Sacred Heart University and Connecticut Audubon Receive LI Sound Futures Fund Grant for Stratford Point

October 2011 — Dr. Mark Beekey and Dr. Jennifer Mattei of Sacred Heart University’s Biology Department and the Environmental Systems Analysis and Management Graduate Program (ESAM) along with Dr. Twan Leenders, Conservation Biologist with the Connecticut Audubon Society, are the recipients of a $54,854 grant from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund and the Environmental Protection Agency.  The grant, which was announced by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Long Island Sound Study at a ceremony at the Peabody Museum in New Haven, will be used to develop a plan to restore coastal habitat at Stratford Point.

Stratford Point is located at the mouth of the Housatonic River Estuary and has historically supported a substantial coastal bluff, tidal marsh and a patchwork of dunes and coastal grassland habitat. In the early 1900s, the coastal bluff was removed and the tidal marsh was ditched and filled in during subsequent decades. Stratford Point became home to Remington Arms Gun Club in the early 1920s. The club operated a trap and skeet range there for 60 years until concerns over lead shot in the environment forced them to shut down. Accumulated lead shot in the upland and intertidal portions of the site was removed during large-scale remediation in 2000-2001, and small-scale spot removal of residual lead shot is ongoing in some sections of the site.

DuPont, the company that currently owns the site, placed a conservation restriction on the site in December 2001. This restriction is granted to the State of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection and describes the ultimate purpose of Stratford Point as 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. CAS also coordinates its statewide habitat management and conservation efforts from their Science & Conservation office located at Stratford Point.

Drs. Beekey, Mattei, and Leenders intend to address the cumulative effects of almost a century of anthropogenic habitat alteration by developing a plan to restore functional coastal grassland, dune and tidal marsh habitat to Stratford Point that will create a dynamic mosaic of coastal habitats. This will benefit the plants and animals that rely on the habitats and will stabilize the shoreline, Dr. Beekey said.

The project will begin with the development of a management plan to guide the restoration, he said. Development of the restoration plan will be supported by graduate students in the ESAM program.  Jenny Gazerro, a current ESAM graduate student spent this past summer collecting baseline data that will be used to evaluate the success of future restoration activities.

The success of the project also depends on matching funding in the amount of nearly $62,000. The Nature Conservancy has already contributed $24,000 to the cause and the DuPont Corporation has provided significant material and financial support for the ongoing restoration efforts.  Dr. Beekey notes that ”this is a unique project that involves a corporation, a university and a non-profit organization working together to restore one of the State’s most threatened habitats.  It’s an exciting opportunity for hands-on research and application for our graduate students,” Dr. Beekey said.

He noted that the project also fits in with Sacred Heart’s commitment to community service. “Through this project, students will not only receive a hands-on education, but will also have the opportunity to donate their time to an exciting and important restoration project.”

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