Research

A list of research projects funded by CT Sea Grant can be found here.

Currently Funded CT Sea Grant Research (2022-2024)

Researcher Hans Dam examines copepod under the microscope.
Researcher Hans Dam examines copepod under the microscope. Nancy Balcom / Connecticut Sea Grant

Project Title: “Copepod Adaptation to Climate Change: No Free Lunch?”

Researchers:

Lead PI: Hans Dam, UConn Dept. of Marine Sciences

Co-PI: Michael Finiguerra, UConn Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Summary: Building on earlier research on the copepod species Acartia tonsa, this research examines the costs of adaptation to future climate conditions that can constrain copepod evolutionary rescue, limit population resilience and consequently reduce fisheries and aquaculture yields. Population fitness is being tested after prolonged exposure to 100 generations of ocean warming, ocean acidification and combined warming and acidification conditions. The research is also testing if adaptation to these climate change conditions diminishes population fitness, and whether there are differences in adaptation costs among ocean warming, ocean acidification and combined warming and acidification conditions. Tests are also being conducted to discover any hidden costs of adaptation to the three climate change conditions manifested as increased susceptibility to toxic phytoplankton and reduced thermal tolerance.

 

Project Title: “Restoration of Kelp Forests and Associated Ecosystem Services in Long Island Sound”

Researchers:

Lead PI: Sean Grace, Southern Connecticut State University

Co-PI: Colette Feehan, Montclair State University

Kelp forests provide ecosystem services for many marine species.
Kelp forests provide ecosystem services for many marine species. Photo: NOAA

Summary: The use of “green gravel” as a kelp forest restoration technique is being tested on degraded rocky reefs in Long Island Sound that were formerly dominated by kelp forests but now dominated by algal turfs, to restore the kelp habitat and associated ecosystem services. A partnership with kelp aquaculture farmers is being employed by incorporating locally developed and validated commercial

kelp seed production methods into the project. Local high school students and teachers from the Bridgeport Regional Vocational Aquaculture School and Project Oceanology are also participating in the research as an educational project. The goal of the project is to provide a “proof of concept” for the green gravel technique in Long Island Sound that can be upscaled in the future to restore kelp forests along the degraded Sound coastline. To accomplish broad kelp forest restoration goals, the “green gravel” technique must be piloted locally to establish the conditions under which it will be most effective.

Project Title: “Toward a Deeper Understanding of Human Connections with Ocean Environments: Ocean Identity (OI) as a Novel Construct, Research Instrument, and Assessment Tool”

Researchers:

Lead PI: Miriah Russo Kelly, Southern Connecticut State University

Co-PIs: Jo-Marie Kasinak, Sacred Heart University; Emma McKinley, Cardiff University

Summary: This research seeks to create a model for measuring the construct of ocean identity by providing practical, relevant and timely tools for environmental organization partners. Researchers will first survey academic literature pertaining to the construct of ocean literacy, and then design an instrument to measure it. Data will be collected broadly to validate the instrument and include analysis of differences in race, gender and age. The data will be used for an additional phase of the research that will use Project Limulus as a case study platform for implementing the survey in a way that is appropriate for informal educational settings. The project will also include development of a toolkit that could be used by many organizations to provide informal engagement, outreach and education around ocean issues. In developing a validated, reliable instrument for measuring ocean identity, the researchers seek to establish effective ways for measuring complex human-ocean connections.

Black sea bass are becoming more abundant in Long Island Sound.
Black sea bass are becoming more abundant in Long Island Sound. Photo: NOAA Fisheries

Title: “Increasing Sea Bass Abundance in Long Island Sound: A Local or Broader Regional Phenomenon?”

Researchers:

Lead PI: Hannes Baumann, UConn Dept. of Marine Sciences

Co-PIs: Deborah Pacileo, Jacqueline Benway, CT Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection

Summary: This project is addressing questions raised by the sharply rising abundance of black sea bass in Long Island Sound trawl surveys. The first question is whether the Sound could be a particularly suitable ecosystem for an especially rapid invasion of this warm-water adapted meso-predator. To answer this question, researchers are collecting an analyzing age-structure data for black sea bass from the Sound for length, growth and sex, analyzing historical data and comparing abundance trends from other regions. This project is helping to fill a critical gap in Sound-specific black sea bass age data. This serves the important work of developing accurate updated stock assessments needed by marine fisheries regulators. The relationship of environmental factors such as salinity and temperature to abundance is also being explored, and information on survey efforts in other regions is being gathered and analyzed for indications of abundance trends.

