If experience really is the best teacher, Deborah Abibou and Alicia Tyson have been to some of the prime places to learn about community resilience work.
Those include locations facing some of the biggest challenges from sea level rise, intensifying storms and other climate change effects: Puerto Rico, Louisiana, Peru and Costa Rica. Now, they’re ready to apply the knowledge they’ve gained toward helping Connecticut’s coastal communities with those same challenges. It’s a task they’re taking on with enthusiasm.
“I’m excited to get to work,” said Tyson.
“I’m really looking forward to diving in,” said Abibou.
The two joined the Connecticut Sea Grant staff on Nov. 19, filling new positions as sustainable and resilient community extension educators. Abibou will be based out of the New Haven County Extension Center in North Haven to focus mainly on coastal communities in the western half of the state. Tyson will work out of the UConn Avery Point campus in Groton to focus on the eastern half. Read more…
Beachcombing with his wife and two children led New Haven artist Joseph Smolinski to the source of inspiration and raw materials for works he will create for Connecticut Sea Grant’s 2021 Arts Support Award Program that reflect on the human impacts of climate change.
His project, titled “Carbon Adrift: Sea Coal in the Long Island Sound” was chosen for the annual arts award program now in its 12thyear. It awards $1,000 annually to artists to create works relevant to coastal and marine environments and Connecticut Sea Grant themes and who are expected to display their works widely.
“The older I get, the more I realize that creativity comes from things like leisure time, when you’re not trying to make art,” said Smolinski, chairman of the Department of Art and Design at the University of New Haven. “My family spends a lot of time on the shore exploring, and we started finding these dark rocks and I started wondering, ‘Are they natural or anthropogenic?’”
Those dark rocks turned out to be sea coal, both dislodged from coal deposits by natural forces and mined pieces that probably fell off barges and cargo ships.
“At every beach I’ve been to on Long Island Sound I’ve found them, from pieces as small as grains of sand to some as big as a hand, four to five inches across,” said Smolinski.
He began reflecting on the processes that transformed plant matter into sea coal over millennium, and the use of coal as a fuel source by modern humans that contributes to climate change now threatening the planet. That evolved into the idea of using sea coal to make art that speaks both to its history in geological time scales, and to the impacts of the rapid consumption of fossil fuels by humans. The result will be mosaics of intricately patterned pieces of sea coal fixed to wood panels that Smolinski described as “images of the setting sun over Long Island Sound” that are intended to depict the sun as “the energy source that gives coal its anthropogenic value.”
In a complementary project that will be created for the project titled “Open Water,” Smolinski will use images of sunsets over the open waters of the Sound and the Atlantic Ocean onto which water is sprayed, then various pigments applied. By pairing the monochromatic mosaics with the “highly colorful and energetic nautical renderings” of the seascapes, Smolinski hopes to call attention to the future of the world ocean and its central role in human survival. He also hopes to develop a website for schools and environmental groups with information from his research about sea coal and the works created for his project. The various works will be created over the next year.
The independent review panel for the arts award said Smolinski’s project stood out for its “strong conceptual relationship between humans’ effect on the environment and artwork.” The panel also noted that the work addressed issues of materiality associated with environmental issues, eloquently evoking the transformation of materials such as coal through time.
“The submissions that we receive in response to the Connecticut Sea Grant Arts Support Awards program continue to amaze me with their varied aesthetic interpretations of Sea Grant’s mission,” said Syma Ebbin, CT Sea Grant research coordinator. “In addition to the creation of several art pieces, Joseph’s proposal will generate significant research and potentially will yield an educational website, gallery exhibitions, and a series of lectures to provide access to the art and science behind the art to local schools and the diverse communities within Connecticut.”
More information: Judy Benson, CT Sea Grant communications coordinator:firstname.lastname@example.org; (860) 287-6426
Oversimplified, shoreline beaches are where the sand meets the sea.
Too often, this two-dimensional view has become the foundation of efforts to restore storm and erosion-battered beaches on Long Island Sound and other coastal areas. These projects mainly seek to widen the flat open sand swathe to maintain maximum recreational worth and protect nearby areas from storm and flood damage. Dune grass, beach pea, and the dunes these and other plants inhabit along the shore have largely been left out of the equation.
But thanks to a new marine and coastal economics fellowship created by Connecticut Sea Grant, a Yale University doctoral candidate will spend the next year and a half developing restoration tools that account for the real-world complexity and value of natural and manmade features beyond the sand. The fellowship is funded with $20,000 of the federal funds allocated to CT Sea Grant.
