Coasts

Salt Marsh Projects in Connecticut Aim to Create More Resilient Coastline

These work sites are essential to protecting birds and people from increased flooding and more frequent storms.
Lower East River marsh. Photo: Luke Miconi/Audubon Connecticut
Lower East River marsh. Photo: Luke Miconi/Audubon Connecticut
Coasts

Salt Marsh Projects in Connecticut Aim to Create More Resilient Coastline

These work sites are essential to protecting birds and people from increased flooding and more frequent storms.

Did you know that salt marshes have suffered losses of over 75% between 1900 and 1970 and continue to decline at rates of 0.5 to 3% per year*?

The impacts of these losses are many and growing. Saltmarsh Sparrow populations have declined by over 80%, and may go extinct in our lifetime. Unhealthy marshes will no longer provide important buffers for local communities against major storms. Before it's too late for birds and people, Audubon and partners across the coast are taking action on-the-ground.

*Hartig et al. 2002

The stars going from West to East along the CT shore indicate Great Meadows Marsh, a unit of the Stewart B. McKinney NWR, in Stratford and the East River Marsh in Guilford and Madison.

The map above shows the priority areas for saltmarsh restoration and/or enhancement in Connecticut and New York, as identified by the Long Island Sound Area conservation strategy. The stars indicate active work areas. Click here to learn more about projects underway in New York.

EAST RIVER MARSH - Guilford, CT

The East River Marsh (ERM) complex, which includes more than 800 acres of tidal wetlands, comprises the largest high-marsh dominated coastal wetland on Long Island Sound. 

Due to the large proportion of high marsh habitat, the ERM supports one of the largest breeding populations in Southern New England of the Saltmarsh Sparrow, a species of global conservation concern. It provides critical ecosystem services such as nursery, nesting, feeding, and shelter habitat for many migratory and resident fish and wildlife.

Over the past century, parts of the ERM have been filled, dredged, or otherwise altered through the construction of roads, railroads, mosquito ditches and marsh-front development.  Although among Connecticut’s most productive ecosystems, coastal marshes like the ERM are also the most vulnerable to a more a recently recognized threat – accelerating rates of long term sea-level-rise (SLR).

Under some projected sea level rise conditions, by the end of this century, parts of the low marsh may ‘drown’ from more frequent daily flooding, reducing the total area of the marsh.

Marshes are dynamic, and would normally shift in this scenario to higher ground. However many of our coastal marshes are blocked from migrating by human development.

Certain marshes are blocked by human development and therefore won't be able to migrate. When this happens, habitat will be lost, water quality will decline, and communities will face more frequent flooding.

Luckily, local homeowners and landowners can help. 

In Guilford and Madison, for instance, Audubon is working with partners to offer a unique opportunity: offering conservation easements to local home and/or landowners, whose properties include upland areas that could become saltmarsh in the future.

In the right place, a conservation easement would allow new marshland to establish itself as sea level rise drowns out the low marsh area. Individuals retain ownership rights of your property while giving the Marsh space to migrate onto your land. But we need to act quickly.

The more landowners show interest in conserving the Marsh now, the greater the potential we will have to expand marsh conservation funding in the future. Without this interest, the funding will likely not remain in place.

Next steps would either be a phone call or property visit. Contact David Kozak, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), for more: david.kozak@ct.gov

The East River Marsh project partners are Audubon Connecticut, CT DEEP, Connecticut Audubon Society, and Menunkatuck Audubon Society.

GREAT MEADOWS MARSH - Stratford, CT

Great Meadows Marsh (GMM), located in the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, is one of Connecticut’s largest salt marshes and contains the largest remaining mostly un-ditched marsh in the state.  In addition to approximately 225 acres of un-ditched marsh, the Great Meadows Unit includes a barrier beach, tidal wetland, ditched salt marsh, filled wetland, and upland. The area also has several small fresh or brackish ponds, salt pannes, and tidal mud and sand flats. GMM is connected to Long Beach by Lewis Gut, an estuarine embayment fed from several freshwater creeks and the waters of Long Island Sound (LIS) through Bridgeport Harbor.  

Historically, GMM was a back-barrier salt marsh of more than 1400 acres, but land-use changes since the mid-1800s reduced the marsh to less than 700 acres.  Though it once occupied a much larger area, GMM still provides critical habitat for a diversity of wildlife species including rare plant species, several species of finfish, and approximately 270 bird species. The birds utilize GMM for nesting, overwintering, and stopover during migration, including many federal and state species of concern. This includes the Saltmarsh Sparrow,  a species that nests exclusively in marshes from Maine to Virginia and is considered one of the most specialized tidal marsh nesting birds globally.  

This restoration project will amplify the effects of several community resiliency activities outlined in the Town of Stratford’s 2016 Coastal Resiliency Plan

Project implementation is expected to be substantially completed during November 2021-April 2022. Work activities including removing invasive plant cover, regrading and reusing dredged fill soils with specific target elevations designed to create conditions to support native plant species, as well as birds such as Saltmarsh Sparrow, while accounting for sea level rise estimates.

Once restoration work activities are completed, a team of scientists will conduct monitoring of the restoration, including essential acres restored, habitat cover and species composition and health collectively and by specific habitats, restored tidal hydrology, and changes in rare plant and animal populations endemic to the site.

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How you can help, right now