Biology Department Prepares for Earth Day

By Brendan Capuano

Staff Reporter

For the past three years, doctors, professors and students from the Sacred Heart University Biology Department have been working at the Stratford Point beach to restore its shoreline.

On April 21 and April 22 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., students, faculty, and community members will, in a two-day effort, plant salt marsh grass to replenish the shoreline.

“15,000 plants are going to be planted,” said biology professor Dr. Jennifer Mattei.

According to ctaudubon.org, Stratford Point was the home of Remington Arms Gun Club, a popular hunting and skeet range from the 1920s into the 1980s.

Due to the shooting, there is a large accumulation of lead shot in the ground which needed to be removed. When the lead was removed, they also took away all the plants that essentially held the shoreline together, and the beach began to erode.

“It’s a really beautiful site that needs a lot of work to get back to where it was,” said biology professor Jo-Marie Kasinak.

Though much of the lead was removed, since there was so much, it does keep resurfacing as the beach erodes. As a response, Sacred Heart and other organizations have taken action to rebuild the shoreline.

The university has done research projects at Stratford Point in the past to help restore the site. In 2014, the Sacred Heart biology faculty and research students did a pilot study to test solutions to improve the shoreline.

“We put out these big concrete reef-balls,” said Kasinak. “They are pretty big and out in the water. These provide structure which act as an artificial reef, and as waves come up, they crash against these first, slow down the energy and allow for sediment to fall out of the water behind and in front of the reef we have built.”

The study proved successful and the reef has been slowly expanding. Now students will be digging and planting salt marsh grasses to further restore the shoreline on Earth Day.

“Now that we are having sediment accumulation, we can go ahead and plant these marsh grasses again, and now these reef balls are going to protect them and give them a chance to actually establish,” said Kasinak. “You bring back the shoreline and reverse erosion.”

Earth Day is an annual celebration and day of awareness about the importance of environmental protection. It was first celebrated on April 22, 1970 and initiated by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson.

“On Earth Day, the whole idea is to get the community to understand we are losing our shorelines,” said Mattei. “They are eroding away.”

Kasinak described the importance of Earth Day as an educational opportunity.

“Being so coastal, we are seeing how important our coasts are and how we are quickly losing those ecosystems because of climate change,” said Kasinak. “Anything we can do to help slow those processes or reverse them is beneficial.”

Mattei will be registering the event on earthday.org, which lists various Earth Day projects across the country.

“If we don’t do something, we will lose all of those habitats and it will be pretty devastating for the Long Island Sound, “said Mattei.

Members of the Sacred Heart Biology Club, the environmental club Green SHU and other Sacred Heart community members will be joined by students from Fairfield Prep School, Notre Dame High School, Fairfield Country Day schools, Friends of Short Beach, and a sea scout troupe on Earth Day.

The Biology Department is making arrangements for transportation for students without cars.

To sign up to volunteer at the event visit http://www.sacredheart.edu/academics/collegeofartssciences/academicdepartments/biology/earthday/.

Kasinak also said that there will be other opportunities to volunteer at the site in the future as well.

To donate to the Living Shorelines Earth Day project visit https://weareshu.sacredheart.edu/project/3963 to help reach their $10,000 goal.

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