Unique Installation to Be Completed as Part of Stratford Point Restoration Project

Biology Professor Mark Beekey, right, talks with Lucain Manea of URS Corporation during the reef ball installation at Stratford Point.

News Story: May 7, 2014

Sacred Heart University’s Biology Department, in collaboration with DuPont and the Connecticut Audubon Society (CAS), is beginning an innovative and experimental “living shoreline” installation at Stratford Point in Stratford, as part of a multi-year coastal habitat restoration project.

A living shoreline relies on natural methods for stemming erosion and severe storm damage and does not sever existing connections between land and sea while simultaneously improving habitat for birds and other wildlife.  Teams of students and community volunteers—led by Sacred Heart faculty—are working to retard the continued loss of natural habitat and dramatic decline in native shellfish and wildlife by installing four coastal habitats and thousands of native plants.

This project was reviewed and approved by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP), Office of Long Island Sound Programs and the Army Corps of Engineers.  Work at the site was begun on May 1, 2014.

Funding for the project comes, in part, from a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. This public-private grant program also pools funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Long Island Sound Funders Collaborative. As part of the grant program, SHU is adding an additional $88,000 through other non-federal fundraising efforts to complement the project. The majority of living shoreline construction is being provided by DuPont, owners of the upland.

The Stratford Point experimental project is associated with SHU’s Environmental Science & Management science master’s program (ESM). The SHU team leading this restoration includes Biology professors Jennifer Mattei, Mark Beekey, John Rapaglia and LaTina Steele. According to Mattei, director of ESM, the experimental shoreline restoration involves multiple graduate and undergraduate students, includes community volunteers and public education outreach and provides SHU students with a long-term research project of critical importance to coastal erosion concerns.  

Restoration efforts at Stratford Point, she stresses, have been under way since 2000. Stratford Point with 3000 feet of coastline is located on the Lordship peninsula of the Town of Stratford at the mouth of the Housatonic River Estuary and is surrounded on the south and west by Long Island Sound. The site, a former gun club, has gone through extensive remediation which involved removing a large quantity of lead shot. During the remediation, most of the salt marsh, intertidal sediments and upland were excavated, processed to remove lead shot and replaced, leaving several acres devoid of coastal habitats.

“This type of restoration is the first of its kind in Connecticut.  Upon completion, the site will comprise approximately one-half acre of coastal woodland, including a small freshwater pond, surrounding coastal grass and meadow mix with a dune system on the northeast side stabilized with beach grass” says Mattei.  “In front of the dune will be a four-acre marsh. The living shoreline will be framed, in the intertidal zone, with 150 feet of hollow, cement Reef Balls that will protect a newly planted salt marsh and enhance fish habitat.”  

Designed by DuPont engineers and SHU Biology Department faculty, this new type of living shoreline, according to Mattei, will allow the dissipation of wave energy, reducing erosion and increasing fine-grained sediment deposition for salt marsh colonization. It also will speed the establishment of the marine estuary community and make an ideal habitat for the colonization of a number of species, including shorebird, terrapin, fish and shellfish populations.

Mattei explains that the material used to make the reef components creates a high-strength, abrasion-resistant concrete that has a pH similar to natural sea water but lower than regular concrete, which could inhibit the settlement and growth of marine species. Micro silica gives this product, called Reef Balls, an expected life of 500 or more years. Additionally, Reef Balls are made without using any iron rebar that would cause cement to eventually degrade in sea water.

As an essential part of this research, SHU undergraduate and graduate students will assist with the plantings, monitor the site by measuring biotic and abiotic changes and help manage and analyze the data. Graduate students will be presenting the results of their summer work at the annual Coastal Society meeting in the fall. Undergraduates will be presenting at the Eastern College Science Conference and SHU Academic Festival.

The Stratford Point restoration is one of many projects funded through the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, with one objective being the restoration of critical fish and wildlife habitat, including intertidal marsh, coastal forest, grasslands and freshwater wetlands. Additionally, the Connecticut Audubon Society will assist in the monitoring of wildlife populations and support education efforts as part of a focused five-year joint effort to gauge the success of this unique experimental restoration.

“This innovative technology will increase biodiversity in the Housatonic estuary area, improving habitat for birds and other wildlife, and also strengthen Stratford Point’s resilience to future storms,” said Connecticut Audubon Society President Alexander R. Brash. “We’re proud to be involved with Sacred Heart University in this project.”

The results of the research and restoration, Mattei adds, will be shared with federal, state and local municipalities, private non-profit groups and with education programs via an internet website in an effort to increase public awareness of the importance of estuarine ecosystems in Long Island Sound.  CTDEEP, Mattei adds, is keenly interested in exploring the installment of “living shorelines” to see if it can help prevent the loss of coastal habitats related to the effects of climate change. SHU and CAS collaborate on science literacy programs for the public, as well as the training of undergraduate and graduate students in conservation and environmental science.