March 26, 2019

Public Hearing Scheduled Tonight for Proposed Estuary Reserve in Old Lyme, Groton

Great Island, Old Lyme. Photo by Bob MacDonnell.

Some of the best wildlife habitat on the Connecticut River estuary and in southeastern Connecticut, including coves, islands, and marshes in Old Lyme, are included in a new national reserve created to bring in funding for scientific research and conservation education.

The National Estuarine Research Reserve encompasses the Lord Cove and Great Island Wildlife Management Areas in Old Lyme, and Bluff Point and Haley Farm State Parks in Groton. The research reserve is a project of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the University of Connecticut, and Sea Grant.

The Connecticut Audubon Society is calling on residents to support the new reserve at a public meeting scheduled for this evening, Nov. 13, in Groton. Officials will explain the proposal and gauge public support.

It is set for 6 to 8 p.m., in the auditorium of the Academic Building, second floor, at UConn’s Avery Point Campus, 1080 Shennecossett Road, Groton.  The schedule for tonight’s meeting is as follows:

Welcome/Meeting Goals
6:00 – 6:10
NERR System Overview (NOAA)
6:10 – 6:20
CT Selection Process (CT)
·         Big Picture (Teams/Members, Major steps, timeline)
·         Preliminary Selection Process and Results
·         Detailed Screening & Results
6:20 – 6:40
Site Overview (CT)
6:40 – 6:50
Next Steps: (CT & NOAA)
·         Nomination submission to NOAA
·         Management Plan & EIS Efforts
6:50 – 7:00
Public Q&A / Comments / Discussion
7:00 – 7:40
Wrap-up & Adjourn
7:45 – 8:00

As much as $1 million a year in funding for scientific research and monitoring, education, and stewardship will be earmarked for both sections of the reserve, to be used by scientists and others engaged in researching water quality, habitat quality, fish and wildlife, and other topics.

The reserve will also be a source of funding, materials, and field trip locations for local education programs such as Connecticut Audubon’s Science in Nature, which has reached more than 75,000 school children in Connecticut and has thrived particularly in Old Lyme and New London, the heart of the estuarine reserve area.

Officials made the announcement of the reserve recently after a two and a half-year review. Two members of the board of Connecticut Audubon’s Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center in Old Lyme – Ralph Wood and John Forbis – were on the committee of local experts who recommended the sites. Others on the committee included representatives of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the University of Connecticut, and Connecticut College.

The inclusion of the Old Lyme areas is significant because the lower Connecticut River is globally important for conservation. Estuaries in general are among the most biologically productive ecosystems on earth. The mouth of the Connecticut River and the estuary are unusual if not unique in the eastern United States because, without a big city on its shores, it has remained relatively undeveloped. The result is a vast area of extraordinarily high quality habitat.

Ospreys, terns, herons, eagles, and egrets feed and nest along the river. Ducks and geese find food and shelter in the coves over the winter. Perhaps as many as a million tree swallows roost in the reeds in late summer. The river itself teems with striped bass, blue-claw crabs, migrating herring and shad, and endangered species such as Atlantic sturgeon.

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s marine headquarters in Old Lyme and the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus in Groton are included in the reserve.

Directions and Parking for tonight’s meeting:
After 5 p.m., visitors may park for free in any on-campus space not designated as reserved, restricted, or limited.
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