Bill calls for group to develop plan to restore eelgrass

New London Day

Hartford ― A bill being considered in the General Assembly would create a working group to study strategies for restoring ecologically important eelgrass along the shoreline.

“Eelgrass is an important fish habitat that has declined markedly,” State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said in written testimony. “Eelgrass provides perfect bedding for tiny organisms and fish, but there are very few eelgrass beds left. We need to dedicate resources and study what Connecticut can do to bring it back.”

Somers told The Day that places like Beebe Cove in Groton used to be full of eelgrass, but now the eelgrass is gone, and she said there needs to be a study of why and what can be done to restore it.

“Eelgrass needs to be more than maintained. It needs to be replaced,” added Somers, who put in for a similar bill last year and is again advocating for it. “We need to save eelgrass in Long Island Sound. The state also needs to keep water in the Sound clean so as to allow light to penetrate and get to the eelgrass.”

The bill raised by the Connecticut General Assembly’s Environmental Committee is co-sponsored by Somers and State Reps. Aundré Bumgardner, D-Groton, and Joseph Gresko, D-Stratford.

The bill, which went to public hearing on Monday, proposes a working group made up of members of conservation and municipal shellfish commissions, a marine biologist from The University of Connecticut at Avery Point, a student from the Marine Science Magnet School in Groton and Save the Sound’s Long Island Soundkeeper. As part of its work, the group would review New York and Rhode Island studies. The group would submit a report to the committee by Feb. 1, 2024 with recommended strategies and priority areas.

Bumgardner, who serves on the Environmental Committee, said the students are light years ahead when it comes to working on environmental quality issues and are committed to improving the conditions for aquatic species. He said there also is no shortage of opportunities for experts and concerned citizens in the district to help with this groundbreaking work.

“It’s important that this group really develops aggressive strategies to preserve, restore and expand the eelgrass within our state’s shoreline,” he added.

Bumgardner noted that the bill has bipartisan support.

“It demonstrates that eelgrass is really truly a nonpartisan issue,” he said. “It’s so important that a healthy eelgrass population can go a long way in protecting many at risk species.”

Jamie Vaudrey, research coordinator at the CT National Estuarine Research Reserve and assistant research professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Connecticut explained that eelgrass “provides food, refuge, and a nursery ground for many commercially and recreationally important species, including fish and shellfish.” Eelgrass also “combats climate change by storing carbon in the soil, as well as reducing wave energy as waves roll into our coastlines.”

Long Island Soundkeeper Bill Lucey said the Connecticut working group would complement a seagrass task force in New York that appears to be ramping up again.

“As we work to improve water quality in Long Island Sound we must concurrently move forward on a comprehensive watershed and overall estuary restoration effort,” Lucey wrote in written testimony. “Casting for striped bass in the clear waters around Stonington Harbor as they chase forage fish through the local eelgrass beds is a good reminder of what much of Long Island Sound used to look like. We still have a few hundred acres of this habitat in the Eastern Sound and we are hopeful that future generations will have thousands of thriving acres to enjoy.”