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Author Topic: IMEP #100 – Part 1 How Climate Impacts Bay Scallop Habitat Quality and Catches  (Read 283 times)
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BlueChip
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« on: November 23, 2021, 01:14:09 PM »

IMEP #100 – Part 1
How Climate Impacts Bay Scallop Habitat Quality and Catches
“Understanding Science Through History”
The Niantic Bay Scallop Fishery
A Habitat History of Coastal Inlets and Bars
Temperature and Energy Are Key Factors in Scallop Habitat Quality and
Herring Species Abundance
Flushing and The Formation of Marine Composts – Sapropel
Tim Visel, The Sound School, New Haven, CT
Viewpoint of Tim Visel, no other agency or organization
Thank you The Blue Crab ForumTM for supporting our newsletter series over 300,000 views
This is Part 1 of a two-part report – This is a delayed report
May 7, 2020


Preface

The absence of interagency research cooperation in the 1900’s is clearly evident in the historic fisheries literature.  Key to this absence is a lack of knowledge of fishery managers about climate and its impact to the rises and fall of seafood species.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in Rhode Island with the bay scallop.  In just two decades Rhode Island went from leading the United States with vast deep water bay scallop beds – measured in miles to virtually none.  The 1870’s were bitter cold and bay scallop crops from Narragansett Bay were huge (See IMEP #52: Narragansett Bay Deep Water Bay Scallops Habitats, posted July 25, 2015, The Blue Crab ForumTM).  One of the associations of this bitter cold were reports of huge bay scallop sets driven into shallow water to freeze at low tide.  Two decades later the great cold was replaced by a great heat.  In 1896, 1897 and 1898, massive heat waves saw tremendous fish kills, first in the salt ponds.  The fish kill in Point Judith Pond in 1896 was particularly severe and gained the needed political support to start the nation’s first Land Grant University Marine Lab staffed by Dr. George Field.  Two years later the 1898 fish kill in upper Narragansett Bay would be described as a plague upon the citizens of Rhode Island by A. D. Mead of Brown University in an 1898 article in Science magazine.  A massive red and brown tide enveloped upper Narragansett Bay in September of 1898.  Dying fish and shellfish made the waters “stink” for coastal areas (most likely from sulfide – T. Visel).  The formation of acid sapropel and metal sulfides was suspected.  This will stain the shells of bivalves gray or black after a significant sulfide event. 

Sulfide kills are temperature and oxygen related, an extreme period of heat is the most common time for them.  However, winter sulfide kills can occur under ice or in small bodies of water after a storm in areas of thick sapropel in winter.  We know this sulfide rich broth as black water.  Sulfide events usually stain the shells of bivalves black, it is one of the key indicators that a sulfide kill had happened.

We have perhaps an unusual indicator for this Narragansett Bay sulfide event – the underside white bellies of winter flounder instead of being white were now stained black.  In 1901 the Woods Hole Biological laboratory of the US Fish Commission Biological August 1901 notes of the migration, spawning, abundance etc of certain fishes in 1900 contains this segment describing these winter flounder that as they aged (and were caught) became a small part of the population – this segment references The Fish Island Fish Commission – on page 31 from Biological Notes.

“In regard to the “black-bellied” fish, the report of the Rhode Island Fish Commission for 1900 states:  “It is an extremely interesting fact that the dark-bellied variety, which gradually came into notice several years ago and attained the maximum of its abundance in 1898, is on the decline.  Last season, according to a trustworthy estimate, only about 4 per cent were colored on the under surface, while three years ago at least 33 per cent were colored.”  Among 300 flat-fish from Waquoit Bay this season (1900-1901) there was not a single specimen of the black-bellied variety, although last year Dr. Humpus reported several.  This variation seems to have completely disappeared.”

A problem lies with the event other than shells having a black or gray stain.  Habitats months later show little or no sign of the sulfide kill.  Therefore, other than written reports, oral histories and newspaper articles, most Rhode Island residents do not have the habitat history that includes these sulfide fish kills.  Fewer still have the experiences of seeing them – they are quiet killers and by the time coastal observers report the kill, sulfide levels may no longer present in levels to be a threat to sea life.   The only reference we have that is consistent because of the sulfur chemistry is mentioned as the smell of “rotten eggs,” the smell of sulfur happened during the kill.

