BELMAR, NJ — The northern end of Belmar’s beachfront is quietly making a comeback that will please Mother Nature.
Piping plovers have returned to nest in the natural beach area near First Avenue, and the rare seabeach amaranth plant is sprouting along a strip of sand along the boardwalk between Third and Fourth Avenues. Both are federally endangered species that were recently discovered in Belmar by state and federal environmental officials.
While the management of both animal and plant is handled by the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Belmar’s Department of Public Works (DPW) will continue to maintain the areas to ensure their habitats are protected, according to Belmar Councilman Thomas Brennan, liaison to the Environmental Commission.
Brennan recently met with officials from both agencies to discuss the borough’s beach management plan, including ensuring these new beachfront inhabitants are not disturbed in areas delineated by the state.
“Once (endangered species) are identified, these areas have to be managed. A lot of this is coordination (between) the state and the DPW,” Brennan said, adding that noncompliance could result in hefty fines for the borough.
For more than 30 year, piping plovers have been federally listed as being threatened along the Atlantic Coast, including New Jersey. These small shorebirds measure about 7 inches long and settle along the Jersey Shore generally between March 15 and August 21 for their breeding season.
To further protect the piping plovers, environmental officials also needed the borough’s permission to keep out two major predators from its nesting areas — cats and foxes. While cats could easily be taken to a nearby animal shelter, removing any foxes would remain the responsibility of state officials, Brennan said.
As for the elusive seabeach amaranth, the rare plant is growing in a specially marked area along the boardwalk between Third and Fourth Avenues. Although difficult to see, tiny dark green and deep red buds are popping up in clusters where the snow fence meets the sand in the protected strip of beach.
After not being seen on a New Jersey beach for nearly a century, the amaranth was discovered in Sea Bright in 2000 — and has been significantly increasing since. This year, biologists from the DEP’s National Heritage Program of the Division of Parks and Forestry found nearly 650 plants in Monmouth County, including the scant few in Belmar.
Beachgoers are asked not to enter areas that have been roped or fenced off and where “restricted rea” signs have been posted.
Although state and federal environmental officials encourage beach management plans that foster natural areas of growth, Brennan said that the borough will continue with its current dune planting program to protect Belmar’s 1.3-mile beachfront during storms.
In fact, the area of dune grass, native plants and other foliage that was planted last fall near Belmar’s 12th Avenue beach playground has been effective in keeping sand contained to the beach during the most recent storms—and not blowing onto Ocean Avenue, Brennan said.
The second dune planting that will be situated between Fourth and Fifth Avenues will also include milkweed and other pollen-rich plants, to attract butterflies to the beach — particularly monarch butterflies as they come through New Jersey every fall on the way to warmer weather in Mexico.