A Blueprint for a Healthier Coast in New York and Connecticut

Audubon’s new conservation strategy will create a resilient future for the Long Island Sound area.

Resilient, healthy coastal ecosystems not only benefit birds—they also serve as the first line of defense for coastal communities facing stronger, more frequent storms and sea-level rise. That is why Audubon created the Long Island Sound Area Conservation Strategy, a guiding document that lays out the most important coastal areas for birds and people in New York and Connecticut. Our conservation teams in Connecticut and New York will use this document as a “blueprint” to advance nature-based strategies to help the Atlantic shoreline weather the impacts of climate change, while also creating healthy habitats for coastal birds.

"The Long Island Sound and Atlantic Ocean coastlines and their associated marshes, islands and beaches are being squeezed by rising sea levels and human development. The ecosystem is too critical to the health of birds and people not to band together and take action to protect it," explains Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe, director of bird conservation for Audubon Connecticut. The ecosystem supports almost 25 percent of the Atlantic Coast breeding population of the Piping Plover, nearly 50 percent of the Roseate Tern global population, 12 percent of the Saltmarsh Sparrow global population, and the largest Common Tern nesting colony in the world. And, over 7 percent of the entire population of the United States live within a 50 mile radius of the Sound.

In order to have the greatest impact on our coastal ecosystems, Audubon’s conservation, policy, and science teams from both states, and at the national level, all pitched in to create a multipronged approach to conservation. First we created a map that pulls together several layers of data—the locations of bird populations, habitat types, and threats along the coasts of Connecticut and New York—to find out where these layers overlap and identify the most important coastal areas now and in the future. The results yielded a network of high-priority sites to focus conservation efforts with the goal of protecting and managing 10,000 acres of priority salt marsh, beach, and island habitats to benefit coast-dependent birds, healthy estuaries, and resilient communities.

Marshes, oyster beds, seagrass, beaches, and islands—i.e. “green infrastructure”—harness nature’s own defenses and are often more effective in containing storm surge and protecting coastal communities than “gray infrastructure” like jetties, groins, and seawalls. These climate-smart solutions not only buffer storm impacts, reduce flooding, and minimize wetland loss, they also preserve biodiversity and support healthy populations of fish and birds. This will benefit birds like the Saltmarsh Sparrow, which has experienced an estimated 80% decline in population over the last 15 years and is in danger of extinction within the next few decades if measures aren’t taken now to conserve its habitat.

Audubon is actively working with state and federal agencies and local town and county partners at the sites identified in the strategy to enhance and restore saltmarsh habitat, using techniques such as thin-layering with dredged sediments, restoring oyster reefs, and creating living shorelines. We will combine these on-the-ground restoration projects with our longstanding Coastal Bird Stewardship Programs in both states, and continue to advocate for state and federal policies that promote natural infrastructure, improve water quality, and help communities adapt to climate change. By implementing innovative strate­gies today, we can sustain and improve coastal habitats for tomorrow.