The Rhode Island fish kills of 1896, 1897 and 1898 represent a tremendous shift of climate – over the tipping edge for most sea life.  The amount of organic matter dislodged by rains is a frequent precursor to the sulfide kill.  Once oxygen levels return and organic matter is dissipated, sea life returns.  We might have one indicator of sapropel on the bottom with winter flounder and their ability to change colors.  Bigelow and Schroeder in their bulletin titled “Fishes of the Gulf of Maine 1953” on page 277, they also reported on unusual color abnormalities with a direct reference to upper Narragansett Bay during the same years the waters turned red and emitted foul smelling gases.  From Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953:

“In fact, one-third of the fish caught near Providence, RI during the winter of 1897-98 were these “black bellies” as fishermen call them, but the commissioners of fisheries of that state estimated them as forming only 4 percent of the catch in 1900.  And none or at most only an occasional fish has been seen since.”

Because of the occurrence of black belly winter flounder (the side of the flounder in contact with the sea bottom is white) and the timing indicate that it was not a transition of chromatophores, which act as camouflage to prevent predation but possibly a massive sulfide staining event connected to the massive 1898 fish kill.  Sulfide staining was a large concern in the 1950’s with canned tuna fish (See Commercial Fisheries Review, December 1956, Pg. 13, Iron Sulfide Discoloration of Tuna Cans, Pigott and Standsby).  The presence of sulfide is known to have darkened lead-based paints and household stained faucets with high water sulfides.  During the 1898 fish kill, the one that Dr. Mead of Brown University describes, the September 8th and 9th event, as a plague: is found this description -

“Myriads of shrimps and blue crabs, and vast numbers of eels, menhaden, tautaug, and flatfish came up to the surface and to the edge of the shore as though struggling to get out of the noxious water.”  From “An Investigation of the Plague Which Destroyed Multitudes of Fish and Crustacean During the Fall of 1898.”

The noxious water usually was from an odor – now thought to be sulfide.  It is not mentioned as a reason for the quick drop in lobster production by records of barrels of lobsters shipped via Newport 4,793 in 1900 to only 977 in 1905.  Although Rhode Island already had an advanced upweller lobster hatchery operating in Wickford, RI to halt the drop-in lobster landings – the climate aspect of a surging blue crab population now happening in Narragansett Bay was noticed as the “crab question.”  Landing records show that only 1 barrel of blue crabs was shipped in 1902 but 122 barrels in 1905.  In 1904, E. W. Barnes would write a report about the “Prospect of a Rhode Island Soft Shell Crab Fishery.”  This was when water temperatures in Narragansett Bay were very high – a stark contrast to the 1870’s.  In 1903 during the Regional Lobster Convention in Boston, Massachusetts held to unify lobster regulations, Rhode Island introduced the concept of climate not regulation as the basis for lobster aquaculture.  Rhode Island sought to increase the lobster resource by providing stage four lobsters that nature had not.  The Wickford lobster hatchery kept extensive records and in 1905 seawater temperatures there (August 1905) reached 77oF, warm enough to kill lobster megalops in shallow water, which likely was even hotter.

In 1898 following the massive upper bay dieoff, the Rhode Island legislature approved a systematic examination of the physical conditions of Narragansett Bay, which included publishing a list of Fishes of Narragansett Bay, which did happen in 1910.  Much of this work is in reports of the Rhode Island Commissioners of Inland Fisheries.  This survey still continues to this day and represents one of the longest biological surveys in existence.  One of the study areas detailed in 1905 was to look at the fisheries of Block Island and one of the reasons included was this statement “fishermen say that frequently in these offshore waters they take fish which are new to them, and that they are even whole schools of unfamiliar species.”  When Dr. Henry Tracy published his final list of species, he included in it tarpon, pg. 72, and the barracuda.  It had gone through several drafts and additions with the “final” annotated list – “Fishes Known to Inhabit the Waters of Rhode Island” published in 1909.  It included these two species, which appeared in Rhode Island in 1899 and 1909, the precise time of the most severe heat waves.

