Marine Life of New Jersey by Kathy Johnston
Courtesy of Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve
Here is a guide to the most common and eye-catching sea life that you may run across while Scuba diving the shipwrecks, beaches, rivers, inlets,
artificial reefs, and inland sites of New Jersey and Long Island. Included here are representative species of fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, shellfish ( crustaceans and mollusks, ) invertebrates, plants, and algae, as well as the liquid
and solid environments they live in. There should be enough here to identify almost anything you find.
New Jersey is actually in an exceptional location for biological diversity. It is at the extreme southern range limit of many northern species, and the extreme northern range limit of many southern species. This is often noted by land biologists, but for scuba divers it is equally true under the water. In addition to this, many strictly tropical species are swept into the area by the Gulf Stream, and can be found later in the season until the winter cold kills them. Add to that the
planktonic larvae of many northern species that are carried south in the on-shore currents to settle and grow in our waters, and you have an enormous diversity for your study or amusement.
in the North Atlantic waters off New Jersey tends to be much less than in the tropics. This is not because of pollution, but because of the incredible abundance of life, actually much greater than in the tropics, although the total number of species that you will encounter here is lower than on a coral reef. The colors are more somber, for camouflage rather than display, but the creatures are no less interesting, and some are just as pretty in their own way, for example: baby Black Sea Bass, or
Frilled Anemones. Many of the creatures you will find are also good to eat - lobsters, Blackfish, and mussels, to name a few. And unlike in the tropics, in the North Atlantic if you can catch it,
and it is legal, Bon Appetit !
Don't forget to look for the small things. The same person who might spend hours on a coral reef photographing some little shrimp may come back from a dive here and claim they saw nothing, because they didn't look. Juveniles and babies ( young-of-the-year, as biologists call them ) of almost every species can be found if you pay attention and look for them. Tiny lobsters, eels, starfish, and many other creatures can be observed even on the lowest-viz days, by looking in bunches of mussels and anemones, flipping over rocks, scouring pilings, or digging in the sand.
There are literally thousands of species that I could list here, but in an effort to make this both manageable and useful I must try to limit the number of entries. I have not listed anything rare, or too tiny or uninteresting to catch the eye of a non-scientist. In addition, I have coalesced many similar and related species into a single entry. I have also grouped various creatures by outward similarity rather than biological relations, since this is more useful to a layman trying to make an identification. If you are interested in how these organisms are actually related, then look at the
classification of living things, which is fully linked to all the entries, and can be used as an alternate index if you want to do things scientifically. If you really want a more precise identification, I suggest you pick up one of the
References at your local bookstore.
Finally, an excellent way to observe many marine creatures at your leisure is in an aquarium. To that end, the Aquarium Guide contains information on collecting and keeping suitable local species. For those who prefer their wildlife a little less wild, see
Links for a list of public aquariums in the region.
These three books will allow you to identify 99% of what
you find in the water. See
References for others.
Herb Segars deserves special thanks for all the incredible underwater photographs that he has contributed to this section of this website, without which it would all be much drabber.
As an old man walked down the beach one day, he saw a child picking something up from the sand and throwing it into the sea. The old man asked the child:
-- "What are you doing?"
-- "Chucking the starfish." the child replied.
-- "Why?" asked the old man.
-- "The starfish washed ashore in the high tide. If they stay on the beach they will dry out and die, so I'm chucking them back into the ocean."
The old man looked at the child and at the beach and said:
-- "There are hundreds of starfish on this beach. How can what you're doing make any difference?"
The child bent down, picked up another starfish, pointed to it, and said:
-- "It makes a difference to this one." and threw it into the sea.
Of course, for local purposes, change Starfish to
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I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.
Copyright © 1996-2016 Rich Galiano
unless otherwise noted