Projects to advance knowledge of LIS water quality, marine life

Sea Grant Connecticut 4/6/2018

Long Island Sound’s marine life and water quality will be the focus of five two-year research projects Connecticut Sea Grant will support in 2018.

Proposals by four research teams from the University of Connecticut and one from Yale University School were chosen for the awards, announced on April 6.

The projects are slated to begin this spring. Each will leverage matching funds of at least $75,000, bringing the total value of the research investment to over $1.1 million.

  • Researchers Julie Granger and Jamie Vaudrey, both in the Department of Marine Sciences at UConn, will investigate the extent to which nutrients in the effluent from the Westerly and Pawcatuck wastewater treatment plants are fueling invasive macroalgae in Little Narragansett Bay. They will analyze nitrogen flowing into the Pawcatuck River to assess its source, comparing effluent from the two plants with naturally occurring levels of nitrogen and oxygen in the river, which flows into the bay. They hope to determine whether nitrogen from these treatment plants is a substantial contributor to the overgrowth of an invasive green algae, Cladophora. They plan to continue their collaboration with the organization Clean Up Sound and Harbors, also known as CUSH, and share their results with the community.
  • Patterns of methylmercury accumulation in a species of copepods, a type of zooplankton that is a critical part of the Long Island Sound food web, will be assessed by Zofia Baumann and Hans Dam, both in the Marine Sciences Department at UConn. Methylmercury is an organic compound that is the most common source of mercury poisoning in humans.
  • UConn Professor Hans Dam will examine whether red tide algal blooms will become more common and more toxic in the sound as water temperatures and carbon dioxide levels in the estuary increase as a result of climate change. The findings will help managers better understand the dynamics of red tide blooms and minimize human health impacts.
  • Gaboury Benoit, at Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, seeks to understand the extent that heavy metal contaminants (lead, mercury, copper and cadmium) are captured in sediments that become trapped in tributary estuaries flowing into Long Island Sound. The West River in New Haven, which until recently had restricted flows due to a tide gate that has been removed, will be the focus of the research. Flows from the West River will be measured and compared with those from New Haven’s Mill River, which continues to have tide gates. The research will also examine how sea level rise might change these functions.
  • A multidisciplinary team of UConn scientists led by Pengfei Liu of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Steven Swallow of the same department and Eric Schultz of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology will investigate how fishermen’s behavior changes in response to new regulations on size limits, season length and numbers of fish that can be caught. The researchers will engage focus groups and survey anglers to learn how fishermen respond to restrictions on tautog (black fish). Ultimately, they hope to determine the effectiveness of different management strategies intended to rebuild depleted fish populations.

The competitive grant process is open biennially and utilizes federal funding administered by Connecticut Sea Grant for projects to improve the health of marine and coastal ecosystems and benefit the public. Connecticut Sea Grant is a partnership of UConn and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of 33 Sea Grant programs across the country. It is based at UConn’s Avery Point campus.