Watching the New Jersey coast from the sky with surveillance flights

Thousands of people visit the New Jersey coastline in the summer months, and sister station WPVI in Philadelphia got a chance to tag along on one of the daily coastal surveillance flights conducted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to keep the beaches clean and safe.

The day starts at around 7:30 a.m. at Coyle Air Field near Barnegat, where a DEP observer and a pilot load up into a Cessna 206.

On Thursday, DEP Section Chief Steven Jacobus serves as the observer -- a coveted job that's rotated among his coworkers.

"This is absolutely the most fun part of my job," Jacobus said.

For 30 years, the DEP has been watching the beaches for hazards from the sky.

The flights go up six days a week during the summer, weather permitting.

A sensor under the plane monitors chlorophyll levels in the water, and human eyes monitor the coastline from the cockpit.

"Our observers are looking for anything harmful to swimmers such as floatables, or an algal bloom," DEP Environmental Scientist Sheri Shifren said.

Observers will also look for trash along the coastline, and if they see a large amount, they'll contact that county.

They also look for wildlife in the water, and will often see stingrays, dolphins, bait fish and sharks.

After landing, Jacobus uploads the data and files his report online so beachgoers can view it that day.

The flights are funded by the Shore to Please license plate program. Scientists say it's a big help in keeping the beaches safe.

"It gives you totally different perspective flying than you would get from being on the ground walking the beach or being in the water or a boat," Jacobus said.

To view daily flight reports and chlorophyll levels, go to NJBeaches.org.

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