Just before Christmas, the American Littoral Society was recognized as one of the winners of New Jersey's 23rd Annual Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards. The Society was honored for work on Healthy Ecosystems and Habitats, specifically for constructing oyster reefs to help improve the resiliency of beaches and shorelines.
As noted in the award announcement from NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette, the oyster reefs provide multiple benefits to the ecology such as new habitat, improved water quality, and an area that promotes re-establishment of submerged aquatic vegetation. In addition to reef construction, the work includes post-restoration monitoring and a community science program, seeding reefs with live oysters, and the use of recycled shell from local restaurants for constructing the reefs.
The Littoral Society has been building oyster reefs along Delaware Bay and Barnegat Bay beaches since shortly after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The Society also runs the "Shuck It, Don't Chuck It!" shell-recycling program, which collects shells from restaurants in Monmouth County for eventual use as part of reef and living shoreline projects. Learn more about this restoration work through our website.
The Society was recognized along with 10 other organizations and individuals that demonstrated commitment and leadership on a variety of environmental issues, including environmental justice, climate change, sustainability, education, and protection of natural resources.
Along with the Environmental Excellence Award winners, Commissioner LaTourette also named the recipients of the Richard J. Sullivan Award and the inaugural James J. Florio Emerging Environmental Leader Award, honoring the memory of the former Governor and Congressman.
“We are excited this year to introduce the James J. Florio award honoring the legacy and memory of a true pioneer and champion of environmental protection,” Commissioner LaTourette said. “Indeed, all of our award recipients, in their individual ways, honor former Governor Florio each day through their commitment to protecting our environment and safeguarding public health.”
The recipient of the James J. Florio Emerging Environmental Leader Award is Svanfridur Mura, a junior at Newark Academy. The award was created to honor the memory of the former Governor and Congressman, who passed away on Sept. 25 at the age of 85. Svanfridur Mura launched a composting program through her middle school’s environmental club. She is also the co-chair of the New Jersey Student Sustainability Coalition and coordinates its campaign for the Green Amendment, which aims to add environmental rights to the state constitution. She is also an active member of the New Jersey Chapter of Climate Reality, trained as a Climate Reality Leader and volunteers at her county environmental center.
Named for New Jersey’s first DEP Commissioner and another pioneering leader in environmental protection, the Richard J. Sullivan Award honors New Jersey residents who demonstrate exceptional leadership and outstanding accomplishment in safeguarding public health, protecting and enhancing New Jersey’s diverse natural resources and creating vibrant, sustainable communities that provide economic opportunity for all. The 2022 winners are Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Newark’s Director of Water and Sewer Utilities Kareem Adeem. In 2019, when faced with elevated levels of lead in drinking water, Newark supplied bottled water and water filters to residents and then pursued a plan to address the problem. In February of this year, Newark completed its lead service line replacement program, which involved the removal and replacement of more than 23,000 lead service lines in less than three years at no cost to residents.
Other 2022 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award winners, by category:
WATERSHED MANAGEMENT AND WATER RESOURCES: Deal Lake Commission
The Deal Lake Commission implemented stormwater and watershed management and in-lake restoration projects at Deal Lake. Through the use of green infrastructure, stormwater management techniques, floating wetlands, shoreline restoration and sub-surface treatment devices, nonpoint source pollutant loading to the lake has decreased significantly. The partnerships forged by the Deal Lake Commission amongst its state and local stakeholders created a solid foundation for the long-term management and restoration of Deal Lake.
HEALTHY COMMUNITIES: New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference is a volunteer organization that builds, maintains, and protects more than 2,100 miles of public trails. Together with its partners, NYNJTC strives to ensure that trails and natural areas are sustainable and accessible for all to enjoy and for generations to come. NYNJTC operates a unique urban-suburban trail in Essex County, New Jersey — the 36-mile Lenape Trail —named in recognition of the Lenape people, the original inhabitants of the area. The trail brings visitors to the county’s outdoor destinations by connecting 18 parks and 11 communities. They also offer Lenape Trail visitors an in-depth digital guide to the trail highlighting its abundance of recreational opportunities.
