Kindness in Real Life: Student volunteers get down to dunes

(photo courtesy of June Hoye)
(photo courtesy of June Hoye)

Neither cold nor rain nor forecasted snow could deter the dedicated students from their recent volunteer project at the Niantic Bay Beach. On April 7, ten volunteers gathered to continue the beach planting project that has been organized by the East Lyme Public Trust Foundation and the East Lyme Parks and Recreation Committee.

This project was conceived and organized by Jim Gallagher, a longtime member of the foundation. Gallagher, who has a master’s degree in oceanography, served as an oceanographer at the Navy Underwater Systems Center in New London. His lifelong interest in environmental issues and education led him to this project to conserve Niantic Bay Beach.

In 2014, working with Frank Bohlen of the UConn marine sciences department, Gallagher took on the task to find ways to increase the long-term stability of the beach sand and to better understand the physical response of the Niantic Bay Beach to varying forces of tide, wind and storm surge.

Juliana Barrett of Connecticut Sea Grant, who agreed to mentor the monitoring of the development of native and invasive plant species on the beach, then gave a talk to East Lyme High School science students to explain why the foundation was undertaking this project and to induce student volunteers to assist in planting and monitoring test sites.

The first planting occurred in 2016 with help from East Lyme students led by teachers Laura Ashburn and Holly Buckley and UConn Avery Point students led by Barrett. This year’s planting sought to build on the success of the first planting by filling in bare areas with about 200 new plants.

The 2018 volunteers from Avery Point were Ryan Grant, Carly Puckett and Gabby Fiengo. East Lyme High school volunteers were Alec Kocinski, Nancy Harrington, Alexis Puckett, Madden Buckley, Lauren Frischling, Garry McGinnis and Becca Paggioli, under the supervision of science teacher Holly Buckley.

Jim Gallagher also assisted in the planting.

In addition to planting American beach grass in the dunes sector of the beach, the foundation has completed three annual topographical surveys of the Niantic Bay Beach area to assess sand retention and movement, with the assistance of Bohlen and the East Lyme Parks and Recreation Department.

To further understand beach dynamics, the foundation will use drone photos by UHD Film Productions to monitor ocean current effects on sand movement. UHD Film Productions filmed “A Bird’s Eye View of Niantic Bay Beach,” which is available on the foundation website.

Under Gallagher’s direction and with a grant from Connecticut Sea Grant, the foundation will continue to expand its effort in public education to raise awareness of Niantic Bay Beach and McCook’s Park Beach with pamphlets that are being developed to focus on beach vegetation, shells and seaweed.

Every summer, more than 100,000 people visit Niantic Bay beaches, while many more utilize the beaches year-round. The foundation is dedicated to increase their conservation knowledge and interest in the local ecosystem.

June Hoye is a member of the board of directors for the East Lyme Public Trust Foundation. For more information about the foundation, visit publictrustfoundation.org.

Kindness in Real Life is a regular feature in which we encourage writers to tell about kind acts being done in the community. To submit your own story and photos, email Lee Howard at l.howard@theday.com.

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