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Pattagansett Marshes and Watts Island


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 variety 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 are owned by the Old Black Point Association and protected by The Nature Conservancy through conservation easements, prevent 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, which was listed as a Very Important species in the wildlife action plan.
  • 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 marsh also supports a blue crab population, as well as a thriving population of fiddler crabs.   
  • 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.
  • This area also supports numerous osprey (Pandeon haliaetus) via nesting platforms which are constructed and maintained by area conservationists. 
Recreational Opportunities
  • Hike the nearby Ravenswood trail, which can be accessed on Marshfield Road in Giants Neck, or at the end of Brainard Road, Niantic. 
  • Rocky Neck State Park, a Long Island Sound Stewardship Area, is a 10-minute drive from the Pattagansett Marshes and provides a variety of coastal habitats to explore including a sandy beach, rocky shorefront, saltmarsh, and miles of trails through a coastal forest. 
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 on the Springer website.
  • 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
  • Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve encompasses approximately 400 acres of varied and rugged terrain including Clarks Pond and the nearby Niantic River.  Use the link to download a map describing miles of hiking trails.
  • The Dinosaur Place in nearby Montville is a great day-trip for kids. Walk the trails to see life-size dinosaur statues and even animatronic moving replicas!   
  • The Niantic Childrens Museum is an interactive educational museum designed specifically for kids. Look out for the outdoor playscape and a series of animal encounters throughout the day! 
  • Niantic Bay Boardwalk is a 1.1-mile seaside path that offers great views of the Sound, as well as beach areas to rest at.  
Get Involved/Events
Field Notes
  • In order to protect fragile habitats of the Pattagansett Marshes and Watts Island Preserve, this site is not accessible to the public.
  • Water and jet skiing is not allowed in the Pattagansett River Estuary. Please respect the speed-limit signs when boating. 
  • 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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