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New Reserve Moves Forward to Showcase CT Estuaries

The Great Island marsh at the mouth of the Connecticut River is part of the proposed Connecticut National Estuarine Research Reserve. (Kevin O'Brien)
The Great Island marsh at the mouth of the Connecticut River is part of the proposed Connecticut National Estuarine Research Reserve. (Kevin O'Brien)
July 1, 2020

GROTON, Conn. -- Connecticut soon may get a special reserve to spotlight its estuaries -- where the Connecticut and Thames rivers meet Long Island Sound. It doesn't have an official name yet, but the public can learn more about the proposed National Estuarine Research Reserve at an online public meeting in early August.

University of Connecticut marine sciences professor Jamie Vaudrey said the area is critical habitat for dozens of species, including many on the state endangered species list.

"Favorite ones around here tend to be ospreys, salt marsh sparrow, piping plover, turtles, lizards and snakes," he said. "This is the place where, ideally, we want foxes to live, and the eastern cottontail rabbit."

The proposed reserve would be headquartered at UConn Avery Point and cover 75 miles of state-owned land and water, including Great Island and Lord Cove wildlife management areas, as well as Bluff Point and Haley Farm state parks. It would not impose any new restrictions on recreational or commercial fishing or aquaculture.

Kevin O'Brien, supervising environmental analyst for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said the proposed reserve would encourage more education programs and stewardship projects in the area -- and enable more research into big issues, such as ways to fight pollution and climate change.

"So how might we best adapt to sea-level rise in marshes? Beneficial use of material for habitat restoration; implement living shorelines, things like that," he said.

Vaudrey noted that the marshes help improve water quality.

"Red tides and brown tides, and massive amounts of seaweed collecting on our beaches, can all be traced back to nitrogen and other nutrients from human activity," he said," and natural areas act as filters, because they use up those nutrients before they hit those coastal waters."

The proposed reserve is expected to become a reality within two years.

More information is online at pewtrusts.org.

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Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CT