State of the Beach/State Reports/CT/Beach Ecology
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To the casual observer, beaches may simply appear as barren stretches of sand - beautiful, but largely devoid of life or ecological processes. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Sandy beaches not only provide habitat for numerous species of plants and animals, they also serve as breeding grounds for many species that are not residential to the beach. Additionally, beaches function as areas of high primary production. Seaweeds and other kinds of algae flourish in shallow, coastal waters, and beaches serve as repositories for these important inputs to the food chain. In this way, beaches support a rich web of life including worms, bivalves, and crustaceans. This community of species attracts predators such as seabirds, which depend on sandy beaches for their foraging activities. In short, sandy beaches are diverse and productive systems that serve as a critical link between marine and terrestrial environments.
Erosion of the beach, whether it is “natural” erosion or erosion exacerbated by interruptions to historical sand supply, can negatively impact beach ecology by removing habitat. Other threats to ecological systems at the beach include beach grooming and other beach maintenance activities. Even our attempts at beach restoration may disrupt the ecological health of the beach. Imported sand may smother natural habitat. The grain size and color of imported sand may influence the reproductive habits of species that utilize sandy beaches for these functions.
In the interest of promoting better monitoring of sandy beach systems, the Surfrider Foundation would like to see the implementation of a standardized methodology for assessing ecological health. We believe that in combination, the identified metrics such as those described below can function to provide a revealing picture of the status of beach systems. We believe that a standardized and systematic procedure for assessing ecological health is essential to meeting the goals of ecosystem-based management. And, we believe that the adoption of such a procedure will function to better inform decision makers, and help bridge the gap that continues to exist between science and policy. The Surfrider Foundation proposes that four different metrics be used to complete ecological health assessments of sandy beaches. These metrics include
- quality of habitat,
- status of ‘indicator’ species,
- maintenance of species richness, and
- management practices.
It is envisioned that beach systems would receive a grade (i.e., A through F), which describes the beach’s performance against each of these metrics. In instances where information is unavailable, beaches would be assigned an incomplete for that metric. Based on the beach’s overall performance against the four metrics, an “ecological health” score would be identified.
Beach grooming practices below the High Tide Line are regulated through the Structures, Dredging and Fill in Tidal, Coastal or Navigable Waters permit program. Coastal municipalities and beach associations are advised to conduct beach maintenance consistent with protection of breeding horseshoe crabs.
The state also has policies related to beach fill that consider the potential impacts of beach fill projects on beach ecology. Criteria used to evaluate permit applications for fill projects include:
- Adverse impacts of degrading beaches and dunes through significant alteration of their natural characteristics or function.
- Degrading natural erosion patterns through the significant alteration of littoral transport of sediments in terms of deposition or source reduction.
- Preserving the dynamic form and integrity of natural beach systems in order to provide critical wildlife habitats, a reservoir for sand supply, a buffer for coastal flooding and erosion, and valuable recreational opportunities.
- Insuring that coastal uses are compatible with the capabilities of the system and do not unreasonably interfere with natural processes of erosion and sedimentation.
- Encouraging the restoration and enhancement of disturbed or modified beach systems.
The Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program provides financial assistance to municipalities and nonprofit land conservation organizations to acquire land for open space and to water companies to acquire land to be classified as Class I or Class II water supply property. Grants may be for the purchase of land that is: 1) valuable for recreation, forestry, fishing, conservation of wildlife or natural resources; 2) a prime natural feature of the state's landscape; 3) habitat for native plant or animal species listed as threatened, endangered or of special concern; 4) a relatively undisturbed outstanding example of a native ecological community which is uncommon; 5) important for enhancing and conserving water quality; 6) valuable for preserving local agricultural heritage; or 7) eligible to be classified as Class I or Class II watershed land.
Careful attention should be given to the criteria previously listed and to: 1) protection of land adjacent to and complementary to existing open space, preserved agricultural land or Class I or Class II water company land; 2) proximity to urban areas; 3) land vulnerable to development; 4) consistency with the state's plan of conservation and development; and 5) lands with multiple values such as water supply protection and recreation, or forest preservation and fishing access.
The Bridgeport City Council is considering holding a referendum on whether Pleasure Beach should be sold and preserved as a federal wildlife refuge. A resolution to place the proposed sale to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may be placed on the November 2008 ballot. Voters would be asked if they "support the sale of Pleasure Beach to a public or private party for the purposes of maintaining wildlife and preservation." Separately, the Stratford Town Council will hold a binding referendum that will go to voters in November 2008 asking whether the town should sell abutting 35-acre Long Beach West to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for at least $10 million.
