A Sound Plan for the Future
Q&A with Chantal Collier, Long Island Sound Program Director
As a child, Chantal Collier spent her summers snorkeling through sea grass meadows just off the Connecticut coast. Now, as the director of the Conservancy’s Long Island Sound Program, Chantal shares with us her hopes and vision for the Sound’s next 20 years.
What are the goals of the Long Island Sound Program?
Two of our main priorities are ecosystems and people.
To benefit ecosystems, we led applied research to answer pressing questions, such as ‘what caused the loss of seagrass meadows in the Sound?’.. These aquatic plants shelter wildlife, such as scallops, juvenile fishes and sea turtles, but have disappeared in many areas.
The connection to people is how local communities also benefit from keeping these coastal habitats healthy. Eelgrass, the primary species of seagrass in the Sound, generates oxygen, improves water clarity by absorbing nutrients, reduces shoreline erosion by stabilizing sediments and dampening wave energy, and can store nearly twice as much carbon as a similar area of forest on land.
Millions of people live, work and play on the Sound. How do we support both people and nature?
We’ve mapped the location of ecologically notable places that sustain the diversity of marine life throughout Long Island Sound. Now, we’re collaborating with partners to use this assessment and gather other information decision makers need to identify the most compatible locations for maritime transportation, fishing, offshore energy development and future human uses in the Sound.
The Conservancy is unique because we operate with a long-term view. We’ve invested in strategic planning that will yield outcomes for the next 10 to 25 years.
What do you hope the Sound will look like in 20 years?
I think the effects of climate change—sea level rise, more frequent storms and flooding—are making the connection between the condition of natural resources and people’s quality of life more evident. For example, salt marshes and eelgrass can reduce storm impacts and support local fisheries, but can only provide these benefits to us if they have clean water and open space to migrate as sea levels rise.
Coastal development and nitrogen pollution from wastewater and fertilizers have diminished these resources. Twenty years from now, I hope to see the policies that have contributed to these losses replaced with practices and technologies that are protective of the natural resources we depend on.
You grew up on the Sound. How has it changed?
I’ve been back to our old summer house as an adult. The beach is much smaller and the water is less clear than I remember. There’s also a lot of new development along the shoreline.
What one thing should each member do to help the Sound?
Be engaged in your community, in expressing your environmental concerns to state and local officials and being a steward of the marine environment—and, of course, please give to the Long Island Sound Program. This great estuary benefits all of us, and we need to work together to protect it.