Nine research projects focus on Long Island Sound marshes, water quality, public beaches

More information:

Robert Burg, Long Island Sound Study, [email protected]

Paul C. Focazio, Communications Manager, NYSG, [email protected], P: (631) 632-6910
Judy Benson, Communications Coordinator, CTSG, [email protected], P: (860) 287-6426

Soundwide (March 2, 2023) – Long Island Sound water quality, salt marsh and public beach characteristics will be examined by marine and social scientists in nine research projects awarded funding by the Connecticut and New York Sea Grant programs (CTSG and NYSG respectively) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Study (LISS) Research Grant Program.

These new projects, which seek information that can be used to improve the conditions of the estuary for humans and wildlife, are being supported by $4.2 million in federal funds. That will be supplemented with matching funds of $2.1 million, for a total research package of more than $6.3 million.

The projects will be conducted over two years beginning this spring. The results will build on the substantial body of research funded through the LISS Research Grant Program administered by CTSG and NYSG since 2008 which has contributed to improved understanding and management of this nationally recognized estuary. Cumulatively, this represents the largest research investment in the Sound, which has been designated an estuary of national significance and one of the most valuable natural resources for both states.

Team members of the Tzortziou lab collect measurements along Long Island Sound wetlands, near Wheeler Marsh, CT, as well as (Inset) optical measurements using sensor devices. (Photo/Tzortziou Bio-Optics Lab)

The four CTSG-administered projects are:

  • “Testing the effects of vegetation on saltmarsh ecology, services and restoration success: from microbial ecology and biogeochemistry to wildlife conservation,” will be led by UConn professors Christopher Elphick, Beth Lawrence and Ashley Helton, along with Blaire Steven of the CT Agricultural Experiment Station and Min Huang of the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. By creating sediment mounds of varying elevations planted with various species at different densities at Great Meadow Marsh in Stratford, the researchers seek to develop an interdisciplinary understanding of how marsh restoration efforts impact the functioning of these ecosystems and their value for wildlife.
  • “Tracking pathogen pathways and fecal bacteria patterns for public beaches suffering with poor water quality grades and closures,” will be led by UConn Professor Michael Whitney with Peter Linderoth of Save the Sound. The researchers will analyze patterns of fecal indicator bacteria in water samples from Green Harbor Beach in New London and Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme. Because of high bacteria levels, these two public beaches are among the most frequently closed or under swim advisories in the state of Connecticut. The work will include efforts to identify bacteria pathways and public outreach about water quality issues.
  • “Assessing temperature mediation of PFAS impacts on coastal fish fitness to inform environmental management,” is being led by professors Maria Rodgers of North Carolina State University and Jessica Brand, Daniel Bolnick, Kat Milligan-McClellan and Milton Levin of UConn. The researchers will examine concentrations of PFAS (poly- and per-fluoroalkyl substances) at different water temperatures in fish populations downstream from the outfalls of public sewage treatment plants. The results will quantify how fish can be expected to respond to exposure to these “forever chemicals” in the Sound over the next five decades.
  • “Assessing the impacts of warming and planting strategy on the resilience of restored salt marshes to improve restoration efficacy,” will be led by Sarah Crosby of The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, along with A. Randall Hughes and Nicole Kollars of Northeastern University, Nicole Spiller of Harbor Watch and Earthplace, and LaTina Steele at Sacred Heart University. By enclosing sections of salt marshes within open chambers to increase interior temperatures, the researchers will assess the expected effects of warmer temperatures associated with climate change. The work will include plantings of southern-sourced marsh grass (Spartina) strains to determine impacts on future resilience, and an examination of the genetic mixing of these salt marsh strains to enhance the success of restoration efforts.