The bay scallop might become our most important indicator species for cold periods.  Thus in the 1900’s during the time barracudas and tarpon were caught in Rhode Island waters, (Beginning in 1895, tarpon were caught weighing over 100 pounds), bay scallop catches were very low or non-existent.  Bay scallops may be only abundant in the coldest of climate periods for New England – a pattern or cycle that may represent thousands of years and perhaps hundreds of such species reversals.  Bay scallops are acutely sensitive to sulfide.  They thrive in extreme cold and when oxygen levels are naturally high.

Rhode Island may provide us the chance to compile a bay scallop habitat history.  It has documented a large deepwater fishery in the colder 1870’s in Narragansett Bay (See IMEP #52: Narragansett Bay Deep Water Bay Scallop Habitats of the 1870’s, posted July 25, 2015, The Blue Crab ForumTM).   On page 576, US Fish Commission History and Methods of the Fisheries – The Scallop Fishery details the Rhode Island deepwater beds (dredge only) as miles in length.

Bay scallops appeared in Narragansett Bay around 1864 and by 1879 some ninety boats were fishing for scallops.  Following is a segment from the section for Rhode Island:

“A new bed of 50 acres lying between Warwick Neck, the middle ground, and the spindle, in the shape of a triangle, has just been discovered, where the scallops are large and plenty, and where every pleasant day a score or boats may be seen.”

This huge bay scallop fishery in Narragansett Bay with scallop grounds extending for miles and depths out to 30-feet deep came after an incredible cold.  Writing for the Connecticut Board of Agriculture, Philo S. Beers of Cheshire, CT details the destruction of valley apple and fruit orchards in 1875.

“The cause of such a calamity is not in doubt.  The winter of 1872-73 was the coldest on record, and the mercury sank to a lower point, according to the records kept in New Haven, than for the last 100 years.  The mercury at my house indicated on the coldest morning 22 degrees below zero.  One-half mile north and 50 feet lower in a hollow, the same morning, the same hour, the mercury indicated 30 below zero.  There I had another orchard of apple trees, and many limbs were killed entirely, both on grafted and natural trees; they have not and never will recover from the effects of that cold morning.  In the north and south parts of this town (Cheshire, CT – T. Visel) in the valleys, the mercury sank to 36o below 0.  At this time, and it was in these places that some whole orchards were killed.  Others on a little higher ground suffered less, part of the tree being killed, and others started with little life.”

In 1877 two years after Mr. Beers’ report, bay scallop populations soared in Narragansett Bay.  These huge scallop beds would be called the North Shore or Apponaug grounds.  The very cold temperatures are thought to have high oxygen levels – high oxygen reduces the chance of sulfide formation form sulfate metabolism (See IMEP #86-A – Sulfate Metabolism Global Warming and Oyster Restoration posted May 10, 2021).



The High and Low Energy Habitats

The coast has always been a battleline – the relentless pounding of waves sorted sands, and finer particles or silts ground rock flour.  The high energy beaches had cobblestones, medium energy sands and low energy clay silts.  Slowing or stopping coastal energy changes the beaches while a wall or breakwater redirects or absorbs energy.  Since the retreat of the glacial extension about 10,000 years ago the shore has retreated, some slow periods (warm) but others during colder periods, rapid retreats and increased erosion.  Overall the tide line has retreated about a foot a year as sea level has risen about one inch every decade.  The final result of sea level rise has also taken into the effect that our continent is also sinking called subsistence.  Although some reports have started that sea level rise is a new concern the sea has been reclaiming the shore since the ice retreated 10,000 years ago.

In times of heat, much less coastal energy, and as warm seawater is not as dense, it tends to produce less erosion.  In fact, in times of heat and less energy terrestrial organics collect in coves and estuaries – as fall leaves on land during these period organics “collect” they form a marine compost.  This compost in droughts, heat and long energy periods putrefies in the absence of oxygen and forms a sapropel – an organic gelation that has the consistency of mayonnaise and is often termed “black mayonnaise” by coastal fishers and shore residents who see it or perhaps sink in it.  In heat these organic deposits can produce sulfides from a change in composting bacteria. 

