The Meadowlands Research & Restoration Institute (MRRI) serves as the scientific arm of the NJSEA. As such, MRRI's mandate is to protect the delicate balance of nature. MRRI accomplishes this task by undertaking scientific research throughout the District. This research is then used to preserve, protect, and assist in the recovery of the natural habitats of the New Jersey Meadowlands, and to prepare the region for challenges such as climate change and sea level rise.
MRRI's work in protecting and restoring 1000s of acres of habitat has resulted in improved water quality in the Hackensack River, contributed to the return of a great number of wildlife species to the wetlands and other open spaces, and has energized outdoor enthusiasts to re-engage with the natural areas of the Meadowlands.
The Institute constantly monitors water and sediment quality and elevation in the Hackensack River. The information gathered helps researchers to understand the conditions of the system and develop policies and programs that improve the River’s health. MRRI collects water samples at 14 sites on the lower Hackensack River and its tributaries every quarter. This assessment provides a general outlook of overall water quality in the Meadowlands estuary.
Some of the critical on-going studies currently being undertaken by the MRRI team include:
· Conducting scientific studies to understand the vulnerabilities of coastal marshes and determining
opportunities for ecological restoration under changing climate conditions and rising sea levels;
· Measuring carbon sequestration from wetland and mudflat surfaces to document changing conditions and
researching the potential for restoring marshes to increase carbon sequestration opportunities;
· Mapping all habitats within the District using LIDAR, drone technology and field observations;
· Monitoring breeding bird populations and other species, such as fish populations and Diamondback
Terrapin, to document changes over time and determine potential ecological restoration potentials; and,
· Monitoring water elevation from a network of ten distributed sensor locations and providing real time data
to surrounding communities, including flood warnings when needed – sensors at the tide gates are
connected to a warning system that sends text messages to officials and the public when water elevations
reach critical levels.
MRRI regularly partners with high school and universities in the area, sharing data and analysis, mentoring interns, and developing a broader understanding of the Meadowlands history, ecology and future trajectory. MRRI staff works with professors and researchers to develop course work focused on the ecology and climate change preparedness of the Meadowlands with universities such as Rutgers University, Cornell University, and Pratt Institute. Ongoing field work includes:
· microplastic and benthic invertebrate studies conducted with researchers from the City
University of New Jersey;
· Diamondback terrapin population studies with Hofstra University;
· geophysics studies of Harrier Meadows with Rutgers University;
· trail planning studies with Montclair State University;
· harmful algae bloom removal in lakes using micro-nano bubbles with New Jersey Institute of
· bird banding population studies with Kean University and Montclair State University.
In 2021, MRRI mentored 10 students, including high school students from the Bergen County Academies, and undergraduates and graduates from various colleges. MRRI pays its interns and provides hands-on experience in wet chenistry, Geographical Information Systems, drone technology, bird and turtle field work, and soil analysis.
MRRI’s drone technology provides drone services to other departments within NJSEA and Meadowlands District municipalities to assist with the management of their resources. MRRI uses the drones to assist with site surveying, flood assessments, ditch and tide gate inspections, and post-hazard event assessments.
MRRI is also involved in drone training programs to create the next generation of drone pilots. In 2021, the Institute provided training to the American Association of Professional Geologists, Mid-Atlantic Region.
Public Education anD ENGAGEMENT
To bring information to the public in meaningful ways, MRRI staff works with universities and non-profit organizations to explore pioneering and new educational platforms to engage and inform the public. MRRI staff also participates in the NJSEA’s annual public celebrations of the Meadowlands including Native Plant Day, Butterfly Day and the Bird Festival. During these events, staff shares their knowledge of the Meadowlands and its natural resources with the public and assist the Bergen County Audubon Society with leading tours throughout the parks and open spaces of the Meadowlands.
MRRI staff also regularly attends conferences and meetings, both live and virtually, giving presentations at annual meetings for the Society for Ecological Restoration, Society of Wetland Scientists, Restore America’s Estuaries, National Association of State Wetland Managers, Ecological Society of America, Mid-Atlantic Wetland Working Group, The Waterfront Alliance, and the New Jersey Coastal Resilience Collaborative.