In January, Save the Sound, a program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment, released its 2011 State of the Sound Report. The first of its kind, the report issues grades measuring the efforts put forth by Connecticut and New York to protect and preserve Long Island Sound.

Long Island Sound

Guided by the Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP), the report is divided into four main topics: habitat, water quality, stewardship, and emerging issues. Connecticut and New York’s efforts are then further evaluated through coastal habitat, beach litter, migratory habitat, low oxygen, raw sewage, stormwater runoff, toxic chemicals, and stewardship.

With an overall grade of C+, State of the Sound calls attention to the areas in need of improvement, as well as highlighting the positive steps that Connecticut and New York have taken to make Long Island Sound a clean, safe, and vibrant place for all to enjoy.

Connecticut and New York have made tremendous efforts in preserving Long Island Sound’s habitats. Restoring and protecting coastal habitats received an A. Over the past two decades, Connecticut and New York have restored or protected over 1,000 acres of coastal habitats, including marshes, forests, shellfish reefs, sand dunes and eelgrass beds, which provide food and refuge for fish, birds, crabs and many other animals.

The states’ efforts to restore fishes’ migratory access to rivers and spawning habitats received an A-. Through fish ladders and fishways, Connecticut has surpassed its 2008 and 2011 milestones. However, New York still needs help. With only 13 percent of its habitat open and roughly 600 river miles still blocked from fish, the Long Island Sound community should continue to push for consistent state funding to help save the fish and the natural environment that the Sound depends on.

The states’ efforts to keep harmful litter off beaches received a B-. Although beach cleanup participation has increased over the past decade, these volunteer efforts are not sufficient to solve the problem on their own. Three hundred pounds of trash, including discarded fishing gear, plastic bags, broken glass and other debris, is collected per mile of beach every year on Long Island Sound. By creating a state marine debris act that provides education and cleanup funding, Connecticut and New York can reduce harmful litter on land and sea.

While State of the Sound shows areas of promise and improvement, other initiatives still need work. Keeping toxic chemicals from entering our waterways and endangering wildlife and public health earned a C. Preventing stormwater pollutants from flowing into streams and Long Island Sound, improving the low oxygen levels that threaten living creatures in the western Sound, and stewardship of Connecticut and New York’s coastal spaces all received a C-. In addition, preventing raw sewage from entering the Sound and its surrounding environment earned a disappointing D+.

Elected officials at both the state and federal levels can help make the changes necessary to protect and preserve the Sound. Fighting for full funding for Long Island Sound federal programs is necessary to ensure a bright, sustainable future. State legislatures in Connecticut and New York can advocate for polices that manage stormwater runoff through green infrastructure, leverage federal stewardship funding, address expected impacts of climate change and sea level rise, and create options that ensure conservation of wildlife habitats.

Save the Sound’s 2012 legislative agenda focuses on efforts to promote bi-state coordination between Connecticut and New York state legislators on Long Island Sound policies. Because the Sound provides over $9 billion a year to the regional economy, the legislative agenda seeks the partnership of the Connecticut Marine Trades Association and the Clean Water Investment Coalition to strengthen the coastline economy by creating hundreds of jobs and enhancing access to the Sound. Through these partnerships, sewage treatment and green infrastructure projects as well as clean marinas and increased public access can progress to create a cleaner Long Island Sound for everyone to enjoy.

Yet, the burden of caring for Long Island Sound does not fall solely on elected officials. In order to ensure the Sound remains a place of beauty and recreation, citizens must help. Individuals can volunteer for a beach cleanup or river bank restoration, get involved with a local watershed, land trust or conservation commission, clean up after pets to prevent bacteria washing into streams and rivers, reduce and monitor personal fertilizer and pesticide use, recycle trash properly, and purchase a Preserve the Sound license plate in Connecticut or a Marine and Coastal District plate in New York.

With the help of elected officials and a committed Long Island Sound community, Connecticut and New York’s beaches and water can remain a healthy place of recreation and beauty that all residents can love and enjoy! ✦

Leah Schmalz is director of legal and legislative affairs for Save the Sound. Kyla Miles is a graduate student intern for Save the Sound.