The cold and hot periods have left us a habitat history changes in climate patterns, which can be found in salt marsh plant and estuarine eelgrass peat cores, which frequently covers sapropel deposits.  The best way to examine this habitat history of hot and cold is to examine plug cores from these estuaries.  It is the change from hot to cold and from frequent storms to periods of long calms that has plagued fishery science since our first steps to quantify it – the problem is that we cannot.  We cannot “fix” nature and this is what haunts fishery managers today – it is the underside of public perception that we cannot overcome the transitions between theses climate periods, they just happen.  We cannot stop them but can learn about them.

As Civil War doctors struggled to save the wounded from battles, a different type of battle ensued, a bacteria battle.  We know today that thousands of lives could have been saved with just cleaning instruments (as primitive as they were then as compared to today) as bacterial infections claimed many lives.  But as the smoke cleared from these horrendous battles a different kind of “smoke” happened in our estuaries, bacteria were at war with each other, and the battlefield casualties were fish and shellfish.  The smoke of this marine battlefield is hydrogen sulfide – hot compost gas dissolved in seawater from bacterial action.

The 1860’s were hot and in the shallow waters close to land were hot as well, in this heat the “cold water” fish did not “do well” in fact their populations fell.  Some of these fish were very economically important, especially shad, easy to catch it became the food of the poor and many workers in factories and the decline of shad is perhaps the chief reason for the creation of the US Fish and Commission in 1871 – over the decline of cool water species impacted by warming water.

Connecticut also grew alarmed over the disappearance of shad.  It issued a report titled “Concerning the Protection of Fish in the Connecticut River in 1867”.  One of its chief suggestions was the construction of fish ways over dams to allow fish access to spawning habitats.  (something that is still policy today).  What wasn’t addressed was the climate had changed, waters were hot and often filled with organics (and, yes, factory and industrial effluents as well) officials charged with “solving the problem,” i.e. lack of fish had to respond with something and of course produce a report.  Many times, it was reports about the problem and suggestions to mill and factory dam owners to provide fish passage.  Pollution was frequently mentioned but many runs existed when waters were used as open sewers to the sea.

The truth of the matter was the climate had turned “hot” and the biochemistry of inshore waters had now changed.  Shad production levels would come back and peak in the 1950’s as a negative NAO climate period contained 22 strong storms and much colder winters.  The sulfide smoke of heat putrefied organics was now gone – and the fish responded to cooler more favorable habitats.  Historically the chance to look at climate here was eclipsed by the increase in factories – and the pollution from them.  While the Thames River in England putrefied in high heat called “The Great Stink” in 1858 with organics most of the decline in fisheries here was blamed on pollution – from cities and factories that contained “gas works.”  Our rivers also “stank” but people thought it was from the chemical pollution not the climate.  The emphasis upon our chemical pollution would cause a bias in fisheries management that unfortunately continues today a failure to look at natural climate habitat quality.  The areas to first show these hot and cold periods being the shallowest of waters, those that cool down or heat up the fastest, those areas 20 feet or less those same areas (often) classified as “critical” or “essential” habitats for many species of fish and shellfish today.

It is these areas that record the changes in climate and the habitat battles of long ago.  We can observe these past battles in the core studies of salt marshes and subtidal coves and bays.  They have left us a habitat record second only to the Native Americans whose shell middens left behind as evidence of climate changes, small oysters signifying a good set, large oysters a long stable climate period or transitions between oysters (who do well in heat) and quahogs and bay scallops that prefer colder water and energized habitats.  Several researchers are looking at shell middens with a new guide – biology and climate science.  A good set of scallops for example could show as large adults with one or possibly two raised growth rings.  A scallop with no ring or “nub” is a scallop that grew to adult size in one growing season not two or hard clams quahogs with blunt, very thick shells remnant of a population that was perhaps 75 to 100 years old.