“I’ve been interested in coastal ecosystems since I was young, growing up in Miami,” said Ethan Addicott, 29, who is pursuing his doctorate in environmental and resource economics at Yale and was chosen for the fellowship post. “I’m working to quantify the relationship between healthy dune ecosystems and property values, to enhance the relationship between natural resources and management decision making.”
CT Sea Grant Director Sylvain De Guise said Addicott’s project will accomplish the two main goals of the new fellowship. It was created to help train a new generation of students in marine and coastal economics, and to give coastal communities new resources to draw on in making decisions about threatened coastal areas.
The issue leads off with an article by Robert Klee, former commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, reflecting on the valuable lessons we can take from the pandemic to improve the environment and our communities. Other articles describe how Connecticut’s seafood growers, harvesters and sellers weathered the pandemic, and how their counterparts in Southeast Asia fared.
Two more articles examine the slower-moving crises of sea level rise in coastal and inland communities in Connecticut and North Carolina and the role of managed retreat or buyouts. The final piece showcases the research of Connecticut Sea Grant Director Sylvain De Guise on dolphins experiencing long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
This issue continues the “Talk to Us” feature soliciting reader comments, many of which will be shared on the CTSG website. Share your feedback and questions withWrack LinesEditor Judy Benson at:email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you!
Several special events are planned for Earth Day (April 22) at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus, including audiovisual artwork projected on campus buildings and an original puppet show.
Events will begin at 6:30 p.m. with music recorded by the five-person Connecticut-based groupHitch and Giddyupsponsored by the Avery Point EcoHusky club. At 7 p.m., UConn Puppet Arts graduate student Felicia Cooper will performISH, an original one-woman puppet show for all ages inspired byMoby-Dick. UConn Dairy Bar Coastal Crunch ice cream will be served after the show.
From 8 to 9 p.m., there will be a performance of the audiovisual work, “Reading the Wrack Lines,” created byConnecticut CollegeProfessor Andrea Wollensak. This will feature creative writing responses to climate change by UConn Avery Point and Connecticut College students used as audiovisual source material within a generative multimedia artwork projected onto both the Branford House the Avery Point Lighthouse. Collaborators for “Reading the Wrack Lines” include software developer Bridget Baird and sound artist Brett Terry. The exhibit is being presented in cooperation with TheAlexey von Schlippe Gallery of Art.
The events are free and open to up to 200 attendees to comply with Gov. Lamont’s Executive Orders for outdoor gatherings during the pandemic. Attendees should bring their own chair or blanket, wear face masks and maintain 6-foot social distancing. Rain date will be Friday April 23 at the same times. No pre-registration is required to attend.
“As a professor and CT Sea Grant research coordinator, I’m excited to be involved in this project,” said Syma Ebbin, who teaches courses in environmental and marine science and policy. “It seeks to integrate the personal creative reflections of students focused on coastal environments and the
human footprint—encompassing climate change, marine debris and plastics, among other topics they’ve explored this semester—within a generative and interactive video.
“I think the project themes resonate with and amplify the meaning of Earth Day and will generate deeper understandings in both students and the larger audience,” Ebbin said.
About the artists and their work:
Andrea Wollensak is a professor of art at Connecticut College whose work spans media from traditional to digital fabrication, to generative-interactive systems. She has collaborated with computer scientists, musicians, poets and scientists on works that explore themes of place-based narratives on environment and community. To learn more about her work, visit:https://www.andreawollensak.com/.
Felicia Cooper createdISHas part of her Master of Fine Arts in the UConn Puppet Arts program and performed it for audiences in downtown Storrs three times in March. Based loosely onMoby-Dick, it retells the story as if Ishmael were an 11-year-old girl and the whale were friendlier. She uses shadow puppets, object performance in a suitcase and original music composed by Juliana Carr in the show.
Connecticut Sea Grant is joining with the Avalonia Land Conservancy and UConn CLEAR in presenting, “Finding the Right Trees for the Right Time,” a series of four talks about planning and planting for a resilient coastal forest in southeastern Connecticut. The series begins March 10, culminating in a June 9 presentation by Juliana Barrett, coastal habitat specialist for CT Sea Grant, titled, “Brave New Worlds for Trees: Assisted Migration and the Study of Hoffman Preserve.”
Stonington– Battered by coastal storms and infestations of wooly adelgids, gypsy moth, winter moth and emerald ash borer, sections of the 200-acre Hoffman Evergreen Preserve will now serve as a living lab and demonstration site for how land managers can help forests adapt to climate change.
“We want to increase the resilience of the forest and maintain the water quality filtration services it provides to Long Island Sound,” said Juliana Barrett, coastal habitat specialist for Connecticut Sea Grant. “We’re trying to plant the right trees for the right time.”