The five NYSG-administered projects are:

  • “Using geohistorical baselines to assess responses of benthic macroinvertebrate communities to the nitrogen TMDL management intervention in Long Island Sound,” is directed by Gregory Dietl of the Paleontological Research Institution.Scientists will look at the remains of mollusks buried beneath the seafloor to understand past ecological conditions in the Long Island Sound (LIS). The molluscan geohistorical record could provide location-specific information about levels of nitrogen relevant for decades-long time periods that is not available from any other source.
  • “Coupled prediction of residential fertilizer use and nitrogen loads to Long Island Sound: An integrated targeting tool for nitrogen-reduction behavior change campaigns,” is led by Robert Johnston of Clark University, along with David Dickson and Jamie Vaudrey of the University of Connecticut, David Newburn of the University of Maryland, Qian Lei-Parent of the University of Connecticut, and Haoluan Wang of the University of Miami.This project will use a survey of households to predict residential fertilizer lawn use for the coastal counties and municipalities across the LIS watershed. A model combining this information with water quality data will be used to inform prospective behavior-change campaigns to identify and prioritize the areas or types of households that would have the greatest impact on reducing nitrogen from lawn fertilizer and its impact on the Sound.
  • “Actionable satellite water-quality data products in LIS for improved management and societal benefits,” is headed by Maria Tzortziou of the City College of New York, along with Joaquim Goes of Columbia University and Melanie Abecassis of the University of Maryland College Park.Human-caused climate change as well as other anthropogenic factors can intensify harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the LIS. Observations of the entire ecosystem, over different seasons and across a range of conditions, including during extreme weather events, can be obtained from satellite data. This work will provide actionable information for water resource management, policy, and decision-making.
  • “Evaluating changes in suitable habitat and distribution of cold- and warm-adaptive fish species in a changing Long Island Sound to inform ecosystem-based management,” is led by Yong Chen of Stony Brook University, along with Kurt Gottschall of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Kim McKown, and John Maniscalco, at New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Conditions in the LIS have been shifting due to climate change, affecting water temperature, acidity, oxygen levels, and incidence of HABs. The scientists will evaluate these shifting conditions on the distributional changes of warm-adapted and cold-adapted species of fish in the Sound.
  • “Equitable access to Long Island Sound waterfront and beaches through on-demand mobility,” is led by Anil Yazici and Elizabeth Hewitt of Stony Brook University. Some communities on Long Island do not have the mobility means to use and appreciate the LIS waterfront. Project leaders are designing and piloting on-demand shuttles that will facilitate equitable public access to the LIS waterfront. The team will survey users of the shuttle service to identify changes in attitudes toward the LIS environment.

In their words: Long Island Sound Research Projects:

From Sylvain De Guise, director of CTSG: “The continued partnership between Sea Grant programs and EPA will support a nice diversity of innovative and ambitious research projects to benefit both people and ecosystems of Long Island Sound, for mutual benefits—a wise investment, in my opinion.”

From Syma Ebbin, research coordinator for CTSG: “This competition was the largest ever administered, allowing the program to support these diverse, high-quality proposals, all with the capacity to enhance Long Island Sound’s management, health and public benefits.”

From Becky Shuford, director of NYSG: “New York Sea Grant is proud to continue this long-standing partnership with Connecticut Sea Grant and the EPA Long Island Sound Study. This year was the largest research competition to date resulting in the selection of nine excellent and diverse studies that will address priorities related to historical and current water quality conditions, habitat and fisheries health and restoration, and Sound access. The results will have direct benefit to the communities, coasts, critters, and waters of the Long Island Sound Estuary.”

From Lane Smith, research coordinator for NYSG: “This cohort of new research will build on the growing legacy of impactful research that benefits the Long Island Sound and its coastal communities. This continues the fruitful partnership between Sea Grant and the EPA Long Island Sound Study that benefits the LIS ecosystem.”

From David W. Cash, EPA New England regional administrator: “The Long Island Sound estuary is an essential ecosystem that supports communities, economies, and habitats across the region. I’m pleased to say these diverse and innovative Sea Grant projects include a focus on improving the Sound’s water quality, mitigating the effects of climate change, and helping local communities receive more equitable access to the Sound.”

From Lisa F. Garcia, EPA Region 2 regional administrator: “The Long Island Sound is in the center of one of the most densely populated coastlines in the country. This investment will help Long Island Sound communities combat sources of pollution that lead to closing public beaches or contaminating local fish. It will also help communities improve efforts to restore wetland habitat and increase resiliency to climate change by understanding the effects of sea level rise and warming temperatures on valuable marsh habitats. This funding will advance ecological research and play a critical role in improving water quality and reducing pollution, providing lasting results for the wildlife and wetlands in the Sound for years to come.”

Descriptions of Long Island Sound Study research grants since 2000 with final research reports are available on the Long Island Sound Study website.

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