The relative abundance is also being examined – Native Americans free of the European bias of the “correct seafood” to consume just gathered what they could – quickly and did not spend days searching for a popular species for the market but instead what species would provide the best “calorie” return – ended up in the fire first.  So, banding of species in shell middens provides critical climate habitat information – did species reverse or change over the depth of the midden?  A shell deposits that shows for example a transition in prevalence from oysters/softshells to quahogs/bay scallops signifies a warm to cooling climate.  A sudden influx of small “sharp” quahogs thin shells signifies a set transition and excellent growth.  Some of the shell middens in Maine for example are showing clearly defined bands of quahogs between oysters, and some of the best accounts of transitions from the shell middens are of the Damariscotta River in Maine.  (See Harold Castner accounts of this huge and climate change significant shell middens in the 1950’s).  These shell deposits could be the most significant as they represent a biological history of once warmer waters in which oysters set and thrived in Maine.  By the 1950’s when shad fisheries reached historic harvest levels, the oyster sets in Maine had ended – the waters were cooler and softshell clams, the clam of the first soil cultivation experiments thrived in this cool and active storm period.  John Hammond once remarked that the story of climate change itself is in the fish recorded by what fishers catch and observe.  The climate impact of heat and few storms set into motion changes in habitat water chemistry linked by the lessening of dissolved oxygen.

In times of heat and little energy, sapropel, a marine compost, can form quite quickly in areas with tidal restrictions (tidal spits, road and rail causeways) which also serve to reduce coastal energy.  Here behind such tidal restrictions these barriers tend now to act as a riverine dam and collects organic matter from up stream.  (Sapropel has been called up to 30 different names, such as fine grain sediment, and is toxic to most sea life.  Only a few species can exist in it, one is the eel.)  Sapropel can form in fresh water or salt water and is governed by the type of bacterial reduction strains.  In times of freshwater dominance, sapropels tend to be brown and have a covering of freshwater species submerged aquatic vegetation (Ruppia marina), and in times of drought and heat, black sulfide sapropels can be measured in feet.  Changes in salinity and the availability of sulfate can alter productivity.  For example, Welsh et al. (1980) in a study of Alewife Cove with a tidal bar (sand waves) “The Effects of Reduced Wetlands and Storage Basins the Stability of a Small Connecticut Estuary – Alewife Cove – Waterford, New London CT has this section:

“Test cores taken in the Upper Basin yielded an underlaying stratum of brown clay, suggesting a former fresh water condition there.  The second thickest portion of the sediment lens was near the head of the cove, and may reflect the area of deposition under the low – flow conditions which predominate at the present time.”

This is a soft deposit, which can build up in times of heat, often noticed by the smell of rotten eggs (sulfide) when disturbed.  This is a sapropel created under low oxygen conditions.  When oxygen level is low, different bacteria break down plant tissue into a compost.  Low flow conditions can be traced to heat and drought or heat and inlet healing (flushing) or both.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s this compost was frequently “side casted” to form man made islands and marshes.  (This process was largely ended by the 1972 Coastal Zone Act – T. Visel).

In times of very hot weather, sapropel can form especially when circulation (flushing) is restricted and trap organic plant tissue in them.  This was termed “tidal choking” in (Bruun et al., 1978, Stability of Tidal Inlets, reprinted Elseuer, per Bruun Technical University of Norway).  The Town of Waterford first started looking at restricted flushing impacts forty years ago.  Alewife and Jordan Coves were once significant winter flounder habitats.  There, winter flounder fishers first noticed the increase of soft organic deposits.  When sapropel increased winter flounder declined in these Waterford Coves (See IMEP #92, posted August 2, 2021) (See Appendix #1: Harris The Impact of leaves).

Restricted tidal exchange holds organic matter for bacterial reduction.  In times of heat and low oxygen, sulfate bacteria can produce sulfides, a toxin to most sea life.  In 1979, Teal and Harworth detail the toxic impact of this bacterial action (From Teal and Harworth, Limnology and Oceanography, 1979, Vol. 24, #6, Sulfate Reduction in a New England Salt Marsh, pg. 1006):

“Sulfates are toxic to many microorganisms and plants.  We have preliminary evidence that sulfides at concentrations as low as .20 mM (millimolar) liter can kill Spartina alterniflora plants growing hydroponically.  Although sulfate-reducing bacteria are relatively insensitive to sulfides (Miller, 1950), the other fermentative bacteria, which provide organic substrates for them, may be more easily poisoned.  Thus, if sulfides accumulate, the grasses could be killed, or their growth inhibited.”

