To get a jump on Earth Day celebrations this weekend, the network of environmental educators in our region has organized a sustainability forum focusing on Long Island Sound.
Leave it to a bunch of teachers and policy types to hold a two-hour indoor forum, on a Friday night, at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
Actually, it's a fitting way to commemorate the grassroots birth of the environmental movement. The New London County Environmental Educators Coalition (NLCEEC) and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Sustainability Club, a cadet-run organization, are welcoming everyone from environmental advocates to curious citizens to come rub elbows with experts on the topics of sea change, water quality, pollution prevention and sustainable development.
"Long Island Sound is part of what makes Connecticut such a special place," says Susan Frechette, deputy commissioner for Environmental Conservation at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, who will kick off the forum by addressing environmental issues affecting the sound. "The sound is a unique urban estuary that is our most valuable natural resource."
In 1988, the United States Congress declared Long Island Sound as an estuary of national significance, recognizing its ecological significance and the many threats to its survival. The 110-mile body of water bordering Connecticut and New York generates an estimated $5 billion of economic activity, according to the Long Island Sound Study (LISS), a bi-state partnership of federal and state agencies, user groups, concerned organizations and individuals dedicated to restoring and protecting it. It's that interplay between commercial and recreational ventures that generates the conflicts and issues of resource management and use.
"People are more aware of the need to protect the Sound than they've ever been," says Judy Preston, of Connecticut Sea Grant, who is a panelist Friday night. "But there are huge population pressures, land use changes right along the coast, issues of density of development of the landscape."
Other panelists include Penny Vlahos, of the UConn Marine Sciences Department at UConn/Avery Point, David Bingham of the CT League of Conservation Voters and Thomas Granito of the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Environmental Management in Washington, DC.
The forum is designed for the general public, from environmental activists and non-profits to anyone who wants to learn more about what they can do around their home and lawn to decrease pressure on the sound, according to Amy Cabaniss, assistant director of the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment at Connecticut College. She's also one of the organizers of the NLCEEC, a collaboration of environmental educators in public, private and volunteer capacities who seek to build environmental literacy and stewardship in the region.
There's no shortage of information and advice for conscientious consumers looking to lighten their impact on the sound. Preston points people to the newly expanded Sound Gardening section of the LISS website for tips on sustainable yards.
"Nitrogen is one of the biggest problems in Long Island Sound," says Preston. "Nitrogen run-off causes hypoxia, or oxygen deficiency in the Sound and other estuaries. We have a problem with this every year, so the last thing I want people to do is the typical four treatments of chemical fertilizers on their yard this year."
Don't be tempted by this early spring to dump extra fertilizer on lawns and landscapes, because the excess will end up in tributaries and eventually the sound.
"If the one thing people would do this year is to go from the one-size-fits all routine applications of inorganic chemical fertilizer to organic, slow-release fertilizers, it would benefit the sound and the quality of our water," she says.
Habits are hard to break. We used to rush to get fertilizer on the ground right before a big rain.
"But that just leads to nitrogen run-off into the sound," says Preston.
Another simple change she recommends is to avoid spilling or spreading fertilizer on driveways or hardscapes, since the chemical washes directly into the sewer and the sound.
"Take a look at how much lawn you have and how much you need," says Preston. "Put in wildlife areas and flower gardens for the insects that attract the birds, and leave off the chemical toxins that affect wildlife, pets and people."
The Sound Communities Forum is from 7 to 9 p.m. at Leamy Hall on the Coast Guard Academy grounds; arrive at 6:45 p.m. for informational table displays. The event is free.
For more information, visit the LISS website, longislandsoundstudy.net.
Suzanne Thompson lives in Old Lyme. Catch her weekly radio show, "CT Outdoors," on WLIS 1420/Old Saybrook and WMRD 1150/Middletown. She can be reached at email@example.com.