Title: “Risk Averse or Risk Enduring? Understanding the Relationship between Long Island Sound Communities and Flooding to Support Equitable Risk Mitigation Planning”

Researcher:

PI: James Knighton, UConn Dept. of Natural Resources and the Environment

Summary: To advance equitable flooding solutions across Long Island Sound, this research is using socio-environmental models, demographic data and historical records from the National Flood insurance Program (NFIP) to characterize the attitudes and behaviors relevant to a community’s strategy for flood risk mitigation and determine barriers to NFIP participation. Researchers are studying seven Long Island Sound communities protected by coastal surge barriers to determine whether the protection that these barriers provide from moderate floods leads to increased risk when communities relax precautionary behaviors. The project will also develop predictions on how community behaviors might shift in response to future storm conditions of sea level rise combined with more frequent high surge events. This work will be complemented with an examination of the hypothesis that more frequent flooding will drive increased awareness and more community desire to participate in flood protection programs.

Title: “Assessment of PFAS Food Web Uptake in Priority Shellfish Areas: The Roles of Nutrient Status and Trophic Transfer”

Researchers:

Lead PI: Christopher Perkins, UConn Center for Environmental Science and Engineering

Co-PI: Jessica Brandt, UConn Dept. of Natural Resources and the Environment

Summary: This research will address the lack of information about bioaccumulation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in coastal Long Island Sound species, in particular shellfish harvested for human consumption and phytoplankton that form the basis of the Sound’s food web. The study seeks to advance understanding of how nutrient-contaminant interactions mediate PFAS accumulation and trophic transfer to shellfish in coastal food webs by investigating how phytoplankton responses to shifts in nutrient status influence the magnitude of PFAS uptake by these primary producers at the base of the LIS food web, which are direct sources of exposure to CT shellfish species. The research will consist of a baseline assessment of PFAS contaminants in shellfish from regulated beds; an assessment of variations in phytoplankton and shellfish PFAS concentrations; and determination of the relationship between phytoplankton PFAS concentrations and concentrations in blue mussels and wild-caught and farmed shellfish.

Currently Funded LISS Research (2021-2023)

A woman walks her dog along a Long Island Sound beach near sunset.
A woman walks her dog along a Long Island Sound beach near sunset. Judy Benson/Connecticut Sea Grant

Eight research projects that will examine various facets of the water chemistry and habitat quality of Long Island Sound and potentially yield more effective management decisions have been awarded more than $2.8 million in federal funding through the Long Island Sound Study Research Grant Program.

The projects, supported by a partnership of the Sea Grant programs of Connecticut and New York (CTSG and NYSG, respectively,) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Long Island Sound Study (LISS), will attempt to answer questions critical to advancing restoration of the estuary and its watershed. All the awards are supplemented with matching funds of at least 50 percent of the grants, extending the value of the research package to more than $4.2 million.

All the projects will span two years, with work slated to begin this spring.

The eight research projects are the latest to be awarded through the Long Island Sound Study Research Grant Program, run by NYSG and CTSG since 2008. Including the new awards, the program has funded ecological research in more than 30 areas. It represents the largest research investment into the Sound, designated an estuary of national significance and one of the most valuable natural resources for both states.

The projects are:

  • “Can Watershed Land Use Legacies Inform Nitrogen Management?” (University of Connecticut, Ashley Helton, Chester Arnold, Emily Wilson, David Bjerklie; University of New Hampshire, Wilfred Wollheim; CT DEEP, Mary Becker, Chris Bellucci; Footprints in the Water, Paul Stacey: $487,391). This project will examine the impact of historical land use practices in managing nitrogen.
  • “Evaluating Thin Layer Placement in Long Island Sound Marshes Using a Multi-Scale Approach” (University of Connecticut, Beth Lawrence, Ashley Helton, Chris Elphick; CT DEEP, Min Huang: $470,969.) In this project, different types of sediment for effective marsh rebuilding will be assessed.
  • “Can They Get Out? Assessing the Effects of Low Streamflow on Juvenile River Herring” (University of Connecticut, Eric Schultz, James Knighton, Cary Chadwick: $231,013.) Researchers in this project will identify barriers to the outmigration of juvenile alewife, a keystone species in the Sound’s food chain.
  • “Establishing Robust Bioindicators of Microplastics in Long Island Sound: Implications for Reliable Estimates of Concentration, Distribution and Impacts” (University of Connecticut, J. Evan Ward and Sandra Shumway, $301,150.) One of two projects examining how different types of marine life can contribute to efforts to quantify and remove pollutants, this research will examine the use of slipper snails, tunicates and oysters as bioindicators of the concentrations and impacts of microplastics.
  • “Quantifying the Ability of Seaweed Aquaculture in Long Island Sound to Remove Nitrogen, Combat Ocean Acidification, Improve Water Quality and Benefit Bivalves” (Stony Brook University, Christopher Gobler, Michael Doall; GreenWave, Kendall Barbery: $238,933.) In this project, the ability of cultured seaweed and shellfish to remove nitrogen, combat ocean acidification, improve water quality and benefit aquaculture will be measured.
  • “Constraining Models of Metabolism and Ventilation of Bottom Water in Long Island Sound Using Oxygen Isotopes” (University of Connecticut, Craig Tobias, James O’Donnell: $694,386.) One of three projects focusing on conditions in water and sediment chemistry, this work will examine factors that influence recovery from hypoxia (low oxygen).
  • An eelgrass bed off of Fishers Island, N.Y. Eelgrass bed restoration will be the focus of one of the eight research projects.
    An eelgrass bed off of Fishers Island, N.Y. Eelgrass bed restoration will be the focus of one of the eight research projects. Photo: CCE Suffolk County Marine Program.

