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Pattagansett Marshes and Watts Island

Location: East Lyme, CT

Anchor Site(s): Pattagansett Marshes Preserve

About the Site: This 52-acre property, owned by The Nature Conservancy and the Old Black Point Association, supports a high diversity of plants and animals due to its diverse habitats and coastal location at the mouth of the Pattagansett River. Habitats at this site include a saltwater marsh-estuarine system, a xeric (dry) coastal forest and shrubland, primary dune and beach, and rocky outcrops. An adjacent marsh, beach and uplands, which is owned by the Old Black Point Association  protected by The Nature Conservancy through conservation easements, prevents further development within this fragile estuarine-barrier beach complex.

Ecological Importance

  • Provides important habitat especially for breeding, migrating and overwintering waterfowl. The area supports the American black duck, a state-designated species of Greatest Conservation Need.
  • The site has the highest dunes in Connecticut and supports one of the best maritime salt-spray pruned scrub woodlands in the state.
  • The shallow tidal marsh-estuarine systems of the Pattagansett Marsh provide excellent spawning and nursery grounds for the Atlantic silverside. This small fish plays a big role in the important transfer of energy from tidal marsh systems to the open Sound where they are consumed by predators like striped bass and bluefish.
  • The coastal forest at this site was once common along the entire Connecticut coast. At Pattagansett the forest is dominated by white and black oak as well as sassafras. Other species include mockernut hickory, black cherry and scarlet oak.


Dive Deeper

  • Stewardship Boundaries Expanded with Old Black Point Parcel                            On July 18, 2013, the LISS Management Committee agreed to expand the stewardship site boundaries to include a 15-acre parcel of barrier beach and primary dune, back barrier sand flats, and estuarine emergent marsh owned by the Old Black Point Association. The association, which requested the designation, retains ownership. This was the first Stewardship site expansion involving expanding existing protected open space held by a conservation organization.
  • Development of a Tidal Marsh in a New England River Valley                            Author- provided reprint of an article published in the Journal Estuaries that describes Pattagansett marshes as a model for how tidal marshes of southern New England developed beginning about 4,000 years ago. The final publication is available at
  • An Ecological Inventory Report of Pattangansett Marshes Preserve, East Lyme, CT This Nature Conservancy report from 1975 is a detailed description of the four major habitat types found at the TNC’s Pattagansett Marsh Preserve.

Places to Visit

  • Rocky Neck State Park, a Long Island Sound Stewardship Area, is a 10-minute from the Pattagansett Marshes  and provides a variety of coastal habitats to explore including sandy beach, rocky shorefront, saltmarsh and miles of trails through a coastal forest.
  • Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve encompasses approximately 400 acres of varied and rugged terrain including Clark’s Pond and the nearby Niantic River.  Use the link to download a map describing miles of hiking trails.

Field Notes

  • In order to protect fragile habitats of the Pattagansett Marshes and Watts Island Preserve, this site is not accessible to the public.

Credits and Sources


  • An Ecological Inventory of Pattagansett Marshes Preserve, East Lyme, CT. By Evan Griswold, et al. November 1975. Prepared for The Nature Conservancy of Connecticut
  • Reproduction, Growth and Feeding Habits of Menidia menidia (Atherineidae) in a Tidal Marsh-Estuarine System of Southern New England. Keneth M. Cadigan and Paul E. Fell (in Copeia, Vol. 1985, No. 1; February 1985

  • Development of a tidal marsh in a New England River Valley.  Orson, R.A., R. S. Warren and W.A. Niering. In Estuaries 10: 20-27.  (March 1987).

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Did You Know?

  • Because the surface of a saltmarsh is always wet, a brown, soil-like material called ‘peat’, is low in oxygen and high in sulfides giving its partially decomposed plant matter the familiar “rotten egg” odor when exposed to air at low tide.
  • A fire in 1970 destroyed a rare example of a coastal forest growing on the dune at Old Black Point Beach that is slowly restoring to coastal shrub-forest habitat.
  •  The plant and animal communities of the Pattagansett marsh are influenced by the water chemistry created from the mixing of sea-water that flows in twice-daily from the Sound and freshwater from the Pattagansett River.

Pattagansett Marshes and Watts Preserve

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