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Biology Department Receives National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Grant for Stratford Point Coastal Restoration

New grant boosts funding for conservation, protection and restoration efforts at Stratford peninsula

Senator Richard Blumenthal, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Congressman Jim Himes and Senator Chris Murphy paused for a photo with the Connecticut recipients of the grant, along with Biology Professor Jennifer Mattei.

Funding for Sacred Heart University’s coastal restoration efforts at Stratford Point in Stratford, Conn.,  received a boost with a new, $148,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

The University’s Biology Department is one of 22 Connecticut recipients of the Long Island Sound Futures Fund Grant. It was chosen based on its research proposal, “Stratford Point Living Shoreline: Restoring Coastal Habitats to Maintain Resiliency and Function.”

The NFWF manages the Futures Fund grant program in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Long Island Sound Study, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Long Island Sound Funders Collaborative. The grant recipients represent conservation and environmental quality projects in Connecticut and New York that focus on the protection and restoration of Long Island Sound.

Biology Professor Jennifer Mattei is leading SHU’s project in collaboration with Associate Professor Mark Beekey. The University is partnering with the DuPont Company and Audubon Connecticut, state office of the National Audubon Society, as well as the Roger Tory Peterson Institute.

Mattei says a portion of the grant will pay for one graduate student in SHU’s Environmental Science & Management master’s program to serve as an assistant project manager. This coming spring, she will involve undergraduates and graduate students taking the department’s restoration ecology course, and she will plans to hire five SHU undergraduate biology majors for restoration work over the summer. The funding also will support the establishment of a two-acre pollinator meadow using native wildflowers and grasses, as well as establishing patches of native coastal shrubs and trees.

“We are honored to receive this prestigious NFWF support in recognition of the progress and importance of our ongoing work at Stratford Point,” said Mattei. “Because of its location, Stratford Point is an integral component in the fragmented matrix of coastal habitats located near the intersection of the Housatonic River and Long Island Sound. As the restored habitats mature, they will become increasingly important as migratory stop-over sites for a variety of birds and many insect species, including the monarch butterfly that has recently suffered from a dramatic population decline.

“Because of the decline of the European honeybee from Colony Collapse Disorder, our native pollinators have become increasingly important for the services they provide to our local crops and native wild plant species,” she continued. “Our native bees and butterflies need specific plants for larvae to eat and different plants for adults to gather nectar from. The restoration of these habitats will allow the beneficial insect populations to increase.”

She noted that Stratford Point, established as a conservation easement by DuPont, “is an ideal location to demonstrate how restoring our coastal habitats increases ecosystem function and benefits us by providing important services and resiliency in the face of climate change.”

SHU’s restoration efforts at Stratford Point have been under way since 2011. The site is on the Lordship peninsula in Stratford, at the mouth of the Housatonic River Estuary, and Long Island Sound borders the south and west sides. Once home to a former gun club, it has gone through extensive remediation that involved removing a large quantity of lead shot. During this process, the remedial effort involved the excavation of upland soil and processing of intertidal sediment to remove lead shot, followed by placement of cleaned soil and sediment back on the excavation areas.

A living shoreline, including an artificial shellfish reef and fringing salt marsh grasses, was installed in 2014. These next phases aim to restore upland habitat for the many native and migratory species that rely on area for food, nesting and shelter.

“SHU undergraduates enrolled in our new coastal and marine sciences major will learn firsthand about the costs of global climate change and habitat destruction and how this can be countered to some extent by restoration and conservation projects,” Mattei said. “The valuable work we’re doing — in collaboration with our environmental partners and community volunteers — is helping coastal estuaries recover, raising public awareness and providing valuable ecosystem services for the sea and land populations that depend on the Sound.”