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Monday, June 12, 2017

From innocent summers at the shore to the harsh reality of trying to save our coast

There are 15 nests for ospreys or fish hawks at Fort Hancock, an old Army base in Highlands now called home by a federal fisheries research lab, a public marine sciences high school, and headquarters for the coastal conservation mission of the American Littoral Society, which was founded in 1961.
On Saturday, the American Littoral Society held its annual meeting and members day at its Fort Hancock headquarters. On a historic tour of the old fort led by Jeff Dement, senior naturalist at the society, those with binoculars said this pair of ospreys were caring for three chicks.


HIGHLANDS, N.J. -- I have many fond memories of the summers my family spent at our home in Bradley Beach from the 1940s to the 1970s.

My mother's brothers and sisters would drive their families out from our neighborhood in Brooklyn, taking turns as guests in the eight-bedroom house with a wraparound porch on Third Avenue.

We'd pick up my father, who commuted by train to his dry goods store on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and before going home, drive across the tracks to shop in the farmers market in Neptune.

Jersey beefsteak tomatoes, corn, potatoes and other produce were an important part of the big meals of Sephardic Jewish specialties my mother prepared for as many as 10 people every night.

Now, when I drive to the shore, it's usually for members day at American Littoral Society headquarters in Fort Hancock, an old Army base on Sandy Hook, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

On Saturday, the program included hikes, seining and birding; feeding of an African penguin; and a buffet lunch under a tent with terrific live music by "an Americana-flavored music duo" called The Danjos (Dan Corboy and John O'Neill).

Serious business

The American Littoral Society, founded in 1961, promotes the study and conservation of marine life and habitat, protects the coast from harm and empowers others to do the same.

At Fort Hancock, the society has powerful, like-minded partners, including a fisheries laboratory operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA, and the Monmouth County Marine Academy of Science and Technology, a four-year public high school. 

A major concern today is the low pH or acidity level of coastal waters that affects the ability of clams to form their shells.

That has a direct impact on New Jersey's hard-clam industry.

A chef from The Lusty Lobster in Highlands demonstrating how to shuck a clam. American Littoral Society members day always includes clams on the half shell, washed down by cups of cold beer. 
My lunch of fresh arugula, pasta salad, roasted clams and a fat veggie burger. My wife had a cheeseburger. Fresh watermelon slices and a fruit salad also were served.
We enjoyed our lunch at a picnic table on the front porch of American Littoral Society headquarters, overlooking Sandy Hook Bay.
The Sandy Hook Lighthouse was built in 1764, and paid for by New York City merchants who wanted to cut down on the loss of goods when ships ran aground in the narrow channel leading to the city. Today, it is the oldest working lighthouse in the United States.
At Fort Hancock, the American Littoral Society occupies a building in Officer's Row, the oldest of which dates to 1892, above. The federal government is offering free 60-year leases to anyone who uses their own funds to restore one of the buildings.