Angela Andersen wears many hats. They include a full, brimmed sun hat and a beanie, depending on the season when she is out on the bay.
Andersen, 54, is the sustainability director/field station manager for Long Beach Township on Long Beach Island.
Her career has included roles with the American Littoral Society, which promotes the study and conservation of marine life and habitat, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, as well as coproducing three locally based documentaries.
Of all her work, Andersen’s legacy will likely be her role in the return of the wild oyster, a staple harvest of our Shore waterways, long since erased. It’s been an overwhelming ecological success story.
“Oysters grow on hard structures, traditionally on the back of their dead ancestors,” Andersen says. “As we were filming our documentary The Oyster Farmers, the ecosystem told us it was healthy enough to support a renewed industry of sustainable shellfish growth and harvest, but also complete habitat restoration. That cycle can’t happen in an unhealthy system.”
Andersen was integral in building oyster reefs by implementing a system that brings together environmental, municipal, academic, business and aquaculture groups to collect oyster shells from restaurants, introduce them to millions of oyster larvae (called spat), and then place them into lease areas on the bay floor.
Oysters are now growing on the reefs, as well as in an increasing number of commercial oyster farms, and have even been found in the wild for the first time in 50 years. The reefs filter microplankton and absorb carbon from the bay—both dangerous in overabundance. Moreover, the well-publicized projects educate residents and create jobs for a new generation of bayworkers.
Now, Andersen is building on that success to protect the ecologically important 160 islands (a total of 3,000 acres) in the Barnegat Bay watershed. She recently secured an $87,000 National Fish and Wildlife Community Resilience grant to fund the restoration of habitats on the bay islands of New Jersey. And she’s happy to take you on a kayak tour of it all.
“Bay islands absorb storm surge and fetch energy coming across the open bay, as well as being critical nursery habitat for our fisheries—and the birds love them too,” she says.
The restoration means engineering clam- and oyster-shell reefs adjacent to the islands.
“The funds we’ve secured for community resilience will enable restoration of the bay islands protecting our waterfront communities,” she explains. “The projects grow upon each other over time for the greater good, just like oysters. I’m lucky to be in the middle of it all, making the connections.”
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