Small steps can mean big results for climate change

More frequent severe storms and rising sea levels are combining to seriously endanger one of southeastern Connecticut’s most valuable assets — its coastline.

The impact of climate change on the state’s coastline is dramatic. The Connecticut Institute for Climate Resilience and Adaptation at the University of Connecticut predicts that sea levels will rise by one foot, eight inches in the state by the year 2050.

Here in southeastern Connecticut, there is also plenty of evidence of shoreline erosion. Those tracking erosion on Mason Island in Stonington, for example, say four feet of turf next to one of the island’s main roads has been lost in about two years. Similarly, 4-5 feet of Thames River shoreline at Connecticut College has eroded since 2018.

In the face of such dire facts, even relatively small or experimental erosion control projects are extremely important. Officials hope two such projects — one on Connecticut College’s north shore and the other on the east side of Mason Island — will have positive results.

On the Connecticut College waterfront, 150 concrete reef balls were placed in an effort to slow wave action and encourage sand deposits. The balls, which are the work of biology teacher Maria Rosa, resemble wiffleballs and have been dubbed Camels’ Reef after the college’s mascot.

A first set of balls was placed in October 2021 and more were placed in July and September 2022. Those placed earlier are already showing positive results. An area that was once just gravel is now buried in three to four inches of sand.

On Mason’s Island, a floating marsh mat called Tutu was placed in October in an effort to prevent erosion there and preserve the Chippechaug Trail, a road that provides the only exit to the south side of the island. Kristin Foster, who heads the fire district’s shoreline protection task force, said about 120 homes, the Mason’s Island Yacht Club and Enders Island are all south of a major erosion vulnerability on the island.

The marsh mat is a sphere of marine grade foam surrounded by wood shavings and coir fiber, wrapped in nylon mesh and seeded with salt marsh grass. The hope is that underwater plants, along with various marine animals such as oysters and mussels, will attach to it and create a micro-ecosystem that will help reduce wave action and thus shoreline erosion in the vicinity.

We are grateful for those who are making these efforts, because much more than expensive homes and yachts are threatened by shoreline erosion and sea level rise. At Connecticut College, for example, a Pequot burial ground, an athletic field and tracks serving a freight rail line are also at risk of disappearing if erosion continues unchecked.

What has been achieved so far is only the first steps. It is estimated that approximately 50 tutus are needed to fully protect the coves along the eastern shore of Mason Island. Rosa said about 250 more reef balls should be placed along the Connecticut College shoreline.

However, we commend these initial efforts and encourage their continuation. We also hope that officials in other shore districts follow suit.

First steps can be the start of big results that will help slow or control the worst iFirst steps can be the start of big results that will help slow or control the worst effects of climate change. Besides, doing nothing is simply not an option.

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