Historical and Current Ecology of the Lower Passaic River

by Timothy J. Iannuzzi and David F. Ludwig

BBL Sciences, 326 First St., Suite 200, Annapolis, MD 21403


The lower portion of the Passaic River (the river) is a tributary leading to Newark Bay and part of the New York–New Jersey Harbor estuary. The river is part of a highly urbanized ecosystem that has been severely degraded by more than 200 years of urbanization and industrialization. We conducted multiseason studies in 1999 and 2000 to characterize the present ecology of the river. These included detailed habitat profiles and surveys of benthic invertebrate, fish, and bird communities. In addition, we completed a detailed environmental-history study chronicling changes in ecology and human use in the lower Passaic River and the adjacent meadowlands habitats from pre-Columbian times to the present. Nearly all of the wetland and tidal tributary habitats that were once associated with the river have been removed by land-reclamation activities. In addition, water and sediment quality in the Passaic River were severely degraded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to industrial and municipal waste disposal associated with population growth and the industrial revolution in the Newark, New Jersey, metropolitan area. Current invertebrate and fish communities are not particularly diverse relative to other areas in the New York–New Jersey Harbor estuary and are dominated by pollution-tolerant organisms such as tubificid worms, mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitis), blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), and white perch (Morone americana). Similarly, bird use of the river is relatively low compared with other estuarine areas of New Jersey.

Key Words: Passaic River, Newark, New Jersey, habitats, benthic invertebrates, fish, birds, historical ecology