“Everything is connected – plants, land use and waterways…what we do matters – what we do on an individual level.”Judy Preston, Long Island Sound Study Connecticut Outreach Coordinator
“Everything is connected – plants, land use and waterways…what we do matters – what we do on an individual level.”
Since 2013, Judy Preston, the Long Island Sound Study Connecticut Outreach Coordinator through Connecticut Sea Grant, has taught hundreds of gardeners a better way to plant for their yards and Long Island Sound. Through her Coastal Certificate program, Preston teaches how to add native plants and grasses to a garden to reduce the need to use pesticides and fertilizer, chemicals that can enter local streams, and eventually do harm to the Sound and its aquatic life. Native plants also provide habitats for birds, bees, butterflies, and other creatures.
Preston has conducted eight Coastal Certificate Programs since 2013, and as part of obtaining the certificate, her students have delivered more than 2,000 hours of volunteer community projects. Unfortunately, the final two classes of this year’s program, which was being held at Connecticut College in March, were delayed as a result of the pandemic. But you can read about some of the past work from an article that appeared in the winter 2019-2020 issue of Wrack Lines, CT Sea Grant’s magazine.
Maggie Redfern, the assistant director of the Connecticut College Arboretum, joined Gardening for Good host Judy Preston recently to discuss what you can see while practicing proper social distance at the Arboretum. The Arboretum is a special place to enjoy native plant gardens, trails, and Long Island Sound coastal habitats such as Mamacoke Island.
Connecticut Sea Grant’s Judy Preston, who is the Long Island Sound Study Outreach Coordinator for Connecticut, is on the air and on online streaming! Judy is the host of a new radio show on the iCRV internet radio station in the CT River Valley. The “Gardening for Good” show strives to make connections between good gardening practices and protecting local streams and Long Island Sound.
In learning about the horseshoe crab, it’s good to first know about two common misconceptions. First, horseshoe crabs are not actually crabs, such as fiddler crabs or blue crabs, which are crustaceans. Rather, they are more closely related to arachnids, such as spiders and scorpions. Secondly, despite their strange brown helmets and long spikey tails that make them look kind of threatening, they are harmless. The telson, or spiked tail, that some people are afraid of is simply used to help the animal right itself when it’s upside down.
Underneath the exoskeleton, which is a shell that resembles a horseshoe, are six paired appendages that are used for eating and locomotion. Horseshoe crabs don’t have jaws to chew food. Rather, when the five pairs of appendages that act as legs are moving, the bristly areas at the base of each leg called gnathobases tear and shred clams, worms, and other invertebrates. The other pair of appendages, two tiny front pincer claws called chelicera, push the food into their mouths, which is at the center of the legs. Young crabs also molt their outer shells as they grow, so you may find their empty shells during a beach walk. Closer to the horseshoe crab’s tail,or telson, are gills that resemble the pages of a book. These are called book gills and they are also used for propulsion to swim. (Larger photos with labels of the horseshoe crab’s anatomy can be seen in a slide show in the media center of the Long Island Sound Study media center).
For most of the year, horseshoe crabs move and feed along the seafloor. Paired female and males come ashore in the spring, mid-May through June in Connecticut and New York, to spawn. They follow the high tides up the beach both day and night but are most abundant during the evening high tides of the new and full moons. The larger females will dig nests 20cm deep (about 8 inches) on the beach close to mean tide, depositing about 10,000 small green eggs that are then fertilized by the male while they are covered with water. The paired female and males then follow the receding tide back out to sea. These eggs are an important source of food for migratory shorebirds, including red knots, ruddy turnstones, sandpipers, plovers, and dowitchers. This food source is only available when horseshoe crabs are abundant and dig up each other’s nests. Connecticut’s and New York’s horseshoe crab population is too low for this resource to be available to shorebirds.
