DEEP: Connecticut's Coastal Habitat Restoration Programs

Connecticut Coastal Habitat Restoration Programs

Habitat Restoration

Habitat restoration is the process of returning a habitat (the place where a plant or animal lives) to the condition that existed prior to its being degraded by manís activities. Once restored, a habitat will resume its normal ecological functions. Habitats are vital not only to the plants and animals that depend on them, but also to all of Long Island Sound.

Benefits of Coastal Habitat Restoration

Over the long term, habitat restoration ensures the balance of nature and protects our quality of life. Specific benefits include:

  • enhancement of the diversity of plants and animals in the Long Island Sound ecosystem;
  • protection of wildlife including shorebirds, waterfowl, and certain endangered species;
  • restoration and protection of anadromous and freshwater fish species;
  • nursery for economically valuable finfish and shellfish harvests;
  • improvement of water quality in the Sound;
  • flood and erosion control;
  • groundwater recharge; and,
  • sediment stabilization.

Connecticutís Coastal Habitats

Connecticutís coastal habitats are generally categorized as upland, wetlands, or open water, depending on the influence Long Island Sound and the tidal cycle have on an individual habitat. Examples of upland habitats include:

  • coastal barrier beaches
  • forests
  • grasslands

Wetland and open water habitats include:

  • tidal wetlands
  • riverine migratory corridors
  • submerged aquatic vegetation beds
  • estuarine embayments
  • intertidal flats
  • nearshore and offshore waters

Historic Causes of Coastal Habitat Degradation

The historic causes and extent of habitat loss and degradation in Connecticut vary. Examples include:

  • Approximately 30 percent of the stateís tidal wetlands was permanently lost to filling and dredging since colonial times. A significant percentage of the remaining wetlands was degraded by tidal flow restrictions through draining by tide gates, undersized culverts, and ditching, before modern-day understanding of the importance of these resources halted degradation of this type.

  • Degradation of brackish and tidal-fresh marshes of the lower Connecticut River is being caused by the replacement of native plants by the highly invasive Common Reed (Phragmites australis).

  • Riverine corridors in Connecticut supported significant anadromous fish runs well into the mid-to-late 1700ís. During the Industrial Revolution and even before, however, construction of dams on small streams and large rivers severely impacted Atlantic salmon, American shad, river herring, shortnose sturgeon, and other anadromous fish. The dams prevented these species from reaching their freshwater spawning sites, and caused the degradation of downstream habitats by reducing water flow and increasing water temperature.

  • A high percentage of coastal barrier beaches has been destroyed by past development and erosion control structures. Many of the remaining beach and dune complexes are degraded by trampling and over-use.

DEEPís Coastal Habitat Restoration Efforts

Connecticut began its first restoration work in the 1930ís. Since the agency was created in 1971, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has pioneered efforts to restore tidal wetlands, anadromous fish runs, and habitats for numerous plant and animal species. Several DEEP grant, advisory, and technical programs focus on restoration of the following habitats:

Tidal Wetlands
Focused efforts to protect tidal wetlands began with the passage of the Tidal Wetlands Act in 1969. Intensive efforts to restore tidal wetlands began in 1980 under the Department's Coastal Management Program. By reestablishing tidal flow, the program returns degraded wetlands to healthy habitat. Other methods of restoring wetland vegetation and related historic wildlife uses include the creation of pools and ponds, the filling of mosquito ditches, and the control of invasive plant species. Today, DEEP is recognized as a national leader in tidal wetlands restoration, with over 1,700 acres of wetlands in Connecticut restored through these techniques.

Coves and Embayments
The Coves and Embayments Restoration Program was started in 1983 to address degradation of tidal coves and embayments resulting from tidal flow alteration, water quality degradation, and increased sedimentation. This program provides funding and technical assistance to municipalities to restore degraded tidal coves and embayments and other coastal habitats.

Riverine Migratory Corridors
DEEP has an active program to restore riverine migratory corridors which serve as essential habitat for anadromous fish. A key component is the removal of dams and the construction of fish ladders to allow these fish to access their freshwater spawning sites upriver. Through its fisheries, wildlife, rivers, wetlands, and coastal management programs, DEEP facilitates corridor restoration projects by identifying projects and cooperators, providing scoping and design services, coordinating construction, and securing funding. In addition, the Rivers Restoration Grant Program provides funding for re-vegetation, soil erosion control and water quality improvements.

Coastal Barrier Beaches
DEEP provides technical support to towns and citizens for dune restoration and has restored a number of dune areas on state beaches. Planting American beach grass to replace vegetation that has been lost is the primary method used to restore dunes. The Long Island Sound License Plate Program has funded several municipal programs for beach grass planting.

DEEPís Restoration Accomplishments

DEEP has successfully restored a variety of coastal habitat sites over the last 25 years, including:

  • Over 1,700 acres of tidal wetlands at approximately 40 sites from Greenwich to Stonington including Long Cove, Guilford; Hammock River, Clinton; Mumford Cove, Groton; and, Barn Island, Stonington;

  • Seventeen coves and embayments along the coast including Norwalk Mill Pond, Norwalk; tidal wetlands at Davis Pond, East Lyme; and Alewife Cove, Waterford/New London, by providing funding for planning studies and/or restoration activities;

  • Riverine migratory corridors at 33 sites in 22 towns including Rainbow Dam on the Farmington River in Windsor, Leesville Dam on the Salmon River in East Haddam, Greeneville Dam on the Shetucket River in Norwich, Moulson Pond Dam on the Eightmile River in Lyme, and Chalker Millpond Dam in Old Saybrook, by providing technical assistance and/or funding for construction of fish ladders or dam removal;

  • Dune complexes in seven coastal towns from Stamford to Groton through technical assistance and funding for beach grass planting;

  • Over 200 osprey platforms providing new nesting locations and replacing lost habitat, installed under DEEPís supervision. 

In addition, related successful efforts include:

  • Leveraging limited restoration funding by establishing partnerships to complete projects. DEEP has worked closely with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Coastal America, academic institutions, municipalities, nonprofit groups, and other federal agencies which can provide technical support, scientific insights, and funding.

  • Formation of a dedicated Wetlands Restoration Unit 1994, with specialized equipment and staff to do on the-ground restoration activities.

  • Designation of tidal marshes in the lower Connecticut River as Wetlands of International Importance under The Ramsar Convention.

  • Research to determine the specific causes of eelgrass bed decline. Beds of eelgrass, a submerged aquatic vegetation, once occurred throughout Long Island Sound but today are only found in the well-flushed and clear waters of the eastern Sound. Eelgrass provides critical habitat for juvenile scallops and other shellfish and finfish species, as well as stabilizing underwater sediments.

  • Restoring coastal grasslands, a rare and declining habitat type, at several sites along the shoreline. The seeding of specific grasses in these areas will provide increased nesting cover which is critical to grassland birds and certain types of waterfowl.

How Can You Help Restore Coastal Habitats?

  • Volunteer for citizen monitoring efforts
  • Participate in beach grass planting projects
  • Adopt environmentally friendly lifestyles
  • Sponsor or participate in local clean-up projects
  • Contribute to the Endangered Species/Wildlife Fund through the Connecticut income tax check-off
  • Support existing funding sources by purchasing Long Island Sound license plates and Connecticut Duck Stamps
  • Support federal, state, and local government coastal management and clean water efforts which result in coastal habitat protection.

For further information on any DEEP Coastal Restoration Program, please contact:
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
Phone: 860-424-3034