By Beth Sullivan
My home town is Stonington, Connecticut, it is also where I do my stewardship for Avalonia Land Conservancy. Every day I am reminded of the importance of the shore line, the Long Island Sound, and our community’s connection to the sea. We have a fishing fleet, a shell-fishing industry, as well as entire educational programs and institutions built on our relationship to the sea and shore here in our hometown.
Even those who live farther inland, share in how the sea shapes our state. Connecticut has many opportunities for our children to learn about this special resource that many Americans do not have the opportunity to experience firsthand.
But, this special resource is being threatened by many factors. The habitats and ecosystems along the shore are impacted by undeniably rising sea levels, more frequent storms, and continued development in fragile coastal areas.
|Anyone who enjoys our coastal resources has benefited from the Sea Grant program.|
Protecting the shoreline
One of the bright spots in all of this, is a program funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association ( NOAA) called Sea Grant. According to a recent article in the New London Day, there are 33 university-based Sea Grant programs in the US, including all the coastal and Great Lake states, Puerto Rico, and Guam. In Connecticut, Sea Grant is based out of the University of Connecticut campus at Avery Point, and is funded by State and Federal money. It isn’t a lot of money, but the impact is huge. From supporting education for school children, and assistance for those in the fishing and shell fishing industry, the researchers also study all manner of coastal conditions, assess risks and propose solutions that are needed in the face of changing climate and rising seas. They assist efforts to make sure our shellfish is safe to eat, and that our fishermen are safe at sea.
I was unaware of how far reaching Sea Grant’s influence was. I only knew how the local Sea Grant program has helped me, in my little corner of Connecticut. When my children were young, I was first introduced to Marine Science Day for 4-H members, where children from all over Connecticut converged on Avery Point to learn about the Sound, its habitats, the life within and around it. A great program touching thousands over the years, courtesy of Sea Grant. When I began to learn about seaweed and marine life I relied on resources funded by Sea Grant. When I needed to study coastal plants, and how unique they need to be to survive in our natural areas, I turned to Sea Grant publications. I attended conferences hosted by Sea Grant that would help me, as a steward, understand the dynamics of our salt marshes and more recently, understand the significant dangers they, and we, all face from rising seas.
|Sea Grant programs explore effects of rising sea levels on our coastal salt marshes.|
|Sea Grant programs help ensure our shell fish is safe and fisheries are supported.|
|Sea Grant wrote the book that helps property owners manage their coastal properties.|
|Sea Grant programs engage the next generation.|
Avalonia's connection to Sea Grant
Then, my experience got more personal. I was tasked with managing Dodge Paddock . Those who have been reading this blog for any length of time, know the struggle we face there. As a non-professional, volunteer steward, there was no way I could begin to try and understand the complexities of this place. Once again, I relied on Sea Grant, and in particular, a professor and Extension educator, Dr. Juliana Barrett. She was the one who wrote the books on all the coastal plants I had studied. She wrote the papers and delivered conference presentations dealing with sea level rise implications all along our coast line. She was the person who introduced me to the work Sea Grant was doing on resilient landscapes and living shorelines.
Over the last several years I have relied on her, and others who work with her, to develop the plans to revitalize Dodge Paddock. Along the way she helped me find my way with other collaborators such as DEEP, USFWS, and how to handle complicated grant processes. With all that help, we planned resiliency and replanted marsh grasses. We figured out what would work in a complicated habitat. She and her team are negotiating the crazy complexities of a major restoration grant that I have described before.
If Sea Grant is doing all that for one person, in one organization, in one town in Connecticut, can you just imagine how many other stewards there are out there like me? How far reaching their influence is? How can we, as volunteers, do an adequate job without support and guidance from professionals?
President Trump is proposing ‘zeroing out’ all funding for Sea Grant in his budget again. We fought this battle last year, and with community and legislative support, the funding was reinstated. But it is threatened again.
Think about how the sea affects your life in any way at all, and I can bet that it has been made possible in some way related to a Sea Grant program.
Please consider reaching out to your lawmakers, Representatives and Senators, no matter what state you live in. Request that they support the Sea Grant program funding in the face of cuts. I can personally attest to the value and importance of this program. Just walk along the shore, enjoy a seafood dinner, visit Dodge Paddock and see for yourself. You can learn more about the Sea Grant program here.
|Dr. Juliana Barrett has been a mentor, as well as, an active steward with me|
|A Sea Grant intern helped me plan appropriate coastal plantings for a corner of Knox Preserve.|
Photographs by Beth Sullivan