It is the organic compost that supports this bacterial action.  (One series of bacteria eliminates the other as Selman Waksman discovered in 1940 with soil studies at the Rutgers Agriculture Experiment Station.)  Bay scallops are killed by sulfides – their presence can be determined by high heat, a strong thermocline, weak flushing and sulfide staining of shells immediately following a sulfide kill.  Salt ponds and rivers with a spit often close and then collect leaves.

This feature of an organic trap that twigs oak leaves and other organics in heat putrefies and builds up in estuaries.  Fishers especially winter flounder fishers who fished for flounder in eastern CT noticed this sapropel build up behind road and rail tidal restrictions in the 1980’s.  The low flow condition allows sulfate reduction to increase releasing the rotten egg smells from these impacted coves.  Periodic climate variations or a positive NAO to a negative NAO would be magnified in shallow water subject to thermal heat or energy from waves or currents.  A habitat of core history behind tidal restrictions could hold a time series record of storm events and habitat reversals – bacterial sapropel sulfide and plant peat building species in bands within the depth.  For example, the Niantic River contains a barrier spit that was last breached in 1815.  Over time, water is retained behind the spit and allows organics to accumulate.  In extreme heat waters may turn black.  We might have an historic clue to this impact even by name.  My comments in (T. Visel).

History of New London by Frances Manwaring Caulkins, 1852, pg. 610, has this quote:

“Niantic Bay, sometimes called Black Bay west of Waterford, and is noted for a thriving trades in the river above the bay, many vessels were formerly built, but the greater cheapness of timber on the coast of Maine, has transferred this kind of business to that quarter1 and 2.”

“From the first settlement of the country this expanse of water has been noted for fish.  In some seasons the bass (the Striped Bass – T. Visel) have abounded to an almost incredible degree, see footnote3 the black fish caught here, usually complete with the first and best in the market, and the coast is supplied with an almost inexhaustible store of clams and lobsters.  It was the productiveness of waters, which made the bay a favorite resort of the aborigines.”

1.    Statistics laid before the Harbor and Rivers Convention Chicago 1847
2.   The number of vessels in Niantic stated in 1847 was 32.
3.    Four men, in one night on January 5, 1811, caught near the bridge at the head of Niantic River (the bar) with a small seine 9,500 pounds of bass.  They were sent to New York in a smack (sailing vessel) and sold for upward $200 dollars – New London Gazette.

In times of cold and strong storms, the bar would “breach” with multiple openings.  In these times, flushing increased.  Over time, these breaches were filled or healed by the movement of sand.  During these times, flushing would be reduced and in hot water temperatures change the chemistry of the habitats in them.  Bay scallops would decline under these conditions.

The dominant feature of Niantic Bay is the bar – a long barrier spit subject to opening and closing in a cyclic pattern – a submerged river mouth – now often classified as a lagoon.  However, this bar would break in periods of cold and for a time support bay scallops only to be closed in periods of heat.  (This bar has been reinforced and today has a major rail line across it).

The opening of these spits set up a hydraulic/velocity movement of sand on the incoming and outgoing tides.  Spits widen or close in response to temperature and heat changes.  For navigation and fisheries it was important that in colonial times these inlets were stabilized.  At times, storms could push a sand wave (bar) that could close or restrict the tides.  In small coves and bays, these movements of sand blocked water and in heat turned water black, an event captured by Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in July 2016 following a water release from Lake Okeechobee in Florida into The Indian River.

Installation of Brush, Cashions, Groin Breachways – 1800’s

We can learn more about the energy and sulfide to bay scallop habitats by examining small salt ponds such as those in Rhode Island.  Here the “pond fisheries” were significant and important to communities and therefore have a better documented “habitat history.”  In today’s terminology a morphology.

