White House, Federal, and State Officials Commemorate New Connecticut Reserve

Equitable access among priorities for National Estuarine Research Reserve, which should also boost state economy

Navigate to:

White House, Federal, and State Officials Commemorate New Connecticut Reserve
Birds fill the sky over the Connecticut National Estuarine Research Reserve, the newest in the 30-site federal system.
Birds fill the sky over the Connecticut National Estuarine Research Reserve, the newest in the 30-site federal system.
The Connecticut Audubon Society

Connecticut federal officials joined state community leaders and conservationists in late May to celebrate a milestone conservation achievement: designation of the nation’s newest National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), which encompasses about 52,000 acres in southeastern Connecticut.

“President Coolidge once said, ‘Persistence is everything,’” U.S. Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT) told the 75 attendees at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus, giving a nod to the state’s on-and-off 40-year quest to secure an NERR. The campus, located on Long Island Sound at the mouth of the Thames River, is within the new NERR. Before the site’s technical designation on Jan. 14, Connecticut was one of only two coastal states, along with Louisiana, without a reserve.

For the Connecticut site, Courtney says, the goal now is to “make this a thriving and sustainable body of water” that will contribute to the conservation, education, research, stewardship, training, and recreational goals that are hallmarks of the federal estuarine system.

Estuaries are broadly defined as areas where freshwater flowing from rivers and streams mixes with saltwater from the ocean. They create abundant habitats for marine life, boost coastal economies, and provide coastal communities with often-formidable buffers from storms and sea level rise.

According to the Connecticut reserve’s environmental impact statement, which was required to advance the reserve’s designation, the site supports more than 1,200 species of invertebrates and 120 species of fish. In total, nearly 50 species listed under the Connecticut Endangered Species Act live, feed, breed, or stop over in the reserve.

Oceanographer Richard Spinrad, undersecretary of Commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), noted at the commemoration that 2022 is the 50th anniversary of the Coastal Zone Management Act, which created the NERR reserve system, along with other national conservation protections. Since then, Spinrad said, the system has grown into a network spanning 23 states and more than 1.4 million acres of protected land and water along U.S. coasts and the Great Lakes, the latter of which often have habitats that mimic estuaries. The University of Connecticut will manage the reserve.

“This unique program, built on state-federal partnerships … has really made great strides in our national efforts to address particularly complicated issues associated with climate change,” Spinrad added. “The reserve system is going to enable us to invest in sustained, long-term trusted relationships, so that we can better understand community needs. It’s going to allow us to use that understanding to get relevant information into the hands of decision-makers at every level: local, state, industry, and nongovernmental organizations.”

NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad, center.
NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad, center, is joined by Ellie Roberts (left), national external affairs coordinator for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and NOAA Lt. Cmdr. Cherisa Friedlander on a May 21 tour of the Connecticut NERR.
Sean Flynn University of Connecticut

NERRs, some of which border remote communities, also show that policymakers needn’t choose between conservation and economic aims. A 2021 study co-funded by NOAA and The Pew Charitable Trusts found that four NERR sites—Rookery Bay, Guana Tolomato Matanzas, and Apalachicola in Florida, and South Slough in Oregon—generate more than $165 million in annual revenue for their communities, including $56.4 million in wages that support at least 1,762 jobs.

30th National Estuarine Research Reserve Contains Some of Long Island Sound's Last Undeveloped Coast

Spinrad and other speakers at the Connecticut commemoration also referenced the system’s power to help correct equity and inclusion shortcomings, which they said have fueled environmental injustices and blocked access for many to these coastal areas. Rectifying both are top issues noted in the management plan of the Connecticut reserve.

“Nature conservation isn’t like placing the fragile and expensive stemware up high on a shelf,” said Sara Gonzalez-Rothi, who represented the White House Council on Environmental Quality at the event. “Rather, it’s about actively combating the climate crisis and the extinction crisis, while also addressing a legacy of injustice and inequity. This view of conservation is grounded in a belief … that every person deserves access to clean water, clean air, abundant wildlife, and open space, and that for far too long, this has not been the reality for too many.”

Gonzalez-Rothi went on to highlight the educational and scientific priorities of the estuarine system and noted how the Connecticut site can advance and expand on them. “Where the salt meets fresh is where the magic happens,” she said. “And everyone should experience that, right? Yes, this place will be a living laboratory for both the world-class researchers and for the original scientists: the curious kid who is happiest when our feet are wet, and our hands are dirty.”

Tom Wheatley manages ocean conservation in the Gulf of Mexico, and the support and expansion of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, as part of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ conserving marine life in the United States project. 

Spotlight on Mental Health

A great white egret flying with wings spread wide over the water.
A great white egret flying with wings spread wide over the water.
Article

Connecticut Gains National Estuarine Research Reserve

Quick View
Article

Connecticut today successfully concluded a decades-long quest when the U.S. Department of Commerce, on the recommendation of the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA), designated the country’s 30th National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) within the state’s borders.

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies

Explore

Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.