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Long Island Sound Study to Investigate Climate-Related Risks to Natural Resources

CONTACT: Mark Tedesco, EPA LIS Office, (203) 977-1541

Stamford, CT, Dec. 14, 2012 — The Long Island Sound Study (LISS), a National Estuary Program sponsored by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Connecticut  Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has  announced a project to investigate climate change impacts on key wildlife and ecosystem resources in Long Island Sound. 

The project, Sentinels of Climate Change: Coastal Indicators of Wildlife and Ecosystem Change in Long Island Sound, is part of LISS’s Sentinel Monitoring for Climate Change program.  As defined in the LISS Sentinel Monitoring Strategy, a ‘sentinel’ is “a measurable variable (physical, biological, or chemical environmental indicator) that is susceptible to some key aspect of climate change.”  The Sentinel Monitoring program aims to identify and study sentinels  that can serve as a “canary in the coal mine” to help provide early warnings regarding potential effects of climate change, facilitating appropriate and timely management decisions for the long term health of the Long Island Sound ecosystem.

The lead investigators are University of Connecticut (UConn) scientists Chris S. Elphick, PhD, and Min. T. Huang, PhD, with support from PhD student Chris Field. They will address several of the key sentinels identified by the Sentinel Monitoring program, including the responses of critical and sensitive habitats, such as salt marsh and tidal flats, and how changes in these ecosystems impact the population and behavior patterns of key bird species inhabiting them.  The project is also highly cost-effective because it makes use of existing data and resources, while supplementing those efforts with the collection of additional monitoring data. Funding for this project was provided by the EPA through the Long Island Sound Study.  CTDEEP us administering the $193,049 project agreement, which will be conducted by UConn scientists through 2014, on behalf of both states.

Long Island Sound is likely to see substantial changes over the coming decades,” said Elphick, whose expertise includes the study of the endangered saltmarsh sparrow, a species inhabiting Long Island Sound tidal marshes that is threatened by sea level rise.  “This project will provide a detailed baseline against which to judge future changes.  Most importantly, this knowledge will facilitate better, more cost-effective planning for the protection of natural resources.”

Mark Tedesco, Director of the EPA Long Island Sound Office, said, “Evidence of climate change is now visible in our local ecosystem.  The broad scope of this project will help managers make better informed decisions on protecting a wide range of vulnerable species and habitats in the Sound.”

“It is critical for us to measure and assess climate impacts on Long Island Sound in order to develop effective strategies for protecting what is Connecticut’s largest and most important natural resource.  Through this monitoring project, we will obtain information and data on Long Island Sound’s changing ecosystems that will provide environmental managers the tools they need to help us protect against and adapt to the pressures of climate change,”  said Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner, Daniel C. Esty.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Assistant Commissioner for Natural Resources, Kathy Moser said, “This award for pilot monitoring proves what can be achieved when multiple agencies collaborate. Recent events like Hurricane Sandy demonstrate that the changing climate threatens New York. The Long Island Sound Study will help to inform the Governor’s Ready, Response, and Infrastructure Commissions, recommending ways in which the State can adapt and protect itself from the dangers posed by major weather events. We are grateful to CTDEEP for effectively and efficiently administering the project.”

The Long Island Sound Study was formed in 1985 by EPA, New York, and Connecticut to restore and improve the environmental health of Long Island Sound ecosystems. This bi-state partnership includes federal and state agencies, multiple non-governmental organizations, universities and researchers, the general public, and other groups working to restore, conserve, and protect the Sound.  In 2009, the LISS Management Committee formed the Sentinel Monitoring for Climate Change work group to develop a climate change monitoring strategy.

For more information about the Sentinel Monitoring program, including reading the Sentinel Monitoring Strategy, visit http://longislandsoundstudy.net/research-monitoring/sentinel-monitoring/.

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