With summer around the corner, we will soon be enjoying our waterways and beaches again. Please help by bringing an extra bag to the beach, on your kayak or boat, filling it with litter, and following the simple solutions listed above. If we collectively act as a community, we can protect the marine life and natural beauty that surrounds us for generations to come!