navesink rally 081116 1Clean Ocean Action founder Cindy Zipf addresses a ‘Rally for the Navesink’ audience at the First Presbyterian Church in Rumson Thursday night. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)


HOT-TOPIC_03Their species has been implicated as a likely suspect, but dogs may also be helpful in solving the mystery behind recent alarming spikes in bacterial pollution levels of the Navesink River, environmentalists say.

Canines trained to detect the presence of fecal coliform bacteria have been used to sniff water samples taken from the river, Clean Ocean Action attorney Zach Lees told attendees at a “Rally for the Navesink” held in Rumson Thursday night. And next month, they’re expected to be deployed in Red Bank and Fair Haven, to try to track down land-based sources of the bacteria, which occur in the intestines of warmblooded animals: humans, their pets and wildlife. navesink rally 081116 4A slide shown during a presentation at the rally. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

The event, the second this summer organized by Clean Ocean Action, follows the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s 2015 order suspending shellfish harvesting in 565 acres of the Navesink because of unacceptably high levels of fecal coliform. Held at the circa 1886 First Presbyterian Church, the rally was part of an effort by the DEP, local governments, Clean Ocean Action and other environmental groups to pool their resources to quickly curb the contamination.

As a state-designated “category one” waterway held to the highest levels of cleanliness because of the public’s reliance on it for both shellfish and recreation, “it’s unacceptable” that the river should be in need of a downgrade, said Lees.

Extensive sampling of the Navesink by the DEP has identified spikes in fecal coliform levels during and immediately after “wet weather events,” said Bob Schuster, of the agency’s bureau of marine water monitoring. That suggests it’s coming in the form of runoff from nearby surfaces, he said. And testing has shown the bacteria comes from humans, domesticated animals and wild animals, though how much from each is unknown. DNA testing and geographical tracking are underway to help close in on answers, experts have said.

Dog waste in particular is loaded with fecal coliform, said Schuster — as much as 23 million per gram. And the typical dog may produce 227 grams per day, meaning that poop left in or near storm sewers can cause havoc in waterways.

As part of the effort to sort out the human contribution to the problem, Clean Ocean Action called in the dogs — in particular, those at Maine-based Environmental Canine Services.

Because of their superior olfactory systems, “it’s not crazy to think  we can train dogs to detect human waste in water,” said Lees.

Two dogs at ECS sniffed eight samples taken from the Navesink, and “both animals alerted on five of eight samples, indicating human wastewater,” he said.

Lees said Clean Ocean Action is now planning to deploy the dogs for real-time, paws-on-the-ground sniffing out of possible sources of the waste in four locations: Shippee’s Pond/Schwenker’s Pond and the Battin Road area of Fair Haven, and Navesink River Road and the area of Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank. The work is expected to be conducted next month, he said.

Here’s a Clean Ocean Action report on the river’s health released in June: COA Navesink Pathogens 062816