BRICK TOWNSHIP - Children's toys and pieces of furniture are strewn across marshland thousands of feet from the closest body of water.

Broken lumber and lost shoes float along channels more familiar to recreational boaters.

All the trash thrust into Barnegat Bay and left along the wetlands that frame it is physical evidence that Hurricane Sandy left her mark on the already troubled estuary, but it could take several months to determine how Sandy impacted the bay.

"When you look at this and look at how much garbage is out here, you think, 'Who's going to clean this up?'" Stephen Acropolis, the mayor of this Ocean County community, said.

The storm made the watersheds and streets of Brick small landfills. Its first impact on the bay happened in the days after it came ashore.

There was a short-term risk of bacteria and viruses in the water, a typical effect after any rainstorm, because of wastewater runoff. There is a lot of debris, some submerged, in the water, said Michael Kennish, a research professor for the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

"It was so intense, and there was so much movement of water, not just precipitation, but also the storm surge that would go into the waterways carrying pathogens," he said. "If there was any positive, it's that it occurred when it did. No one was swimming."

The state Department of Environmental Protection acted quickly with a ban on recreational boating and shellfish harvesting, Kennish said.

The state agency still is monitoring the bay and all its coastal waters in the aftermath of Sandy, said Larry Hajna, spokesman for the state agency.

Its workers are facing loads of debris, lost boats and many small leaks from vehicles, vessels and heating oil tanks in the state's coastal waterways, but just how much isn't yet clear, Hajna said. Measuring Sandy's impact to the bay and any potential restoration costs could take months, he said.

"We have to assess where the debris is, the extent it is, and how do you address it. For example, how do you address a house that's 10 feet in the water?" Hajna said. "We're looking at new sorts of challenges."

Gef Flimlin, who runs the Barnegat Bay Shellfish Restoration Program, has a gut feeling the bay won't be as bad as it may now seem.

The power of the surge turned over the bottom substrate in the bay, churning up what has been growing in typically still waters, said Flimlin, a marine agent and longtime shellfish specialist with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service of Ocean County.

"It kind of rejuvenates the bottom," he said. "It's like you want your lawn to grow, so you don't leave your leaves on the lawn. You rake the leaves up, you get rid of them. Well, that's what happened with the storm."

Flimlin thinks what happens to the bay over the next five to 10 years will be interesting to follow.

There is a lot of work to do in the meantime.

There are a couple of hundred boats reported on marshes and shorelines in the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge that covers 47,000 acres along the bay, said Stan Hales, executive director of the Barnegat Bay Partnership.

Those boats pose a continuing hazard of fuel leaks and fires, he said.

Much of the fuel threatening the bay dissipated or evaporated in the days after the storm, and the Coast Guard has been removing fuel tanks from boats in the bay to prevent more leaks, Hajna said.

The amount of sand and how it altered bay habitats is another issue that must be examined, Kennish said. The shallow bay is even less deep in some areas, a change that impacts boaters and the bay's ecology, he said.

One ecological concern Hales raised in the aftermath of Sandy is the fate of eelgrass beds. The best of the underwater meadows, critical habitats for marine life, may be buried or swept away, he said.

How the shellfish beds, shallows and saltmarsh creeks fared is also unknown at this point, Hales said. These areas are important as nurseries for summer flounder and other economically valuable fish.

Before Sandy struck, there were suggestions that Barnegat Bay's nutrient pollution problems could be addressed with an artificial link to the ocean, such as an underground flume. Sandy did it by opening an inlet at Mantoloking.

"A lot of people asked if we could leave that as a natural experiment for a couple of years," Hales said. But the inlet cut off hundreds of surviving homes and "it essentially made the Mantoloking bridge impassable," he said.

Another inlet is just one topic of discussion that's needed after Sandy, said William deCamp Jr., president of Save Barnegat Bay.

"Global warming is going to have to be taken seriously, so our children and grandchildren don't have to go through one of these," said deCamp, who saw his town of Mantoloking flattened under Sandy's power.

An Associated Press Member Exchange report.

DeCamp's home fared rather well, thanks in large part to the trees on his home's eastern side taking a brunt of the hit. That's part of why he believes planners should discuss the role plants play in protection.

"This is a shock to many of us as big as 9/11, and I think the public is in the mood for solving problems by pulling together," he said.

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