Rhode Island has put much of its fishery history online.  That makes it easier to detail climate impacts.  The Rhode Island breach closings and reopening often include brush graynes (groins).  This is how the Niantic Bay was first stabilized – brush and the laying of “dead men” trees laid flat.  From the historical records of several bars and perhaps borrowed from the construction of brush weirs with upright poles and a weave of “soft brush” usually pine branches that could bend between them but a more common method was to use trees themselves to build a stabilized cashion.  Once constructed, they were filled with fieldstones.  Between them, a rope hauled ferry barge was hauled.  (The road is still called Rope Ferry Road today.)

At first brush, branches driven into the side which contained a fork or a tree that had its limb trimmed these were sharpened and held in place.   

A similar post set opposite with a log resting between them, this formed an above grade cord or log row road (now called corduroy today).  As weight was added, (small stones) it tended to drive the poles deeper and stabilized.  When these openings were stabilized, they prevented energy from breaking the “bar.”  With reduced flushing and energy composts now had a change to form – in heat the chance of black water or a “Black Bay.”

A Habitat History of Niantic Bay

Any discussion of Niantic River must include a coastal energy review of its offshore waters and its relationship to the barrier spit which today acts as a de facto breakwater.  The barrier spit cuts in the historical literature are termed “breaches” as a term that signifies a hole in a castle war or a break in military terms a line of strategic positions.  A breach historically has let in additional energy, the waves – it is a hole in a breakwater.  The breakwater concept is important as barrier spits do move and break over time, creating inflow sand waves or sand flats at low tide a lobe created landward and outflow ebb waves as well.  The cuts also tend to reduce energy during storms and bowl shaped barrier spits tend to naturally concentrate energy at centers and suffer the sharpest erosion or breaks.  The last recorded break or “over wash” of the “Bar” in Niantic occurred in the 1815 Hurricane (See IMEP #12: Winter Flounder Habitats After Storms, February 8, 2014).  By this time, the rope ferry system started in 1720 had been in operation for almost a century and some references that the ferries had stabilized cashions of wood – simply driven wood piles – within a wood fence or “Groyne” is a pattern that is found in the historical literature as in the construction of fish and shore piers. 

The Connecticut River mouth of at one time had almost 20 of these structures erected in the tidal portions to hold a capstan for hauling long haul seines in the shad and herring fisheries.  The concept and improved transit benefits from a hardened infrastructure most likely occurred as commercial and travel increased.  Marshall (1994) reports the ferry service ended in 1796 with a bridge while Davis and Davis (The Nehantic Way, 2001) reported an over wash at the west end in 1815 during the Hurricane of 1815 which fits the energy patterns of other New England barrier spits – a history of opening and closures. 

After reviewing the destruction of the railroad crossing of Quiambaug Cove after the 1938 hurricane, no doubt without the granite blocks moved earlier to protect the railroad tracks (remember that the base of any infrastructure here was in fact also built upon a sand bar) it would have breached again – my view.  The granite blocks that were moved out during the storm acted to break the power of the storm surge itself and created a partial reef effect of slowing the energy (waves) preventing a complete break.  This effect lead to the tapered angle storm seawalls that followed the 1938 hurricane, in the 1950’s and 1960’s a flat structure tended to concentrate the energy at the base while those on a incline directed the energy up lessening its impact.  This is also termed the mangrove effect of massive tree roots breaking the energy of waves without totaling stopping them and slowing erosion. 

An example of this “tree” effect can be seen in front of The Sound School today when the Anderson shipyard and Thomas Oyster House piles were cut off, they left about a foot of piling above the mean low tideline about 100 poles 3 to 4 feet apart now remain here and reduced energy in this location which a century later still holds a “bar” of sand and oyster shell while areas to the east and west do not.  The current driven movement of sand is slowed by such structures.  The slope of the bar of course tends to distribute this energy naturally much the same way and any vegetation, cedar trees, beach plum or dune grass would tend to hold the sand bar edge in place. 

