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New Jersey

Sea Level Rise: Q & A with Bob Allen, Director of Conservation Programs

Bob Allen is the Director of Conservation Programs in New Jersey, where he brings more than 15 years experience in the conservation biology field, including over 11 years of managerial experience. He has led many of the Chapter’s scientific and restoration projects. As Director of Conservation Programs, Bob leads the Chapter’s conservation efforts.
"Sea level rise rates are steadily increasing. With much of southern New Jersey slowly sinking, both people and nature are at risk from sea level rise in coastal New Jersey."

Bob Allen, Director of Conservation Science in New Jersey

What is sea level rise?

Bob Allen:

Sea level rises and sea level drops have been occurring throughout Earth’s history. Sea levels have been rising since the last Ice Age. The difference now is that sea level rise rates are increasing due to human-induced climate change. And the rate of rise is still increasing and will likely continue to increase over the next century. Add on to that that much of southern New Jersey is slowly sinking and you can see that both people and nature are at risk from sea level rise in coastal New Jersey.

How does sea level rise impact people and the natural world?

Bob Allen:

Over the past 50 years, a number of south Jersey farms have become marsh as the sea level rises. A few coastal towns have even disappeared or lost a significant percentage of their land base with rising sea levels and the resulting increased vulnerability to storm surges. Rising sea levels also alter natural habitats. Freshwater wetlands become brackish. Forests yield to marshes. Salt marshes are submerged, become tidal flats and, eventually, open water.

Why are salt marshes important?

Bob Allen:

Salt marshes are important to people and nature. For instance, when Hurricane Katrina hit, places where salt marshes still existed were more protected; a soft carpet absorbed a lot of the wave energy. Salt marshes are considered one of the world’s most productive ecosystems. They serve as efficient nutrient and pollution sinks, play a role in water filtration and are important carbon sequesters. On the other hand, with so many landowners living in such close proximity to desirable forestland, development pressures are intense. The need for both protection and good stewardship is essential. Of course, marshes provide habitat for migrating birds, nesting reptiles and fish. The young of many commercially important fish species?representing about 70% of our local fish catch?rely on salt marshes and their tidal waters to feed, making marshes important to our food supply.

How are we studying the problem?

Bob Allen:

We’re studying the problem in two basic ways. First, we are conducting studies to better understand what actually happens to natural habitats during sea level rise- what kinds of new plant communities are created and how they last. Understanding this helps us to improve models people use to predict what human and natural communities might look like in the future under different rates of sea level rise. Second, we’re also figuring out how to integrate the reality of sea level rise into our broader conservation work. We look at ways to identify what parcels of land might be the best places for us to own to allow inward migration by marshes. We look at what natural communities might be the most squeezed by rising seas and human developments.

Where are we working?

Bob Allen:

Sea level rise is an issue all along New Jersey’s coast, but most of our work has been focused on the Delaware Bay coasts of Cape May and Cumberland Counties.

Who are our partners?

Bob Allen:

Much of our study is supported by grants from Dupont’s Clear Into the Future program. Other donors, including Merck & Co., Inc. are supporting related work.

At the Conservancy, Bob has served as the Director of Science for the New Jersey Chapter from 2004–2009, when he became the Director of Conservation Programs. Prior to joining The Nature Conservancy, he worked for the California Department of Fish & Game for seven years, as a biologist.

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