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Earth Day Efforts: Kids, SHU Professors Help Stem The Tide In Stratford

Students and other volunteers helped plant plugs of sea grass to help stop erosion on Stratford Point.
Students and other volunteers helped plant plugs of sea grass to help stop erosion on Stratford Point. Photo Credit: Kim Primicerio
Students and other volunteers helped plant plugs of sea grass to help stop erosion on Stratford Point.
Students and other volunteers helped plant plugs of sea grass to help stop erosion on Stratford Point. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
Jennifer Mattei, Ph.D., oversees the planting of sea grasses at Stratford Point.
Jennifer Mattei, Ph.D., oversees the planting of sea grasses at Stratford Point. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
Students and other volunteers helped plant plugs of sea grass to help stop erosion on Stratford Point.
Students and other volunteers helped plant plugs of sea grass to help stop erosion on Stratford Point. Photo Credit: Kim Primicerio

STRATFORD, Conn. — Thomas Brennan rammed a digging tool into the mushy sands of low tide at Stratford Point Friday.

“I’ve dug a lot…a lot,” the eighth-grader said, braving the nippy winds in just a T-shirt. “It gives back to the environment.”

Brennan, who goes to Unquowa School in Fairfield, was one of about 130 students who turned out to help a team from Sacred Heart University plant a whopping 15,000 plugs of salt marsh grass to help restore the eroding shoreline at the point.

Another group of volunteers will be on hand Saturday — Earth Day — to finish the job, said Jennifer Mattei, a biology professor who’s been working on the site for about seven years now.

“As the grasses grow up and the water filters through it, less sediment will go away,” said Mattei.

She estimates an area about 75 feet wide and four feet deep has already been washed away at Stratford Point over the years. The grasses and a few lines of large reef balls she’s helped place are doing wonders to stem the tide now, said Tina Senft-Butoh, Stratford’s conservation administrator.

“This is fantastic,” Senft-Butoh said of the work Mattei is overseeing with fellow biology professors LaTina Steele and Jo-Marie Kasinak. “They took a shoreline that was eroding rapidly and transformed it into a resilient coastline.”

In between planting the plugs, volunteers learn how to care for the fragile coastal habitats and estuaries all over Fairfield County.

“The Lordship Cub Scout Pack 74 in Stratford were the first to volunteer,” said Kasinak. “These scouts, who help us with our horseshoe crab study, already understand the value of the beaches and salt marsh for the survival of fish and wildlife.”

Coastal development, pollution and continued harvest of fish and shellfish have changed the structure and function of the shores of the Housatonic River and the Sound, Mattei said. She and Steele have been studying the use of ‘living shorelines’ to combat the effects of climate change that are contributing to coastal erosion.

Thunderbird Environmental Group provided complimentary lunch, snacks and drinks, and adults will be able to participate in beer tasting, courtesy of SoundView Brewing Co. The DuPont Company provided planting tools and supplies.

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