    “Improving Eelgrass Restoration Success by Manipulating the Sediment Iron Cycle” (University of Connecticut, Craig Tobias and Jamie Vaudrey; and Cornell Cooperative Extension, Chris Pickerell: $323,404.) This project will evaluate methods to overcome sediment conditions that may impede eelgrass recovery.

  • “Alkalinity of Long Island Sound Embayments” (University of Connecticut, Penny Vlahos and Michael Whitney; Save the Sound, Peter Linderoth; CT DEEP, Katie O’Brien-Clayton: $131,088.) This research will evaluate the vulnerability of embayments to changes in acidity that can be harmful to shellfish and other marine life.

Descriptions of all the Long Island Sound Study research projects, since the first grant cycle in 2000, are available in the research section of the LISS website.

In Their Words: Long Island Sound Study Research Projects

“EPA has a longstanding commitment to restoring and protecting Long Island Sound, one of the country’s most important estuaries. This funding will advance ecological research and play a critical role in improving water quality and reducing pollution, providing lasting results for the wildlife and wetlands in the Sound for years to come.” — acting EPA New England Regional Administrator Deb Szaro

“More than 10 percent of Americans live within 50 miles of the Long Island Sound’s shores, where issues like nitrogen pollution threaten water quality, marine life and coastal resiliency. These projects reflect EPA’s longstanding commitment to developing solutions to protect and restore the Sound to healthy waters, benefitting surrounding communities environmentally, economically and recreationally.” — EPA Region 2 acting Regional Administrator Walter Mugan

“This research competition resulted in an interesting diversity of projects. These include novel approaches to understanding and managing Long Island Sound and reaching the goals of increased water quality that support productive ecosystems for the benefit of wildlife and humans. In my opinion, it is a very smart investment for long-term benefits.” — Connecticut Sea Grant Director Sylvain De Guise

Embayments like Goshen Cove in Waterford will be studied for changes in alkalinity in one of the eight research projects. Judy Benson / Connecticut Sea Grant
Embayments like Goshen Cove in Waterford will be studied for changes in alkalinity in one of the eight research projects. Judy Benson / Connecticut Sea Grant

“New York Sea Grant is pleased to continue our longstanding partnership with Connecticut Sea Grant and the EPA through the LISS competitive research program. The Long Island Sound is an essential and beloved natural asset to the citizens of NY and CT and supports critical environment and human ecosystem services. The eight diverse and innovative research initiatives that were awarded funding will provide critical knowledge needed to ensure the health of the Sound today and into the future.” — New York Sea Grant Director Rebecca Shuford

“This grant cycle represents the largest amount of funding ever competed and resulted in a very competitive and diverse group of projects. This research effort is even more significant because it is tightly linked to management applications so will go far to improve our understanding of the Sound and help managers in their work to restore and improve the Sound’s waters and biota.” — CTSG Research Coordinator Syma Ebbin

“This cohort of projects continues the successful long-term collaboration between CTSG, NYSG and EPA LISS that continues to expand the knowledge base that is invaluable to aiding the management of Long Island Sound. The results of this research effort will benefit the LIS environment and its communities.” — NYSG Research Coordinator Lane Smith

For more information, contact CT Sea Grant Communications Coordinator Judy Benson.