On a beach walk in the spring, you might find many small animals that have hitched a ride on a horseshoe crab’s shell. Horseshoe crabs have been called “walking hotels”—barnacles, bryozoa, slipper shells, sponges, and flatworms are some of the animals that attach themselves to their shells. Photo by Richard Howard.
These amazing creatures also have ten eyes! The two compound lateral eyes of horseshoe crabs are used to help them find mates. The other ‘eyes’ contain over 1,000 photoreceptors, which have been studied by vision researchers to get a better understanding of human vision. Horseshoe crabs also have another unique feature of its anatomy: their blue blood, which is due to copper-based hemocyanin. Their blood also contains a product called Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL) that is harvested and used to identify the presence of harmful bacterial toxins in vaccines and other medical devices. No synthetic equivalent that has been federally approved for use is available to date. Pharmaceutical labs try not to kill the crabs when blood is extracted for medical use, but unfortunately, not all survive.
Besides medical purposes, horseshoe crabs have another important use for humans: they are harvested by fishermen for bait, and used to capture eel and whelk.
Horseshoe crabs have survived five major mass extinction events over our earth’s geological history, and the species is known as a ‘living fossil’ because its basic body shape has changed very little over time. But now, with recent population declines in Long Island Sound, their very survival in our region is challenged.
Population monitoring data collected by researchers and citizen scientists, including tagging and spawning counts by Project Limulus based at Sacred Heart University, show that the numbers of horseshoe crabs in Long Island Sound have steadily declined over the past 20 years. Overharvesting, habitat loss, pollution, bycatch in abandoned “ghost nets” and lobster traps, and motorized vehicles on beaches, threaten their continued existence. Dr. Jennifer Mattei, founder of Project Limulus, reports that the number of pairs of horseshoe crabs coming up to lay eggs on CT beaches is declining and the number of females coming up alone, without a mate is increasing. In Long Island Sound, males are finding it difficult to find females because of their scarcity. Mattei has recommended a moratorium on harvest until both New York and Connecticut can agree on a management plan for the horseshoe crabs of Long Island Sound, including more enforcement against illegal harvesting. To help protect horseshoe crabs and other species that are harvested Mattei also supports the idea of establishing the first Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Long Island Sound, where all the species within the boundary of the MPA would be protected from harvest including horseshoe crabs. MPAs allow for the conservation and recovery of wildlife populations within and adjacent to them.
Resource managers monitor horseshoe crabs through beach counts and tagging to better understand their patterns of movement and track their abundance. You can help in the monitoring efforts by reporting a tag to the appropriate agency or by becoming a citizen scientist. Go to the Project Limulus website to learn more.
Jonathanʼs Blue World:
For the first time since the 19th century, an alewife was recorded this spring in the Hutchinson River in southern Westchester near the Bronx border. That sighting is helping to validate an effort by environmental groups and state and county agencies to design a fish passage project on the river to return alewives to their historic spawning habitats.
The alewife was seen in March just below the Pelham Lake Dam in Mount Vernon, the first dam on the river, by Gareth Hougham, president of the Hudson Valley Arts and Sciences, one of the partner groups looking to design a fish passage project at the dam.
Fish passage projects such as removing dams or building fishways over or around dams have proved to be a successful means throughout the US for migratory fish to overcome barriers to spawning habitat. Near the Hutchinson River, fishways have increased river miles for migratory fish in the Bronx River to the south and in the Mianus River in Greenwich to the north. In addition, despite pollution from the impacts of urbanization, the Hutchinson River has an abundance of wading birds preying on fish in the river. While these positive signs led to proposing a fish passage project for the Hutchinson River, evidence of a remnant population of alewives attempting to swim upstream of the Pelham Lake Dam still was missing.
Despite the hurdle of a global pandemic, project partners were determined this spring to monitor the Hutchinson River below the Dam to confirm the presence of migratory fish. On March 26, Hougham took two fish traps and placed them in the river below the dam. On March 27, Hougham checked the traps and found (along with some carp) one female alewife. This alewife confirmed that the Pelham Lake Dam does indeed block fish passage and migratory spawning alewife are still present in the river.
