Barnegat Light, NJ — The new ecotours aboard the Miss Barnegat Light allow not only getting out onto the water, but also really getting into it. Close-up looks at its composition, its creatures, and its roles in the ecosystem are absorbing. The dates from July 23 through August are every Wednesday from the 2 p.m. departure to the 4:15 p.m. return at the boat basin, 18th Street and the bay in Barnegat Light.
Local Ecology and Oceanography Tours, as the venture is named, are led by Capt. Lou Van Bergen, who has been on the boat’s team for more than 20 summers, and who holds a doctorate in marine biology and teaches high school science in Clark, N.J. If the name sounds familiar to passengers, Van Bergen captains the boat’s popular sunset cruises as well.
Karen Larson, promoter and treasurer of the Miss Barnegat Light, said the tours spend time on both bay and ocean waters. The first tour had as many children on board as adults, and the lessons appealed to both.
“It’s a lot of hands-on for the kids, which they really love,” she reported.
Participants take home a cloth bag filled with information to study later. The organizers are working and planning with sources such as the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, Stockton University, Stevens Institute of Technology, NJ Sea Grant and others to bring aboard guest presenters or more information.
“It’s roughly a two-hour trip, mostly hands on, but it doesn’t have to be hands on if you don’t want to; you can just sit back and listen,” Van Bergen said.
“It’s geared toward younger kids, or anybody interested in the environment, coming with limited knowledge, I would say,” he described. “A lot of this is basically from the questions we get, whether on a fishing trip or the cruises we run, or about the commercial fishing boats.”
Van Bergen listed some of the subjects that were covered in the first two trips, and added that each experience will be a little different as conditions change.
“A lot of it is going to be water quality; we’re going to take a look at conditions such as pH and dissolved oxygen levels and why those are important to the health of the ecosystem. Also we will gather information over the summer – do the levels stay the same, or can they be linked to excessive amounts of runoff like from the storm we had yesterday?” he said on July 19. “That makes every single week different.”
Another feature of the tour is checking and analyzing creatures that venture into crab traps in the bay: spider crabs, green crabs, blue crabs and even species of fish.
Always it’s a goal to answer the question “why?” Van Bergen is the father of a 5-year-old, so he knows the question well.
He continued, “We take a quick trip out into the ocean and pull a plankton net for about 20 minutes, and we have a microscope on the boat.”
Water quality of the ocean can be compared to water quality in the bay. Tides are yet another topic.
Larson added that certain boats from Viking Village dock can bring back live creatures from offshore for the program, such as sand dollars and starfish, to observe in a holding tank and then return them to the water.
Dolphins have been plentiful this year; ospreys may be spotted, and just the beauty of the scenery adds to the adventure.
Cost per person is $35 for adults and $25 for children. Soft drinks, beer, wine and packaged snacks are available for purchase aboard the clean, safe, comfortable 90-foot catamaran yacht. Check the website missbarnegatlight.com.
For more information and reservations for the ecotours, call 609-494-2094.
— Maria Scandale