New Jersey is an important region for duck migration as hundreds of thousands of birds fly by every fall and spring, said Chris Sebastian, public affairs coordinator for Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit group that funds conservation and education.

After conserving more than 7,600 acres of coastal wetlands, Ducks Unlimited continues to protect the bird habitat along the Atlantic Coast of New Jersey and the Delaware Bay.

"What we've been doing in New Jersey and specifically for this project is both protect wetland habitats, which are already there, and also restore and enhance areas where wetlands used to be before they were developed or drained for human development reasons," said Sebastian.

The third phase of the $4 million Southeast New Jersey Coastal Initiative is underway to protect and enhance an additional 1,772 acres across southern and eastern New Jersey. Sebastian said it started this year and should take another two years.

Sebastian said this involves going in and working with willing landowners who want to sell their property. Ducks Unlimited then obtains that and turns it back into a wetland habitat.

Of the funding, $1 million is set aside from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant while another $3 million is matched by Ducks Unlimited and a combination of private and public sources: the state Department of Environmental Protection, the nonprofit Nature Conservancy, the nonprofit  New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the state Natural Lands Trust, the state Division of Fish and Wildlife's New Jersey Waterfowl Stamp Advisory Committee, the nonprofit South Jersey Land and Water Trust and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The initiative was established in 2013 to protect, restore and enhance critical coastal wetland habitat. New Jersey's tidal marshes support 60 percent of American black ducks and half of the Atlantic brant wintering populations in the Atlantic Flyway on the east coast.

Sebastian said the mission is to protect and restore wetland habitats because New Jersey is important for migrating water fowl. But the areas along the coast are being threatened by people draining the wetlands for building or draining them for farming. He also said wetlands are being threatened by the ocean as a result of climate change and rising sea levels.

Not only are wetlands important for ducks, they are good for storm erosion and flood protection. So the goal is to continue with that protection in 2019, said Sebastian.

People can help conserve the wetlands and bird habitats. Sebastian said one way is to buy a duck stamp. Duck hunters are required to buy these stamps but anyone who wants to help fund habitat preservation can buy one for $25 at the post office. 

Sebastian also suggested that people talk to legislators in the state and in Congress and encourage them to keep the wetland habitats clean.

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