The Reserve

Why is the Connecticut Reserve Special?

The Connecticut National Estuarine Research Reserve includes more than 50,000 acres in Long Island Sound, Fishers Island Sound, the Thames River and the Connecticut River and 1,955 acres of state-owned land in the surrounding area. Our Visit the Reserve webpage highlights each of the Reserve's sites. 

The Reserve is special for many reasons:

  • The Connecticut River is home to 78 different types of fish, including Atlantic salmon and the endangered shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon. Due to the shallow, sandy areas at the mouth of the River, it is also the only one in the Northeast that does not contain a major port facility.
  • The Connecticut River contains a variety of plant and animal communities, nesting sites, and stopover grounds for migratory birds. Due to these special features, it is considered a “wetlands of international importance”.
  • Long Island Sound supports a wide diversity of species, including more than 1,200 species of invertebrates and 170 species of fish. Sea birds, sea turtles and marine mammals also inhabit the Sound for all or part of the year.
  • The Bluff Point complex is the last significant piece of undeveloped land along the Connecticut coast. It includes several unique landforms and is a significant stopover area for migrating birds.
  • Long Island Sound contributes $7 billion to the regional economy each year, making it a major economic driver of Connecticut’s blue economy.

What does the Reserve do?

Each of the 30 reserves in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System have the following programs. This allows Reserves to have an environmental impact at the local level, as well as at the national level.

  • Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care. At the Reserve, our staff focuses on site protection and enhancement. This includes managing land and water resources, restoring habitat, controlling invasive species, maintaining biodiversity, and reducing environmental stressors. Learn more by visiting our Stewardship page.
  • Research is focused on how environmental factors such as nutrient loading, climate change, invasive species, and storms impact coastal ecosystems. Each Reserve has a System-Wide Monitoring Program, or SWMP, to provide long-term data on water quality and other factors. The research conducted at Reserves provides science-based information that can be used to address coastal management challenges. Learn more by visiting our Research page.
  • Training shares relevant information and important skills so that communities and coastal stakeholders can integrate science into local decision-making and their everyday lives. Reserves provide specialized courses and information to these audiences and provide support in community planning and improvement initiatives. Learn more by visiting our Coastal Training Program page.
  • Education provides opportunities for educators, students, and citizens to learn about the Reserve through hands-on learning or volunteer efforts. Teachers and students can use local data collected at the reserve to learn about environmental conditions. Field trips and visits to Reserve sites are life-changing experiences, as participants see how special these areas are. Learn more by visiting our Education page.

Reserve staff and partners follow the Management Plan that was developed based on stakeholder engagement and identified three main goals:

Goal 1: Increase our understanding of the effects of human activities and natural events through collaborative research and monitoring to improve informed decision making and support adaptive management of coastal ecosystems.

Goal 2: Strengthen stewardship, protection, and management of estuaries and their watersheds through place-based approaches to training and education in order to maintain and enhance natural environments.

Goal 3: Advance environmental appreciation and scientific literacy utilizing a place-based approach, to enhance people’s ability to make science-based decisions that positively affect estuaries, watersheds, and coastal communities.

How is the Reserve Managed?  

The Connecticut National Estuarine Research Reserve was designated into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Estuarine Research Reserve System in 2022. The Reserve is one of 30 coastal areas designated to protect and study estuarine systems. Each of these Reserves are managed by a lead state agency or university, with input from local partners, for which NOAA provides funding, guidance, and technical assistance. The Reserves cover 1.3 million acres of estuaries across the nation.

The University of Connecticut is the lead state agency, working in close collaboration with Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and other local organizations. NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management provides funding, national guidance, and technical assistance.

How was the Reserve established? 

There has been interest in establishing a National Estuarine Research Reserve since the early 1980s. After a series of failed attempts due to funding limitations, shifting priorities, and staff turnover, a Connecticut Designation Steering Committee was created in 2016 to resume efforts. This Designation Steering Committee consisted of staff from CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), University of Connecticut (UConn), Connecticut Sea Grant, and the Connecticut Audubon Society. This Committee worked with a Site Selection Team made up of a variety of state agencies, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations and staff from the NOAA Office for Coastal Management to move forward with the process.

From 2016 to 2019, the teams considered and analyzed many potential options for a reserve and evaluated the capacity for research, education, stewardship, and manageability. The proposed site was reviewed and approved by the Designation Steering Committee and DEEP, and formally nominated to NOAA in December 2019 through the office of Governor Dannel P. Malloy. NOAA received several hundreds of letters of support from the public, encouraging the acceptance of the nomination. Following a review period in 2019, NOAA accepted the site nomination as proposed and in 2020, Connecticut and NOAA began the next phases of the designation process.

On Friday January 14, 2022, the Reserve was officially designated by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and became the nation’s 30th National Estuarine Research Reserve. As of July 2022, the University of Connecticut transitioned into the lead management role for the CT NERR, in partnership with DEEP, who will retain the authority for managing lands owned by DEEP.