Connecticut has several programs in place for collecting data related to beach ecology. These include:
- Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Natural Diversity Data Base
- Connecticut DEP's Geological & Natural History Survey
- Required submission of environmental data pertinent to proposed development activities that are subject to review under DEP's coastal regulatory program.
The state has identified 'priority' species to monitor, but not necessarily as indicators of beach health. These species are all state-listed endangered, threatened and special concern species, as shown here and described further here.
Baseline information on abundance and distribution of these species has been collected. The piping plover and least tern are surveyed yearly. Other animals and plants are surveyed every 5 years.
Connecticut has completed biodiversity inventories for sandy beaches. An Ecoregions Study of the coast conducted in the 1970s evaluated beaches and dunes. Since that time, resources have been evaluated on a site-specific basis, often related to coastal development regulatory review. DEP recently completed a 2-year survey of beach invertebrates.
Connecticut has identified several 'critical habitats' that overlap or fall within sandy beach systems. These habitats are beaches, dunes, tidal wetlands, and coastal forests. Criteria for designation are rare plant and animal habitat. Polygon mapping is conducted of species distribution and use.
CDEP's Kellogg Environmental Center in Derby coordinates a variety of projects in which students and citizens conduct environmental monitoring, inventorying and research activities to study the environment. These include the Beach Profiles project, in which participants provide the Department of Environmental Protection with data regarding marine invertebrate inventories. At the same time, participants expand their knowledge by studying monitoring and inventorying techniques, identifying organisms and analyzing data. For more information, check out the school program offerings or contact the Center for Environmental Research Education at 203-734-2513.
A collection of reports, databases, and data layers prepared by consultants for the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative offers a birds-eye view of sandy beach and tidal inlet habitats within the U.S. Atlantic Coast breeding range of the endangered piping plover based on imagery from Google Earth, Google Maps, state agencies, municipalities, and private organizations. By comparing the location, status, and condition of potential plover breeding grounds from Maine to North Carolina during three distinct time periods -- before Hurricane Sandy, immediately after the storm, and three years after post-storm recovery efforts -- these inventories provide a habitat baseline that can help resource managers plan for future change.
Other Coastal Ecosystems
A CDEP educational program that is spreading nationwide is their No Child Left Inside program, a special initiative to encourage Connecticut families and visitors alike to enjoy all the recreational resources and outdoor activities available in Connecticut's state parks, forests, and waterways.
Near the coast, the Sound School in New Haven and the Bridgeport Regional Vocational Aquaculture School are using Long Island Sound as their learning environment to provide vocational and technical education in marine trades, aquaculture, and the marine technology and science industries to high school students.
Governor M. Jodi Rell announced in March 2008 that $804,000 in federal funding had been awarded to the Connecticut DEP for a program to restore sensitive tidal wetlands in the state. The funding from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) will be used by the DEP to restore 726 acres of tidal wetlands degraded by the invasive exotic plant Phragmites at three Wildlife Management Areas along the lower Connecticut River and at two state parks on Connecticut’s coast. The award money will be used to restore tidal wetlands at Silver Sands State Park in Milford, Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Plum Bank Wildlife Management Area in Old Saybrook and the Back River and Upper Island portions of Great Island Wildlife Management Area in Old Lyme.
Connecticut's Explore Long Island Sound website allows you to virtually experience what lies beneath the waters of Long Island Sound (LIS), a coastal estuary that encompasses one of the most dynamic spots on earth, where the sea meets the land. Through the use of a range of technologies that have been used to study LIS ranging from broad scale mapping sonar to close-up video cameras, this site provides a glimpse of varied topography and fascinating diversity of the Sound. The Discover Habitats map links to the major habitat types in LIS and provides beautiful images and representative video clips from these habitats found in the Sound. The Explore Underwater tab links to several ways to virtually experience the diversity of life and landscapes of the Sound.
NOAA's Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps provide a concise summary of coastal resources that are at risk if an oil spill occurs nearby. Examples of at-risk resources include biological resources (such as birds and shellfish beds), sensitive shorelines (such as marshes and tidal flats), and human-use resources (such as public beaches and parks).
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Services Center, in partnership with NatureServe and others are developing the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS), a standard ecological classification system that is universally applicable for coastal and marine systems and complementary to existing wetland and upland systems.
Office of Long Island Sound Programs
Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
79 Elm Street
Hartford, CT 06106-5127
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