In 2018, Hougham’s organization, HVAS, applied for and received a tributary restoration and resilience grant from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to study the feasibility of fish passage for alewife at the Pelham Lake Dam. In partnership with Westchester County and with guidance from Save the Sound, NYSDEC, Queens College, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, the project is underway, and a contractor to design the fishway is expected to be selected soon.
The Hutchinson River begins in Scarsdale and flows 10 miles south through southern Westchester County and the northeastern Bronx, emptying into Eastchester Bay and western Long Island Sound. The river has suffered from years of human alteration. Today, the impact on the river can still be seen from mouth to headwaters. The river contains Combined Sewer Overflows and is bordered by concrete plants, scrap yards, parkways, an Amtrak line, Co-Op City (the largest housing project in the world), and the Pelham Bay Landfill, which was closed in the 1970s.
One of the major impacts to the health of the river is the existing dams. At the end of the 19th century into the early 1900s the New Rochelle Water Company dammed the river in several locations to create a reservoir system for the surrounding area. Although these reservoirs are now obsolete, the dams still exist creating impassable barriers for fish such as alewife. Alewives spend most of their lives in the ocean and only enter local freshwater tributaries in the spring to spawn. Once they spawn the adults return to the ocean and the juveniles grow up in the river throughout the summer. In the fall, the juveniles head to the ocean and, once mature, return in 3-5 years to spawn in their natal river. They are considered to be an integral part of freshwater and marine food webs, including as food for striped bass, osprey, cod, and trout.
Estuary programs in New York State, including the Long Island Sound Study and the Peconic Estuary Partnership, and the NYSDEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit, are working with partners to prioritize and evaluate the removal or modification of impediments to fish passage. If a successful design at Pelham Lake Dam, which is in Willson’s Woods Park, leads to a fish passage project, it will be the first in Westchester County in the Long Island Sound watershed. The program manager for NYSDEC is Vicky O’Neill, a NEIWPCC environmental analyst who is also the Long Island Sound Study Habitat Restoration and Stewardship coordinator in New York.
A new nationally competitive grants program designed to support projects that address issues threatening the well-being of coastal and estuarine areas is now seeking proposals for grants ranging between $75,000 and $250,000.
The National Estuary Program Coastal Water Watersheds Program is being administered by Restore America’s Estuaries in cooperation with the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Organizations with project proposals within Estuaries of National Significance, including Long Island Sound, are eligible to apply.
The deadline to provide letters of intent, the first step in the two-step application process, is August 7. More information, including a download of the Request for Proposals and a registration link to an informational webinar in June, is available on the Restore America’s Estuaries website.
Established in 1987 through the Clean Water Act, the National Estuary Program is an EPA place-based program dedicated to protecting and restoring the water quality and ecological integrity of 28 estuaries across the country.
The CWWP grant program will fund projects within the geographic areas shown here that support the following Congressionally-set priorities:
In honor of Earth Day week, Judy talks today about the books and online resources that have inspired a greater understanding of ecology in general, and gardening specifically. Guest Jim Sirch is the Education Coordinator at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven. He’s known to many for his professional development activities at the Museum, and has received awards for his science service and advocacy. Jim was also instrumental in bringing the citizen science FrogWatch program to Connecticut, and has recently started a new nature blog at the museum, https://beyondyourbackdoor.net. Jim can be reached at: [email protected].
The spring 2020 issue of Sound Update focuses on Long Island Sound Study’s Year in Review of 2019. Various clean water, habitat restoration, education, and science projects from Connecticut and New York are highlighted.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Long Island Sound Study staff and personnel from organizations that partner with LISS are continuing to work on projects to restore and protect Long Island Sound, but in remote locations. We are adjusting how we work, moving to remote meetings and expanding use of on-line collaboration tools. Inevitably, some in-person workshops have been postponed as described below.
