The tourism industry is the fifth-largest employer in New Jersey – thanks, in large part, to the Jersey Shore. The state’s 127 miles of Atlantic Coast and inlet public beaches, stretching from Middletown down to Cape May Point, attract millions of visitors each year.
Crucial to continuing to attract tourists (as well as making sure beach-goers don’t get sick) are clean beaches and water.
The Natural Resources Defense Council recently rated New Jersey third out of 30 states for beach-water quality, based on water testing last year.
Delaware ranked first and New Hampshire was second, although all three states had the same percentage of water samples exceeding the federal pollution standard and New Jersey had by far the most test samples of the three states.
The group reported that 3 percent of water samples from New Jersey exceeded national Beach Action Value “value” for designated swimming areas in 2013. That value is defined as 60 enterococcus bacteria colony forming units per 100 milliliters of marine water.
Among the potential health effects of swimming in polluted water are stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis and hepatitis. Stormwater runoff and sewage overflows are most often the cause of bacterial contamination of water.
Of the total of 492 coastal beaches in the state, 288 had at least a dozen water-monitoring samples tested in 2013 and 153 of those, or 31 percent of all beaches, did not have any tests exceeding the national BAV.
On the other hand, 10 beaches had more than 10 percent of their water samples exceed the BAV standard last year. These are the beaches — of those with at least a dozen water samples — with the greatest number of sub-standard samples:
1. Beachwood Beach, Beachwood, Ocean County
A total of 52 percent of 31 water samples tested high for bacteria. This beach, located along Toms River, was the only one in New Jersey cited as one of 17 “repeat offenders” nationally, meaning more than a quarter of all water samples over the last five years exceeded the national pollution standard in place at the time.
The beach is part of the Barnegat Bay estuary and watershed area. A stormwater drain pipe empties into the water, according to a report by Monmouth University researchers who said bacteria levels in the water rise when there is heavy rain. .
2. Shark River Beach and Yacht Club, Neptune Township, Monmouth County
A total of 20 percent of 20 water samples tested high for bacteria. This small beach is along the Shark River, across from Belmar. The club is a nonprofit organization formed in 1971, according to its website.
3. Avon Road, Pine Beach, Ocean County
Out of 22 samples tested, 18 percent tested high for bacteria. This beach is located just east of Beachwood Beach along Toms River. Just like Beachwood, there is a stormwater-drain pipe which was linked by the Monmouth University study to higher bacteria levels after heavy rain.
4. Windward Beach, Brick, Ocean County
High bacteria levels were found in 17 percent of 24 water samples. This small beach, at Princeton Avenue, is along the Metedeconk River. It has a playground, volleyball nets, picnic tables, bocce courts, and fishing and crabbing piers. This area is also part of the Barnegat Bay ecosystem.
5. New Jersey Avenue Beach, Somers Point, Atlantic County
Test results for 14 percent of 21 water samples showed high levels of bacteria. Also known as Municipal Beach Park, this is located in the Bay Front Historic District within Greater Egg Harbor Bay on the mainland.
6. 2nd Avenue and JFK Beach, North Wildwood, Cape May County
A total of 14 percent of 14 water samples tested high for bacteria. This is the first Atlantic Ocean beach on the list. Google Maps satellite images appear to show a stormwater-drain pipe jutting out from the sand, across the beach and into the ocean one block south.
7. 25th St. Beach, Barnegat Light, Ocean County
High bacteria counts were found in 14 percent of 21 water samples. This is a very small bay beach located within the Barnegat Bay watershed about a mile south of the Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.
8. 10th Avenue and JFK Beach, North Wildwood, Cape May County
A total of 11 percent of 19 water samples tested high for bacteria. Another beach along the Atlantic Ocean, this is located eight blocks south of the other North Wildwood location.
9. Maple Beach, Wildwood, Cape May County
High bacteria counts were found in 11 percent of 19 samples tested. Another Atlantic beach, this is located between the two northernmost amusement piers in the city. Satellite images appear to show a stormwater pipe jutting out of the sand nearby.
10. Surf Beach, Ocean City, Cape May County
A total of 11 percent of 19 samples tested high for bacteria. South of the Greater Egg Harbor Inlet, this ocean beach also appears to have a stormwater pipe, according to satellite images.