Owned by the Avalonia Land Conservancy and popular with hikers and bird watchers, sections of the forest became unsafe over the last decade due to large numbers of diseased and storm-damaged trees. That prompted the land trust to contract with Hull Forest Products to do selective logging in 2019 that left open areas that will now be the subject of a joint project between Avalonia and CT Sea Grant.
“This is about helping to restore a healthy forest,” said Beth Sullivan, Stonington chairperson for Avalonia. “It’s something we’ve been working towards for the last five to six years.”
A grant of $57,144 from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, announced last week, will provide funds for the development of a unique forward-looking forest management plan for the cleared areas, along with a series of public education programs. Barrett said the project is one of the first of its kind in Connecticut that incorporates climate change projections and assisted migration techniques for plants better adapted to future conditions. Some seedlings and seeds will be planted as part of the yearlong project, chosen both for their ability to regenerate under future climate conditions and their value as food sources for wildlife. Robert Ricard, a forester and senior extension educator with UConn, will help develop the plan and planting list, and provide guidance on the best locations for particular species.
“We’re going to try some species at the edge of their limits in Connecticut that, based on climate change projections, we think will do well,” Barrett said.
Instead of replanting the same species of hemlocks, oaks and ash shown to be vulnerable to the pests and weather disruptions brought by climate change, the plan will identify tree and shrub species likely to be more resilient in warmer temperatures. These could include loblolly pine, tulip poplar, sweetgum and others more common in the mid-Atlantic region. About a dozen loblolly pine seedlings planted last spring, in fact, have already become well established despite last summer’s drought, Sullivan said.
The preserve, located at the north end of town several miles from the shoreline, nonetheless provides important services to Long Island Sound by absorbing runoff and filtering pollutants that would end up in the estuary, Barrett noted.
The public education component was developed with Avalonia project collaborator Sharon Lynch, George Washington University professor emerita in the School of Education and Human Development. An expert in science teacher education, Lynch currently works on education initiatives with the National Science Foundation. The education component will consist of a series of four webinars on topics relevant to the project, including the history of New England forests and the carbon sequestration services they provide. The series is intended for municipal officials, land trust officials, forest landowners and the general public. In addition, a two-day workshop on guiding principles for coastal forest resilience in the Long Island Sound region will be offered specifically for municipal officials, resource managers, land trust officials, forest landowners and students. An accompanying fact sheet will be developed and published.
Nancy Balcom, CT Sea Grant associate director of CT Sea Grant, said she hopes the project will provide valuable information for land managers throughout the region.
“Given the devastation our local forests have suffered which threatens their ability to provide critical ecosystem and recreational services, it’s important to not only test the ability of new species to survive and thrive in our changing climate but to also share the progress and results widely so other land trusts and organizations can pursue similar paths,” she said.
Barrett said the lessons learned at the Hoffman preserve will be shared with other land trusts and land managers, and hopes that tours of the site can be offered in the future to show how different plant species are adapting. The project, she said, will be an opportunity “to educate and engage land trust stewards, resource managers, municipal officials and neighbors in understanding coastal forest ecosystem services, impacts of climate change on these systems and guiding principles for management under changing conditions.”
The grant for the Hoffman Preserve, which will be matched with $33,600 in in-kind services from Avalonia volunteers, is one of 38 awarded in this year’sLong Island Sound Futures Fundprogram. The 15-year-old program combines funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support projects that improve the water quality and restore habitat in the Long Island Sound watershed. This year, $3.8 million in funding will support 15 projects in Connecticut, 14 in New York, three in Massachusetts, three in Vermont, one in New Hampshire and two in multiple states.
“It is heartwarming to see innovation at work, people and organizations getting together, planning and acting now for what the world will look like in decades,” said Sylvain De Guise, director of CT Sea Grant. “At the same time, it is encouraging that grant programs are open enough to recognize and fund innovation, even if riskier than sticking with old habits.
“I think we are heading in the right direction,” he concluded.
Judy Bensonis the communications coordinator for Connecticut Sea Grant.
It’s deliberately stepping back to make a better future.
“Retreat is very difficult, but it’s going to happen,” said A.R. Siders, assistant professor in the Biden School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware. “Wouldn’t it be better to have a managed process? It can be an opportunity to do something more exciting than elevating a few houses, and there are resources available.”
A national expert and keynote speaker at the “Managed Retreat in the Age of Climate Change” virtual workshop on Nov. 13, Siders challenged the audience of about 130 municipal and state land-use officials and others to rethink notions of what’s possible. Rising seas and more frequent flooding of coastal and riverine areas means getting people out of harm’s way is necessary, she said. But can also be a chance to improve our waterfronts for everyone.
