Students Participate in Tidal Area Restoration on Long Island Sound
Sacred Heart University (SHU) students led by Dr. Mark Beekey and Dr. Jennifer Mattei, associate professors of Biology, and Twan Leenders, Connecticut Audubon Conservation biologist, recently participated in an ongoing effort to restore coastal grassland and inter-tidal habitat at Stratford Point in Stratford. Once a haven for migratory birds, water fowl and other natural residents, Stratford Point – also known as Lordship Point – is located at the mouth of the Housatonic River Estuary. The restoration efforts are designed to protect the shoreline, which has seen the dunes, sea grasses, plants and other natural barriers eroded by man’s and nature’s hands.
Stratford Point once supported a substantial coastal bluff, tidal marsh and a patchwork of inter-tidal dune and coastal grassland habitats. According to Beekey, the coastal bluff was removed in the early 1900s, and over subsequent decades the tidal marsh was filled in. Stratford Point became home to the Remington Arms Gun Club in the early 1920s, which operated a trap and skeet range there from 1926 to 1986. Concerns over lead shot in the environment forced the club to cease operations, and accumulated lead shot was removed between 2000 and 2001. During this period, much of Stratford Point’s inter-tidal and upland habitat was excavated, cleaned and back-filled. This habitat was then regraded and seeded with fast-growing drought and salt-tolerant grasses.
The State of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection formed a protected habitat management area and educational facility open to the general public. In 2008, the Connecticut Audubon Society (CAS) was appointed as the caretaker for the site, overseeing habitat management and conservation practices and carrying out biological monitoring studies.
“Stratford Point provides an important resource and cover for a variety of wildlife, is an important migratory stopover site for many bird species and provides valuable wintering habitat for waterfowl,” Beekey explained. “Our restoration project focuses on restoring functional coastal grassland, dune and tidal marsh habitat. This will help create a dynamic mosaic of coastal habitats that benefit the plants and animals that rely on them and will help stabilize the shoreline.”
A dozen SHU students participated in the most recent planting effort in mid-May and returned the next day to install deer fencing and to stake trees. This summer the group will collect data on the organisms that utilize Stratford Point so they can compare restoration efforts to a reference site at Milford Point, right across the Housatonic River.
One of the students participating in the Stratford Point restoration was Jenny Gazerro, a graduate student in the Environmental Systems Analysis and Management (ESAM) master’s program at Sacred Heart. She’s been working on this project and related research since May 2011.
“The tree and shrub species we planted are all native plants and are now part of the upland coastal grassland system at Stratford Point,” Gazerro reported. “We want to encourage growth of native plant species and attract wildlife to the site. Working on a project like this from conception to the active restoration phase is an exciting opportunity. It’s been a great experience that will help me going forward in this field. I just never realized that planting trees would be such hard work!”
The conservation group, Beekey said, is seeking funding to support the purchase of additional coastal plant species (shrubs and trees) that will enhance the habitat for a variety of avian species including residential and migratory shorebirds, coastal grassland species, shrub land species and State-listed invertebrate species that are threatened by the loss of habitat. For more information, contact Mark Beekey at firstname.lastname@example.org.