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE: New Jersey Tree Foundation
The New Jersey Tree Foundation is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to planting trees in New Jersey’s most underserved neighborhoods where the need is greatest. The organization turns streets into neighborhoods by working with communities to benefit their local environment to increase New Jersey’s tree canopy. Through tree planting, volunteerism and partnerships, the New Jersey Tree Foundation assists communities in improving their environment and quality of life for residents. In addition, the organization provides green job training and seasonal employment to individuals under parole supervision.
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION (STUDENT-LED): Kaitlyn Culbert
Known as the “Bee Girl,” Kaitlyn Culbert, a junior at Toms River High School North, is determined to do her part, as both researcher and activist, to help save the honeybees. Working with Rutgers and Stockton Universities, Katie implemented a laboratory project and field study involving Varroa mites – the main threat to honeybees – and essential oils used to control them. For the past two years, she was a finalist at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. With her beekeeping certification, Katie secured land at Jakes Branch County Park and donations for beehives, equipment, and honeybees to establish the 4-H Busy Bees Beekeeping Club to teach young people about the world’s most important pollinator.
Katie also serves as a Rutgers Pollinator Habitat Ambassador. In August, she secured a grant from the Xerces Society and was provided 600 native plants from the Pinelands Nursery. With the help of partners, she coordinated the planting of a 2,500 square foot pollinator garden at Jakes Branch, which she helps maintain. Katie has plans to build more pollinator gardens throughout the Ocean County Park system.
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION (EDUCATOR-LED): Lake Hopatcong Foundation
The Lake Hopatcong Foundation is a nonprofit organization that encourages a culture of sustainability and stewardship at New Jersey’s largest lake. The Lake Hopatcong Foundation runs an educational field trip and floating classroom program that provides youth with an on-the-water and in-the-woods experience at Hopatcong State Park. The program offers students a tour of the woods and the Musconetcong River and a boat ride on the lake aboard the “Study Hull,” a 40-foot pontoon boat. The vessel provides an interactive educational experience to study lake ecology and learn what can be done to protect bodies of freshwater. More than 1,200 students from northern New Jersey participated in the program in 2022, learning about watersheds, water quality indicators, freshwater aquatic ecosystems, and more.
SUSTAINABILITY (COMMUNITY): Clairanne Arcaro
Clairanne Arcaro is known as a pioneer in establishing the Allamuchy Township Green Team in the Sustainable Jersey Program. Arcaro is a boots-on-the-ground activist who has engendered the support of numerous volunteer organizations within Allamuchy to help attain many accomplishments.
Arcaro spearheaded the purchase and distribution of reusable shopping bags, engaged the Warren County Sherriff's Office to collect 70 pounds of expired prescription medicines that subsequently did not find its way into the local waterways or trash, organized a free shredding event and coordinated a cleanup of a critical detention basin in which 650 plugs were planted. Arcaro is currently working to certify Allamuchy as a Community Wildlife Habitat, a program offered by the National Wildlife Federation.
SUSTAINABILITY (BUSINESS): Jack McNaughton
Jack McNaughton is a manager of system maintenance for Veolia Water New Jersey and has 33 years of experience in the water industry. To improve the quality of drinking water, Veolia adopted an innovative approach — the NO-DES System (Neutral Output Discharge Elimination System) — to flush potable water systems in northern New Jersey. By installing the apparatus to fire hydrants and operating system valves, the company can use high velocity flushing to scour pipes. The water runs through a series of filters until it is clean and can be pumped back into the distribution system. Unlike traditional flushing methods, this process saves millions of gallons of water, does not waste water and causes little to no impact on customers’ service.
The awards were presented virtually. The video recording is available on DEP’s YouTube channel. Excerpts from the presentation and videos of the honorees will also be featured on DEP’s social media channels.
The Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award is New Jersey’s premier environmental awards program, having recognized 212 winners since 2000. The DEP, New Jersey Infrastructure Bank and the New Jersey Corporation for Advanced Technology sponsor the program.
A panel of judges reviewed and scored the nominations on criteria including documented environmental benefit, contributions to meeting the state’s environment needs, replicability by others, leadership and innovation, and education and outreach undertaken as part of the effort. To learn more about the program, visit dep.nj.gov/awards.