Siders said she began focusing on how retreat can be done in an orderly, methodical way—rather than as a haphazard reaction to a disaster—after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. It’s the better alternative to the other options: avoidance, fortifying shorelines with concrete or accommodating rising seas by elevating properties, she said.
To begin the hard conversation with communities, Siders urged land use professionals to pose it as challenge to realize a positive vision for the future: “What do you want your city or community or coast to look like in 30 years? 100 years?
“I don’t want to see a coast that’s armored with sea walls, but I would love to see open beaches all the way from Maine to Texas, so everyone can access them. It won’t happen if we don’t plan for retreat,” she said.
The workshop was the latest in a series hosted by the Climate Adaptation Academy, a partnership of Connecticut Sea Grant and The Center for Land Use Education & Research (UConn CLEAR). Juliana Barrett, CT Sea Grant coastal habitat specialist, and fellow organizer Bruce Hyde, extension educator with CLEAR, emphasized that this workshop is considered the first in a series on managed retreat that will delve into this complex and important issue.
“We see this as just getting the conversation going,” said Barrett.
Hyde set the stage for the presentations with a story and slides from Connecticut’s past. After the 1938 hurricane destroyed a beachfront community in New London, the city acquired the property, razed what remained of the homes and turned it into a large public beach. Today Ocean Beach Park is one of the city’s jewels.
“This is an example of using managed retreat 60 years ago and it has been very successful,” he said.
Siders also noted that there have been more recent examples of successful managed retreat projects across the country, including 12 in Connecticut. Most of these have been small scale, however. At the same time, though, new homes are still being built in vulnerable areas. In Connecticut alone, she said, 478 new homes were built from 2010 to 2017 in a 10-year flood plain.
In the second half of her talk, Siders outlined the multiple issues that arise and kinds of expertise needed to carry out managed retreat. Planners must be mindful of income equity issues—not favoring high income over low income properties, for example—the layers of regulatory and financial considerations/ Also critical, she said, is keeping the process transparent and communication lines open between residents and government. Offering financial incentives, help with finding new homes and working through nonprofit groups to build trust are some of the strategies that might be used, she said.
After Siders, Attorney Marjorie Shansky addressed the legal issues of managed retreat. “Can we adapt policies and regulations to promote managed retreat?” she asked.
These could include mechanisms that favor living shorelines over shoreline hardening, enacting stricter coastal setbacks and buffers and limiting and prohibiting coastal development altogether. She noted that the Florida Keys will no longer issue new building permits after 2023.
Starting the discussion about reimaging a local coastline where people aren’t constantly in a futile fight with rising waters is a good first step, she said. But communities need to start doing more.
“We must move from planning to action,” Shansky said.
Two examples of that kind of action offered inspiration for what can be accomplished. In downtown Meriden, a $13 million project funded by various state and federal agencies has transformed a blighted, flood-prone area into a municipal park. Public Works Director Howard Weissberg, City Engineer Brian Ennis and Assistant Planning Director Paul Dickson took turns describing various aspects of what one of them described as “a flood control site first, a park second, and an economic development parcel third.”
When talking about community response to climate change issues, retreat is the “R” word. But it is already happening in coastal states throughout the country, including here in Connecticut. Is it a good or bad idea? Will we be forced to retreat due to sea level rise in 30 years or 50 years? What does it mean to a community and how do we manage it?
This workshop is intended to begin the discussion about managed retreat in the face of climate change. Dr. AR Siders, a national expert in managed retreat, will provide a national perspective. Attorney Marjorie Shansky will speak on legal issues. Other speakers will focus on issues and examples related to retreat in Connecticut.
We would like to hear what you think and what questions you have about managed retreat.
UConn Professor Beth Lawrence collaborated with two high school teachers to create a salt marsh-climate change teaching module for high school students.
In the “Impacts of Climate Change on Long Island Sound Salt Marshes” module, students learn about the natural and anthropogenic impacts of climate change on salt marshes, delve into how scientists are studying the various impacts on salt marsh habitat, and gain a overview of different techniques for climate change research.
The module is suitable for ninth and tenth-grade biology or general science students as well as upper-level elective courses such as environmental science or marine science.
Connecticut Sea Grant support enabled Lawrence to collaborate with the high school educators to develop the inquiry- and evidence-based instructional materials about local climate issues. Leveraging an ongoing Long Island Sound Study research project, they developed an interactive climate change module for high school students that integrates “Mystery Scientist” activities to highlight different avenues of inquiry and a case study on how sea level rise is altering coastal ecosystems associated with Long Island Sound communities.
The module is aligned with Next Generation Science Standards, providing evidence-based, student-centered instructional materials highlighting how global issues impact local environmental issues. The module is being made broadly available through various platforms to encourage adoption by high school teachers throughout the region.