Historical and Current Ecology of the Lower Passaic River, New Jersey


T.J. Iannuzzi (TJI@bbl-inc.com)

D.F. Ludwig

BBL Sciences, Annapolis, MD


The lower portion of the Passaic River is an integral part of the overall Hackensack Meadowlands ecosystem.Studies were conducted in 1999 and 2000 to characterize the present ecology of the River, including habitat and characterization, and benthic invertebrate, fish, and avian community surveys.In addition, a detailed historical environmental study was recently completed that chronicles ecological and human use changes in the River and adjacent Meadowlands habitats from pre-Columbian times through the present.†† The results of these studies have been used to quantitatively characterize the ecology of the system over time, determine the primary factors that have contributed to the Riversí degradation to date, and currently limit the ecological production in the system.Once a rich ecosystem inhabited by a diverse and abundant community of invertebrate and vertebrate organisms, the River has been severely degraded by more than 150 years of industrialization and urbanization.Nearly all of the historical wetland and tidal tributary habitats have been removed by land reclamation activities.In addition, water and sediment quality in the River have been severely degraded.While these conditions have improved somewhat in recent years, the River still suffers from relatively poor water/sediment quality, as well as an absence of key habitats such as salt marshes and tidal creeks that control biological production in estuarine rivers.†† Current invertebrate and fish communities are not particularly diverse, and are dominated by pollution-tolerant organisms such as polychaete worms, mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitis), blue crab (Callinected sapidus), and white perch (Morone Americana).Similarly, bird use of the River is relatively low compared to the nearby Meadowlands habitats.By understanding the current and historical ecology of the system, and the factors that control the ecology, it is possible to assess the restoration needs and define a scope for restoration for the lower Passaic River.