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A research reserve for Southeastern Connecticut

On October 7th there will be an important virtual town hall meeting hosted jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the state's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP) and the University of Connecticut (UCONN).  The subject is the final report on the potential creation of a National Estuarine and Research Reserve in southeastern Connecticut.

At the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center we focus on the Connecticut River estuary and have partnered with the Pew Charitable Trusts to inform our public about the importance of a NERR.

A NERR is a joint federal/state partnership for the study of estuaries throughout the United States. If approved, Connecticut's will be the 30th in the system. For six years, the state has studied what areas offer unique characteristics that would benefit our residents and the entire system. The area selected to be included in the research reserve is hybrid, a part of Long Island Sound near Haley's Farm/ Bluff Point and the lower part of the Connecticut River estuary.

An estuary is a partially closed body of water where the salt waters of the sea mix with the fresh waters of our rivers. And, while we all grew up thinking that Long Island Sound is the ocean, it is really an estuary because of the vast volume of fresh water that flow into it, 70 percent of which comes through the Connecticut River.

Why is a NERR so important? In southeastern Connecticut, the most significant ecosystem is estuarine. Our estuaries provide valuable functions supporting marine, plant and wildlife by providing forage and habitat. They serve as breeding grounds and nurseries for a wide variety of animals, birds and fish. Their marsh systems provide protection from storm surge and sea level rise and are a proven sink for carbon emissions. Importantly, they are also key to the quality of life and the well-being of our communities ... hosting fishermen, hunters, recreational and commercial boaters and the tourism critical to the economic underpinning of our towns. In essence, our estuaries are intrinsic to our lives and that of our towns.

The establishment of a NERR in southeastern Connecticut will bring more research, education, and stewardship opportunities to the area. Already, Connecticut has a Department of Marine Sciences, the Connecticut Sea Grant program and the Connecticut Institute for Resiliency and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) at Avery Point, environmental and resiliency centers in Storrs and we have a number of environmental programs at our other colleges and universities.  A NERR will further connect research and encourage collaboration. It will also offer education programs for children and adults and more stewardship training enabling us to conserve our resources.

There is much we have yet to learn.We do not have to agree on the cause of a changing climate to know that we are suffering the consequences. What can we do to mitigate the effects?

As part of the NERR, we will be able to share information through a network that is well established. For instance, the Connecticut River has one of the most pristine and extensive marsh systems in the United States. There are scientists who believe that our Connecticut River communities are uniquely situated to absorb sea level rise because of those marshes. Thus, what we learn about their resiliency can be important elsewhere. Another important question: what is the current and expected impact of warming waters on our fishing and shellfish industries? The list goes on... and on.

All residents of our shoreline communities are stakeholders in the discussion that will take place on October 7th. It is important that NOAA, UCONN and CTDEEP hear from you. To learn more and see the schedule go to this link: https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Coastal-Resources/NERR/NERR-Home-Page

Claudia Weicker chairs the Board of Directors of the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center in Old Lyme. The center is a branch of the Connecticut Audubon Society.

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