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University of Connecticut researchers have won a $160,000 federal grant to launch a project to test whether cultivated seaweed could be a “green solution” to the problem of water pollution in Long Island Sound, UConn announced Monday.
The funding, which will be added to nearly $290,000 in matching funds raised by UConn, is one of the largest in this year’s grants awarded under the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, UConn said in a news release. The fund is a partnership between the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Long Island Sound Study.
The UConn project, led by principal investigator Charles Yarish, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Marine Sciences, will grow sugar kelp, a native brown seaweed, at three demonstration sites in a bid to learn how the naturally growing vegetation can help extract harmful levels of nitrogen from the waters of the Sound.
The three demonstration sites are near the mouth of the Bronx River, off the coast of Fairfield, and in the Thimble Islands around Branford. The project will involve high school and college students, UConn researchers and commercial fishermen. The goal is to remove 53 pounds of nitrogen and 343 pounds of carbon at the test sites, and then to determine whether the work can be scaled up by the cultivation of the kelp.
“This is a very important project,” Yarish said. “Ultimately, the aim is to increase the use of ‘green infrastructure,’ meaning natural biological materials, to reduce water pollution in the Sound and provide a new source of jobs for the region.”
Organizations working with UConn on the project include the Bridgeport Regional Aquaculture Science and Technology Education Center, Rocking the Boat, SUNY Purchase College, and the Thimble Island Oyster Company.
“This is about finding workable solutions to an environmental problem, but it’s also about economic development,” Yarish said. “A Long Island Sound that’s overwhelmed by pollution is bad news not just for commercial fishing industry, but for the communities along the Sound and ultimately the economies of Connecticut and New York.”