Research

Research explores marsh migration process

As rising seas push coastal marshes inland, the yards and woodlands next door are changing.
But not much is known about how this happens. That’s why Shimon Anisfeld and colleagues at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies began trying to tease out some of the details of the process by looking at marsh migration at two state parks, Sherwood Island in Westport and Hammonassett Beach in Madison.
On Sept. 12, he presented findings thus far from his research, which is being funded by Connecticut Sea Grant, to the Long Island Sound Habitat Restoration & Stewardship Work Group at Connecticut College in New London. The group is part of the Long Island Sound Study, a partnership of Connecticut, New York and the Environmental Protection Agency.
At Sherwood Island, Anisfeld and his team compared migration patterns at marshes bounded by lawns verses those next to forests that were getting flooded by high tides more frequently in recent years. Since lawn areas tended to be flatter than the woodlands, determining how much of the change was due to differences in the slope was tricky, he said. The research did, however, find differences in the mix of marsh vegetation migrating inland into lawns versus woodlands, probably a result of soil and salinity differences.
In another phase of the work still underway, Anisfeld and his team are using marsh core samples and the presence of single-celled marine organisms called foraminifera to measure how far the marshes at Sherwood Island and Hammonassett have moved vertically and horizontally since 1963.
Overall, the research will help inform management practices at areas with tidal marshes, as land use officials seek the best ways to preserve these critical habitats in the face of sea level rise.
Two other presentations at the workshop dealt with other aspects of changing marsh habitats. Scott Graves of Southern Connecticut State University and Mark Paine, director of public works for West Haven, described restoration efforts at Cove River Marsh. Ron Rozsa, retired coastal ecologist for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, shared his recent research into the long-term effects of ditches dug into the marshes at Barn Island Wildlife Management Area in Stonington that took place in Colonial times and in the 1930s.
After the presentations, the group toured the Mamacoke Island marsh in Waterford, which is owned by Connecticut College.
To read more about Anisfeld’s work, visit: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.13398/full.

Special issue of journal highlights resilience symposium research

Research from a recent symposium supported by Connecticut Sea Grant, titled “Resilience and the Big Picture: Governing and Financing Innovations for Long Island Sound and Beyond,” has been published in a special issue of the Sea Grant Law and Policy Journal.
The six articles in the journal are based on the presentations and panels at the April 22, 2016, symposium at the University of Connecticut Law School in Hartford. They explore the challenges and opportunities of embedding resiliency principals into the planning, stewardship and economic viability of the Sound and other coastal areas.
Syma Ebbin, organizer of the symposium and research coordinator at Connecticut Sea Grant, wrote the introduction and co-wrote an article on emerging marine spatial planning efforts in the Sound with Nathaniel Trumbull, UConn geography professor. Ebbin is also a professor in the UConn Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics. Other articles discuss how to finance resilience, flood insurance reform and policies that encourage property owners to retreat from coastal areas.
The journal can be found at: http://nsglc.olemiss.edu/sglpj/vol8no1/sgjpj-v8.1.pdf

Project creating chemical, physical profile of Long Island Sound

Marine sciences graduate student Yan Ji lowers a CTD profiler into the waters of Long Island Sound during an Aug. 24 research cruise.
Marine sciences graduate student Yan Jia lowers a CTD profiler into the waters of Long Island Sound during an Aug. 24 research cruise.

Groton - A major two-year research project to profile the water chemistry on Long Island Sound as it changes with seasons and tidal flows completed its first phase in the eastern Sound this summer.
Project leaders Penny Vlahos and Michael Whitney, both marine sciences professors at UConn Avery Point, in May 2016 began the series of research cruises to collect water samples from five locations in the eastern Sound across

Prof. Penny Vlahos fills a sample bottle with water from Long Island Sound.
Prof. Penny Vlahos fills a sample bottle with water from Long Island Sound.

different tidal cycles in the spring, summer and fall. The process will be repeated in the central and western Sound. The information will be used to create a complete profile that will inform efforts to improve water quality and establish a baseline for conditions in the Sound that can be used to monitor how it is being affected by climate change and other factors, Vlahos said. Their research is funded by Connecticut Sea Grant.
Samples collected for the project will be analysed to quantify the nitrogen, phosphorous and carbon levels and learn about pathways by which nutrients and carbon are transported across the estuary.

Measurements of the physical characteristics of the waterway through the tides are being taken in tandem with the water samples, so the two data sets can be paired.
"We're basically trying to figure out what goes in and out of Long Island Sound," Vlahos said. "These are the dynamics we don't yet understand."
A full-length article about the project will be published in the upcoming Fall/Winter issue of Wrack Lines.

A rosette holder for Niskin bottles is lowered into Long Island Sound to collect water samples.

