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The Nature Conservancy celebrates the establishment of Connecticut’s first National Estuarine Research Reserve

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Friday announced the establishment of a new National Estuarine Research Reserve along the southeastern coast, the first in Connecticut.

The program is designed to protect and study estuaries and their surrounding wetlands — unique ecosystems that exist in the places where rivers meet the sea. The National Estuarine Research Reserve System is a partnership between NOAA and coastal states. NOAA provides guidance and funding, while state departments or universities work with local partners to manage the sites.

Located along the southeastern coast of the state, the newly announced reserve spans the lower Connecticut River, the lower Thames River, most of the Connecticut waters of eastern Long Island Sound and western Fishers Island Sound. It also encompasses state-owned land in Groton, Lyme and Old Lyme. The boundaries of the Connecticut NERR also include traditional lands of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Mohegan Tribe, Western Nehântick Tribal Nation, Hammonasset Tribe, Wappinger Tribe and Wangunks Tribe.

The Connecticut NERR encompasses a total of 52,160 acres and a range of ecosystems, including coastal forests and grasslands, intertidal marshes, beaches and bluffs, rocky reefs and seagrass meadows, including 36% of the vitally important but imperiled Long Island Sound eelgrass ecosystem.

The new reserve is the 30th in the national reserve system.

“Establishing the Connecticut NERR is a critical step toward enhancing the preservation of Connecticut’s coastal and marine habitats, wildlife and heritage,” said Chantal Collier, director of marine systems conservation at The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. “The Nature Conservancy is proud to have worked closely with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the University of Connecticut, NOAA and other partners to bring this new level of protection to the Sound that will help us address the challenges facing our estuary and sustain its benefits for local communities.”

“Now, we are turning our attention to supporting effective implementation of the Connecticut NERR Management Plan that was developed by state and local partners," Collier said. "Successful implementation will help ensure that this reserve realizes its environmental, research, and educational potential.”

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