A map of the designated Connecticut National Estuarine and Research Reserve. Credit: Courtesy of DEEP

Connecticut completed a decades-long quest last week to designate the country’s 30th National Estuarine Research Reserve where the Connecticut and Thames rivers flow into Long Island Sound. 

The designation from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration “represents a win for science-based decision making and helping to enhance environmental education at all levels for the people of Connecticut,”  Gov. Ned Lamont said. “We’re excited that some of the amazing natural resources of Long Island Sound, the Connecticut River, and some of our state parks and natural area preserves will be utilized as a ‘living laboratory’ that can help advance national efforts in addressing issues such as climate change and environmental stewardship now and in the future.”   

Estuaries are defined as areas where freshwater flowing from rivers and streams mixes with saltwater from the ocean; they create habitats for marine life, boost coastal economies, and serve as buffers for coastal communities from storms and sea level rise.

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) was created by Congress in the early 1970s as part of the Coastal Zone Management Act, which supports research, education, and stewardship of U.S. estuaries and other habitats in coastal and Great Lakes states and territories.

“This designation is a momentous scientific and environmental milestone for Connecticut,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said. “Connecticut’s National Estuarine Research Reserve will help provide essential scientific insights on coastal habitats, advancing our efforts to address climate change. It will also bolster hands-on environmental education programs for Connecticut schools, inspiring the next generation of scientists. I have long supported establishing this living laboratory and look forward to following its accomplishments in the years to come.” 

The site supports more than 1,200 species of invertebrates and 120 species of fish. In total, nearly 50 species listed under the Connecticut Endangered Species Act live, feed, breed, or stop over in the reserve.

The salt marsh, creeks, and tidal flats at the Roger Tory Peterson Natural Area Preserve in the lower Connecticut River. Credit: Courtesy of the DEEP

According to the Long Island Sound Study, the Sound is responsible for about $9.4 billion in annual economic impact in the region. A study released last year by Restore America’s Estuaries and NOAA noted that although the nation’s estuaries constitute only 4% of the U.S. continental landmass, their counties are home to 40% of the country’s population and responsible for 47% of the nation’s gross domestic product.

The Connecticut reserve will “likely result in long-term, direct, major beneficial impacts to research and monitoring in the affected environment,” according to the Environmental Impact Study. One of the goals will be to conduct basic and applied research to improve decision-making and education about coastal habitat management.