Chris Mills, a UConn undergraduate student and crew member aboard the RV Lowell Weicker, lowers a rosette holder filled with Niskin bottles to collect water sampels from Long Island Sound while marine technician Dave Cohen looks on during an Aug. 24 research cruise.

Marine sciences students fill sample bottles with water from Long Island Sound collected during an Aug. 24 research cruise.

Allison Byrd, left, and Allie Staniec, both marine sciences graduate students, fill sample bottles with water from Long Island Sound during an Aug. 24 research cruise.

Private landowners hold key to future of coastal marshes

Vulnerable marshes, vulnerable homes

photo of Fence Creek marsh in Madison, Conn.

Fence Creek in Madison, Conn., is one of many tidal marshes near neighborhoods vulnerable to sea level rise. (Photo by Chris Elphick.)

While popular with conservation groups, coastal easements that prevent development in order to protect marshland are not favored by property owners, according to a new study by the University of Connecticut and Virginia Tech. Since private landowners will be critical partners in efforts to save coastal marshes in the face of climate change and rising sea levels, identifying the best strategies will be essential to achieving success, the research shows. The study was funded by Connecticut Sea Grant, UConn, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation Environmental Fellowship.
The findings, based on the results of surveys conducted in 2015 of 1,002 owners of Connecticut coastal properties, suggest that relying on education about sea level rise and the ecosystem benefits of marshes alone will not protect land from changes brought about by storms and climate change. Landowners in the study harbor skeptical attitudes about granting easements, based on concerns that they will be offered a fair price in exchange for keeping land as open space where marshes can migrate as seas rise. They also worry that environmental organizations that obtain the easements “might not act fairly or transparently in their efforts to encourage tidal marsh migration,” the researchers write in an article published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of Aug. 7.
The study, conducted by Christopher Field and Chris Elphick of UConn and Ashley Dayer of Virginia Tech, emphasizes that strategies that assume marshes will migrate inland won’t work without the cooperation of private landowners. Whether they decide to leave room for marshes to move inland or instead build seawalls that harden shorelines means either saving tidal wetlands and their many ecological, economic and recreational benefits, or losing them altogether. In the study area alone – the Connecticut coast – there are an estimated 30,000 landowners in the zone projected to become tidal marsh by 2100, and millions of people globally live near tidal marshes. The survey was conducted following two major storms – Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – so the results are a valid measure of whether that experience influences attitudes about taking action to lessen future risks. While landowners whose properties flooded during the hurricane were 1.4 times more likely to say they may be willing to sell their vulnerable land outright, this result may overstate what people would actually do. For example, although the study did not investigate past landowner behavior, the researchers note that fewer than 100 properties in the study area were acquired during federal buyout programs implemented after the recent hurricanes, though many more were eligible.
If land protection agreements with nonprofits and government agencies aren’t the answer, what offers more promise for the future of marshes? Surveyed landowners responded favorably to the idea of restrictive covenants, even though they typically do not include financial incentives. Under restrictive covenants, an entire neighborhood agrees to forgo building seawalls and other shoreline armoring structures. These armoring strategies can be damaging in the long run, because they can divert erosion and flooding to adjoining properties and natural habitats. Coastal landowners also liked the notion of future interest agreements. Under these programs, private landowners agree to accept fair market value of their property at the time of signing if future flooding reduces the value by more than half. That future flooding would allow dry upland to turn into coastal marsh.
The article, “Landowner behavior can determine the success of conservation strategies for ecosystem migration under sea-level rise,” offers broad implications for how to best design programs to mitigate other climate change effects. Field, a post-doctoral fellow in the UConn Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, was lead author of the study. Elphick is an associate professor of conservation biology in UConn EEB and the Center of Biological Risk, and Dayer is assistant professor of human dimensions at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.
The primary contact for the researchers is: Christopher Field: Christopher.field@uconn.edu.
Prof. Chris Elphick can be reached at: chris.elphick@uconn.edu (best option); cell: (860) 985-4347
Prof. Dayer can be reached through the Virginia Tech communications office: Heidi Ketler, Interim Director of Communications, College of Natural Resources and Environment, (540) 231-6157.
For copy of the article, send a request to: pnasnews@nas.edu.

Clinging Jellyfish Increasing in Groton CT area

Clinging jellyfish, a small, potentially toxic, gelatinous species that tends to live in or near eelgrass beds, are increasing in Mumford Cove and have been sighted in other places in Groton, Connecticut, according to researcher Annette Govindarajan of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Supported by an award from Connecticut Sea Grant, Govindarajan is studying the local population of these jellies. If you encounter clinging jellyfish, avoid contact and if you are stung and experience a reaction, you may want to consider seeking medical treatment. Download Clinging Jelly FAQ sheet - June2017
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clinging jelly

Clinging jellyfish