Report card on coastal health ranks Sound's shoreline habitats as 'fair'

A group of federal and Connecticut scientists have rated the overall health of the Long Island Sound's coastal habitats in Connecticut as "fair" in a new report based on scores measuring their size, connectivity, resilience and species diversity.

The report is the first of its kind compiling several measurements to make a collective judgment about the quality of the health of Connecticut's coastal forests, tidal wetlands, eelgrass habitats, rivers and embayments from Greenwich to Stonington, said Georgia Basso, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and one of the authors of the study.

"No one's ever looked across the entire Connecticut coastline and given these habitats a quantitative score," Basso said.

Along with researchers from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the University of Connecticut and Connecticut Sea Grant, Basso created a rubric that assessed how big each habitat is, how connected they are to each other and other metrics measuring the health of the ecosystem.

"We track all the restoration projects throughout the Sound," said Mark Tedesco, the director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Long Island Sound Office. "It's also important to note how conditions generally within these habitats are changing — are they improving, are they getting worse?"

The coastal habitats along the Connecticut shore ranked a 27 out of 100 overall, though the health of the coastal forests, tidal wetlands and eelgrass habitats earned lower scores that the researchers ranked "poor."

A habitat with a score of between 50 and 75 would have ranked "good" on the scale the researchers developed, and a score of higher than 75 would have earned a "very good" ranking.

Basso said the scores and rankings will provide a baseline assessment of the coastline that scientists, residents and policymakers can compare to similar assessments in the future and know how the various metrics are changing. 

"It creates that first line in the sand," she said.

Assigning a number and a spot on a scale from "fair" to "very good" can help people understand how healthy the habitats in their backyards are.

"You look at wetlands when you're driving home and say, 'I don't know, they look green, they look good,'" she said. "We thought it was valuable for even just to have the language of saying, 'the habitats are in fair condition.'"

Knowing that the habitats on the coastline are overall "fair" could prompt people to ask questions about what condition the habitats should be in and how they could be improved or conserved.

"(They might ask) 'are we comfortable with being at fair? Do we want to be be at good? What did we have historically, and what do we have now, and are we OK with that?'" Basso said.


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