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*? These staggering statistics are having a grave impact on the Saltmarsh Sparrow population, and putting local communities and homes at risk as well.

*Hartig et al. 2002

Audubon Connecticut and partners are focusing on new projects to improve coastal resiliency at the following salt marsh sites:

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, including marsh-dependent and forest interior-dependent birds and shellfish beds. 

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). The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) has created an assessment of the resilience of the ERM to sea level rise, which provides a ‘blueprint’ for developing a strategy to address these threats.

More than 99% of the "high marsh" at East River Marsh will be lost by 2100, going from 778 acres to only 5 acres.

Protection of large marsh migration corridors and connecting tidally unconnected areas to tidal wetlands are two strategies for ensuring that the ERM, and in particular high marsh, continues to exist into the future. Another strategy involves restoring sections of the ERM that are currently degraded.

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

GREAT MEADOW MARSH - Statford, 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 2020-April 2021. 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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