Once plentiful, populations have severely declined due to overfishing, bycatch, pollution, and loss of access (dams, culverts) to their freshwater spawning grounds. Actions taken by state agencies and partner conservation organizations to help restore alewife populations include removing dams, building fishways, reintroducing pre-spawn adults into streams that had previously supported runs, and eliminating harvests. In Connecticut, an emergency fishery closure for the anadromous alewife is in effect. In New York, the anadromous alewife fishery is also closed with the exception of the Hudson River.
Want to know more facts? These and others are included in a US Fish and Wildlife fisheries web page on herring migration. And you can also learn more about the herring lifecycle at: https://www.fws.gov/fisheries/fishmigration/alewife.html
Want to know more facts? These and others are included in a US Fish and Wildlife fisheries web page on herring migration. And you can also learn more about the herring lifecycle at:
Since colonial times, fish passing through the Sound have been blocked from their upstream habitats due to barriers such as dams and culverts. The Long Island Sound Study helps to restore fish passage by supporting state and local efforts to remove dams, build fishways, and reconstruct impassable or undersized culverts. Once the barriers are removed, migratory fish such as river herring and American eel can return to their historic river habitats. Since 1998, Long Island Sound Study’s partners have reconnected 419 miles of streams for fish passage to and from Long Island Sound.
And learn about fish migration around the world at the World Fish Migration Foundation website.
Merriam-Websters Dictionary states it is perhaps alteration of an Old French word, allowes, which is a kind of shad. Alewifes are related to shad. According to the Bronx River Alliance website New Englanders might have named the fish alewives after their home brewer. Read about this tale and other cultural facts in an article on the Bronx River Alliance website.
Fifty years. That’s right. The Environmental Protection Agency was established on December 2, 1970, consolidating in one agency federal responsibilities for research, monitoring, and setting and enforcing environmental standards. EPA’s formation was preceded by the first Earth Day on April 22 of that year, itself preceded by the prior decade’s rising tide of public support for strengthened environmental protection.
Curious to know more about the origins of EPA and its 50-year history of accomplishments? See https://www.epa.gov/history/origins-epa. Want ideas for recognizing and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day? See https://www.epa.gov/earthday.
But also worth recognizing and celebrating are the 35 years of action to protect and restore Long Island Sound, which began in 1985 when Congress provided funds to investigate its environmental condition. That year, the Long Island Sound Study (LISS) began as a partnership among the EPA, New York State, Connecticut, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Interstate Environmental Commission, the State University of New York, and the University of Connecticut.
Researchers investigated the Sound for toxic contamination, pathogens, hypoxia (the condition of low levels of oxygen in waters that impair underwater habitats and harm aquatic life), and floatable debris. They quickly focused on hypoxia after three consecutive summers of severely hypoxic waters were observed in the western Sound from 1987 to 1989. In 1987 Congress amended the Clean Water Act, formally creating the National Estuary Program (NEP) and Long Island Sound was designated an Estuary of National Significance.
Unlike traditional regulatory approaches to environmental protection, the LISS targets a broad range of issues and works with stakeholders to develop coordinated solutions. The issues LISS identified in its early years led to the creation in 1994 of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan with a goal to restore and protect the Sound. Revised in 2015, the CCMP will update its five-year action plan in 2020.
A thirty-five-year anniversary is time to celebrate past accomplishments and become inspired to tackle remaining challenges. Fifteen years ago, the Long Island Sound Study commemorated the 20th anniversary of its formation with a special edition of the Sound Update newsletter highlighting 20 topics over 20 years. Now we add another 15 to celebrate our 35th anniversary (and even add one more for good luck). I hope you feel inspired to continue our progress and make Long Island Sound a great place to work, live, and recreate now and for future generations.
Mark Tedesco is the director of the United State EPA Long Island Sound Office. The office coordinates the Long Island Sound Study, administered by EPA as part of the National Estuary Program under the Clean Water Act. Tedesco received his MS in marine environmental science in 1986 and a BS in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook University.