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Stratford Point Reef Ball Expansion

Posted on Dec 12, 2016

RTPI provides fee-for-service environmental expertise and capacity to a variety of national organizations. We are currently involved in the long-term environmental clean-up effort of a historic trap and skeet shooting range on the Long Island Sound, carried out by the DuPont Corporation. Our staff monitors potential exposure of dabbling ducks and shorebirds to residual lead shot at Stratford Point, Connecticut, as part of a year-round and ongoing large remediation and coastal habitat restoration effort. This work was primarily conducted around the turn of the century, and it also removed marsh grasses that were part of a natural, dynamic system that had protected the land from erosion. Increasingly powerful storm systems and rising water due to the climate change has left the site even more vulnerable.

Two years ago Sacred Heart University biology professor Jennifer Mattei headed a pilot project to create a living shoreline at the site, installing 64 cement and fiberglass reef balls weighing approximately 1,500lbs each. These reef balls are placed in carefully designed lines to trap and collect sediment behind and in front of them while abating wave energy and allowing marsh grasses to grow and replace what was lost while also serving as a natural system for marine life to thrive – instead of say, a vertical wall that was useless or harmful to the ecosystem and would be broken down by water over time. The living shoreline also serves as a barrier to help protect neighborhoods and homes from intense nor’easters and tropical cyclones.

The rapid success of this endeavor led to an expansion of the project this season,

“with financial support from the Audubon Connecticut’s In-Lieu Fee Program (ILFP), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund (LISFF), the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) and DuPont.

The project team will use a $91,000 grant from CIRCA to purchase most of the 273 reef balls needed to protect another 750 feet of Stratford Point shoreline. Because restoring the shoreline to its once-thriving state requires more than the cement structures, the ILFP is providing $250,000 to restore lower and upper marsh habitat along the length of the living shoreline, and LISFF—a group that has funded other SHU projects in the past—has contributed $115,198 for the restoration of a mosaic of dune/grassland habitats above the upper marsh. DuPont is providing funds for the installation of the reef and support for maintenance of the site.”

Below are recent photos of the area after the installation of the new reef.

The three shots below show the previously installed reef balls from 2014, and behind them is evidence of a changing system with marsh grasses growing back rapidly and a growing shoreline elevation. The structures survived two very harsh winters in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, remaining intact despite below zero temperatures and a prolonged freeze of the shoreline. They will slowly break down over time but should continue to do their jobs for many years allowing the the beach to refill and regenerate to its pre-remediation natural level, able to withstand the punches that Mother Nature throws its way while preventing land erosion and upland habitat damage.

Audubon Connecticut and RTPI will continue to perform regular surveys of the historic shot fall zone while monitoring the wildlife that utilizes the living shoreline, studying changing tidal systems and potentially different avian usage. Both organizations will also assist in planting more along the shoreline, from beneficial native shrubs to beach grass. Will the reef balls and accretion of sediment provide a less suitable area for dabbling ducks while being a positive for roosting shorebirds at this globally important bird area? Questions like that will be answered over the coming years.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator