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    Friday, January 27, 2023

    Small steps can mean big results for climate change

    More frequent severe storms and sea level rise are combining to seriously endanger one of southeastern Connecticut’s most valuable assets - its shoreline.

    The impact of climate change on the state’s shoreline is dramatic. The Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation at the University of Connecticut predicts sea level will rise by one foot, eight inches in the state by the year 2050.

    Here in southeastern Connecticut, there also is plenty of evidence of shoreline erosion. Those tracking erosion on Mason’s Island in Stonington, for example, say four feet of lawn near one of the island’s main roadways has been lost in about two years. Similarly, four to five feet of Thames River shoreline at Connecticut College has eroded since 2018.

    In the face of such dire facts, even relatively small or experimental erosion control projects are extremely important. Officials are hopeful two such projects - one on the northern Connecticut College shoreline and the other on the eastern side of Mason’s Island - will have positive results.

    At the Connecticut College waterfront, 150 concrete reef balls have been placed in an effort to slow down wave action and foster sand deposits. The balls, which are the work of biology professor Maria Rosa, resemble wiffleballs and have been dubbed Camels’ Reef after the college mascot.

    A first set of the balls were placed in October 2021 and more were placed in July and September of 2022. The ones placed earlier already are showing positive results. An area that was once all gravel is now buried in three to four centimeters of sand.

    On Mason’s Island, a floating marsh mat called a Tutu was placed in October in an effort to foil erosion there and preserve the Chippechaug Trail, a roadway that provides the only egress to the southern part of the island. Kristin Foster, who heads the fire district’s Shoreline Protection Task Force, said some 120 houses, the Mason’s Island Yacht Club and Enders Island, all are located south of a main point of vulnerability for erosion on the island.

    The marsh mat is a sphere of marine grade foam surrounded by wood chips and coconut fibers, wrapped in nylon mesh and seeded with salt marsh grass. The hope is that underwater plants, along with various marine animals such as oysters and mussels, will attach to it and create a micro-ecosystem that will help reduce wave action, and thus shoreline erosion, in the vicinity.

    We are thankful for those making these efforts as so much more than expensive homes and recreational vessels are being threatened by shoreline erosion and sea level rise. At Connecticut College, for example, a Pequot burial ground, an athletic field and the tracks that serve a freight rail line also are at risk of disappearing if erosion continues unchecked.

    What’s been achieved so far are just the first steps. Some 50 Tutus are estimated to be needed to fully protect the coves along the eastern shore of Mason’s Island. Rosa said some 250 more reef balls should be placed along the Connecticut College waterfront.

    Still, we commend these initial efforts and encourage their continuation. We also hope officials in other shoreline neighborhoods emulate them.

    First steps can be the start of big results that will help slow or control the worst iFirst steps can be the start of big results that will help slow or control the worst impacts of climate change. Besides, doing nothing simply isn’t an option.

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