By Phillip Tomlinson
The News of Cumberland County
May 12, 2012

COMMERCIAL TWP. — Conservationists of all stripes gathered in Bivalve Friday morning to launch the new book, “Life Along the Delaware Bay,” a written and pictorial celebration of the bay and the diverse ecosystems it supports.

The party was made possible by the joint efforts of the Bayshore Discovery Project, Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries, the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and the National Park Service. Corporate sponsorship was provided by Sun National Bank.

Former New Jersey governor and EPA administrator Christie Whitman gave the keynote address.

The book was produced by the joint efforts of three scientists, Lawrence Niles, Joanna Burger and Amanda Dey, and is highlighted by the photography of Jan van de Kam.

“It is a magnificent book,” Whitman said. “It reaches out to people in their hearts, and I hope it will spur more people to understand and appreciate the diverse array of wildlife we have here in New Jersey.”

As governor, Whitman was known for her aggressive efforts to preserve New Jersey’s natural heritage. In 1996, she imposed a statewide, one-season moratorium on horseshoe crab harvests in an effort to spur research and conservation efforts.

On Friday, Whitman affirmed her commitment to conserving what she called “New Jersey’s ecological gems.”

“What we need to do is bring about the permanent preservation of this flyway. The best way we can ensure that our way of life exists for our children and grandchildren is to begin preservation now.”

The tenor of the gathering was one of optimism and celebration of the rich natural and cultural history of the bay and the towns that have thrived for years along its shores.

“It’s an incredible honor, and a bit surreal, to have crowds gathered in Bivalve,” said Meghan Wren, executive director of the Bayshore Discovery Project.

The setting could not have been more apt; the day was cool and breezy with a high blue sky and an abundance of birds wheeled in the zephyr.

The Delaware Bay is a globally significant flyway for migratory shorebirds, and the book explores and captures the complex relationship between these birds and the abundance of life that teems on and under the surface of the watershed.

Spring brings the horseshoe crab, and as the primeval crustaceans emerge and lay their eggs, the birds come in droves to feast upon the spawn.

At least they once did; habitat loss, over-fishing and environmental factors greatly reduced the number of horseshoe crabs that once covered the muddy strands, and the birds that once filled the South Jersey skies.

But recent efforts to protect the vital crabs have borne fruit, and the work of the assembled scientists, conservationists and environmental organizations was an expression of hope that the skies will be full of red knots, ruddy turnstones and semi-palmated sandpipers for generations.

“An intimate connection with wildlife is what drives my work, and is an important part of conservation,” Niles, a retired biologist for the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, explained.

“We need to bring people into that intimate connection; it is what creates conservation.”