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Staff at the NEFSC’s Sandy Hook Lab participate in the recent St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Highlands, N.J. The event was an important sign that the community had survived despite the damage from Superstorm Sandy. Photo credit: Tom Noji, NEFSC/NOAA
Howard Lab building
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One of the Howard Laboratory’s two main buildings, completed in 1993, houses experimental seawater, analytical chemistry and microbiology laboratories. Photo credit: NEFSC/NOAA.
second building
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The Laboratory’s second building, directly across the street from the first. Renovations to the former Army barracks, completed in 1994, converted the building into offices, conference rooms and the Lionel A. Walford Library. Photo credit: NEFSC/NOAA

April 10, 2013
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

NOAA Fisheries’ Howard Laboratory at Sandy Hook, NJ, is Open and Operating

Five months after Superstorm Sandy came ashore in New Jersey, the NEFSC’s James J. Howard Marine Sciences Laboratory at Sandy Hook is open, operating, and looking forward to a productive spring and summer research season.

Tom Noji, director of the Howard Laboratory, says staff are back on site conducting experiments and involved in projects as they normally would be this time of year. “We are moving forward and want everyone to know we are open and operating and that our research continues,” he said.

The laboratory was closed for several months after Superstorm Sandy hit October 29, 2012, although staff continued to work from remote locations. The laboratory officially reopened at the end of December.  Researchers gradually returned to duty as physical access was safely restored and utilities started to come sufficiently back online to support their work.

“We were very lucky,” Noji said. “The laboratory buildings were not seriously damaged. Although there was wind damage to the roof and damage to the seawater intake system, there was no flooding within the labs and offices.”

Until very recently, the Howard Laboratory was the only facility at Ft. Hancock on the northern end of Sandy Hook that was functioning near its pre-storm level.  “The damage to the surrounding area was far worse,” said Noji. “Our biggest challenge was getting the infrastructure up and running and gaining access to Sandy Hook, which is still officially closed.  Other organizations in the area are slowly returning.”

The laboratory’s 50-foot research vessel Nauvoo was relocated to a Corps of Engineers facility in Jersey City after the storm, but will return to its home port at Atlantic Highlands where docks damaged by Sandy are being rebuilt. The boat routinely works in Raritan Bay and Long Island Sound as well as off the New York and New Jersey coasts.

The Howard Laboratory remains a state-of-the-art marine science facility shared by NOAA and the State of New Jersey, with NOAA’s federal research conducted in two main buildings.  Much of Sandy Hook, a barrier spit or peninsula at the northern end of the New Jersey shore, is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes the historic Fort Hancock, a former military base where the J.J. Howard Marine Sciences Laboratory is located.

The Howard Lab has active education and outreach programs with organizations and educational groups in the region. Some organizations being supported this summer include Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Community And Urban Science Enrichment Program (CAUSE) at the New Jersey Academy of Aquatic Sciences, and the New Jersey Stars Challenge. Staff members are also helping to plan a children’s science museum in Asbury Park.

Research and other program collaborators can still come to the lab, but for now access to Sandy Hook requires preauthorization, and visitors will be required to show a photo ID at a checkpoint.   Notably, the National Park Service plans to reopen the Sandy Hook area on Memorial Day.  “We do not yet have a fully functioning telephone system, although that could happen any day now as the utility company makes progress,” said Noji.

In the interim, those wishing to contact the Howard Laboratory should do so via email at:, or call a dedicated cell phone line at 908-433-4839. Most individuals at the laboratory are using their cell phones while regular phone service is limited.

Researchers at the Howard Laboratory work to better understand coastal and estuarine organisms and the effects of human activities on nearshore marine populations.  Among the research programs underway are projects on ocean acidification, deep-sea coral communities, black sea-bass habitat, the effects of environmental change on reproduction of Mid-Atlantic fish species, and real-time environmental modeling of fish habitat. Federal researchers collaborate with a network of academic, state, and federal scientists in the area and beyond.

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The Northeast Fisheries Science Center conducts ecosystem-based science supporting stewardship of living marine resources under changing climatic conditions. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

NOAA Fisheries Service is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation's living marine resources and their habitat through scientific research, management and enforcement. NOAA Fisheries Service provides effective stewardship of these resources for the benefit of the nation, supporting coastal communities that depend upon them, and helping to provide safe and healthy seafood to consumers and recreational opportunities for the American public. Join NOAA Fisheries on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.

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