Conservation History of Long Island Sound

Stratford Point. Photo: Patrick Comins / Audubon Connecticut

Conservation History of Long Island Sound

The Long Island Sound is an estuary, a semi-enclosed coastal body where fresh and salt water mix. Formed more than 22,000 years ago when ice sheets, possibly 2 miles high and spanning from Nova Scotia to Washington, sculpted the land. The ice tore a deep gouge in the land and formed Lake Connecticut. Then, as sea levels and sediments rose and shifted, the lake receded while rivers and ocean waters took its place and so was born the Long Island Sound.

Today, the Sound’s watershed originates in Canada and covers 16,820 square miles in six states. It contributes an estimated $7.3 billion to our regional economy annually. It is home to 10 percent of the U.S. population (28 million people), all located within 50 miles of its shores. The Sound provides essential migratory and breeding habitats for birds and is home to 125 bird species, including the endangered Piping Plover. In 1985, the United States Congress recognized the Sound as an Estuary of National Significance.

As, Tom Anderson, writes in his excellent book entitled This Fine Piece of Water, the Sound is not only the most heavily used estuary in North America, it is also one of the most beautiful waterways, with picturesque seascapes and landfalls. Unfortunately, centuries of pollution and other abuse have gradually been killing off its marine life and have pushed the Sound to the brink of disaster. This is especially true in the Western Basin, which encompasses Fairfield (CT) and Westchester (NY) Counties, along with the North Shore of Long Island where, even though our shoreline development is mostly residential, the population density is heaviest while the water is extremely shallow and the passage narrow.

The Human Footprint on the Sound


AUDUBON BEGINS PROTECTING LONG ISLAND SOUND - Audubon establishes one of its first two sanctuaries: the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary, near the president’s former home in Oyster Bay, NY, now a major educational center for thousands of Long Island children and an Important Bird Area.


POPULATION BOOM - After WWII, a major population influx worsens pollution, alters land surfaces, reduces open spaces, and restricts access to the Sound. This destroys 23-35 percent of the original marshes in Connecticut.


CREATION OF THE LONG ISLAND SOUND STUDY - The Long Island Sound Study, a partnership of state, federal, and private organizations, test for contamination, pathogens, hypoxia, and floatable debris. It quickly focuses on hypoxia after multi-year studies show the severity of the problem.


STUDYING THE HEALTH OF THE SOUND - A widespread and comprehensive survey is undertaken to determine the health of the Long Island Sound water. These efforts provide essential data to understand the severity and causes of hypoxia and implement management programs to address the problem.


CT AND NY AGREE TO REDUCE NITROGEN LOADS - To reduce nitrogen loads, Connecticut and New York adopt a phased approach that freezes sewage treatment plant discharges of nitrogen and commits to reducing discharges by using low-cost upgrades and process modifications. By 1997, the nitrogen reduction rate reaches 3,900 tons per year.


LISTEN TO THE SOUND - Audubon launches Listen to the Sound, a series of 15 citizen hearings across the region, giving voice to the public’s yearning for clean water and beaches, harbors accessible to the boating public, and the protection of abundant and diverse wildlife.


LOBSTER DIE-OFF - The lobster population suffers a significant die-off. As a result of the ecological and economic impacts, Congress, at the requests of the governors of New York and Connecticut, provides funds to investigate the potential causes, and gives economic relief to lobstermen. The Lobster Research Initiative identifies a variety of factors contributing to the die-off, including above normal water temperatures, crowded conditions, low dissolved oxygen, and stress from pollutants.


LOWERING NITROGEN DISCHARGE LEVEL LIMITS - Connecticut and New York develop the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for nitrogen discharges to Long Island Sound. The U.S. EPA’s approval formalizes the agreement and makes the reductions enforceable under the Clean Water Act.


THE LAUNCH OF THE LONG ISLAND SOUND CAMPAIGN - Audubon Connecticut, Audubon New York, and the National Policy Office join forces to preserve and protect Long Island Sound. Events occur simultaneously in Greenwich, CT and Oyster Bay, NY.


NY CITY MAKES HISTORIC COMMITMENT - Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg announce a historic New York State/New York City agreement to implement nitrogen reduction programs. Once enacted, this binding agreement and consent order will implement a 58.5 percent nitrogen reduction target for New York City sewage treatment plants.


LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION FUND - President Bush signs into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2007. This act awards $710,000 to the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, which will enable it to add 20 acres to the headwaters of the tidal marsh at the Salt Meadow Unit Important Bird Area. This act also awards $2 million to the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge to preserve land in the Sound’s watershed.


STRATFORD ADVANCES HABITAT CONSERVATION - Audubon helps secure victory in November as voters vote to allow Town of Stratford to sell its portion of Long Beach for inclusion in the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, adding critical permanently saving critical wildlife habitat. Audubon is now working to raise the $12 million needed to acquire the property.


BIG VICTORIES IN GUILFORD - The voters of Guilford vote to protect the 624-acre Goss Property at the headwaters of the East River Marsh. Audubon helped to secure $3 million in funding through NOAA’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program. Also, the 50-acre SoundView property was protected partly through a grant from the USFWS that Audubon helped to secure. Audubon also brought several additional partners to participate in this deal.

You and I pledge to unite and ensure all public, private, state, and federal entities fulfill their commitments to make our Sound the cleanest and most vibrant estuary on the planet.

How you can help, right now