Periodic storm energy could overwhelm it (the bar) and cut it allowing salt water into and past the breach.  That would tend to increase oxygen levels landward of the bar, cultivate the marine soils and change habitat chemistry again.

Niantic Bar cut how many times? 

One of the ways we can find out the number of cuts is in the bottom core history.  Each time a break occurred (an excellent time series of the Clinton spit Dardanells breaks are on the UCONN Clear website) it allows more energy into the Niantic River system.  This energy has dramatic consequences for vegetation and seafood.  The movement or drift of sand is to the east and in times of cold and Nor’easters the inlets tend to become wider – and the west end thins.  In warm periods the inlets tend to heal and become smaller – movement of sand decreases and the distal end typically becomes “thicker.”  In almost all the barrier spits in New England this “thinning” and “widening” is mentioned in the historical literature.  The early residents most likely noticed the impact of storm upon the bar and sought to stabilize it – and most likely filled in some of the opening to a width that could be eventually bridged. 

Early colonists did not have the ability to bridge very large openings and such “ways” were now “caused” that is manmade “way” or a “caused way.”  The bridge span needed to accommodate materials then available.  In times of heat less erosion and fewer storms these closed up inlets were relatively stable and could be “bridged” but sharp climate changes from warm to cold or reverse created additional powerful storms as in 1938 warm to cold or again in 2011 warm to cold.  These bars could break or be washed away.  As these inlets could move depending upon storm energy, direction and frequency they allowed differing energy levels in at different times and places.  These events are recorded in storm surge sand layers and driven shells in coves.  The “hot” periods or the buildup of sapropel organic muck called black facies in the Wesleyan Coastal Core study has been documented in 1991 and 1993.  Ancient “lobes” of previous sand wash fans can be seen from early colonial maps and navigation charts – such as the ones in Clinton Harbor, lobes identified previous sand washes over the bar.  When inlets closed in heat waters “stagnated” and soft bottoms “built up.”  “Black water” could be formed and the result of sulfate metabolism, a change in chemistry.  This then changed the fisheries, and the presence of the bay scallop in shallow waters declined in heat.

The mention of “stagnant water” is frequently found in the alewife historical literature associated with barrier spit inlets.  In times of heat and little coastal energy, a Nor’easter with easterly swells could for a brief period reverse littoral drift that is it could reverse the flow of sand depositing a sand bar in front of the inlet.  This reduced tidal exchange creates a poorly flushed system and in hot weather noxious sulfur smells.  Originally a problem to navigation in cold periods hot periods of stagnation was often linked to human disease and for the Poquonnock River (Groton, CT) the smells were blamed on excess eelgrass caused by the growth of oysters set on poles as off bottom culture.  This is a quote from a US Fish Commission report about the stench from the Poquonnock River, which in heat would close and restrict natural flushing.  (My comments in (  ) Tim Visel.)

Notes on the Oyster Fishery of Connecticut by S. W. Collins, US Fish Commission Bulletin, Vol. 1X, 1889-22, Notes on the Oyster Fishery of Connecticut, Pg. 477 – “The Poquonnock Method”:

“The Poquonnock oyster on driven brush caught and grew oysters, but eelgrass caught amongst the brush spat collection stopped the tides and the river fouled.  There are several reasons why it has not proved entirely successful among which may be the large collection of eelgrass about the flats at the mouth of the stream, causing stagnation of the water and producing such conditions that the Board of Health of the town has caused the bushes (spat collectors – T. Visel) to be pulled up and destroyed.”

And further under the section titled “Connecticut Injury to Oysters – Known Causes, Pg. 483, J. W. Collins includes this segment, 39 – stagnant water:

“Injury to oysters by stagnant water is comparatively rare.  The only place where Mr. Stevenson found this had occurred was on the Poquonnock River in the town of Groton.  There the current is checked by eelgrass and during hot weather, it sometimes becomes peculiarly offensive and causes the death of the oysters within the limits of the stagnant water.”

In addition, the smell was so “foul” that Dr. Brewer of the Sheffield Agriculture Institute, a part of Yale, agreed that the source of Scarlet fever was from oyster culture and the oyster growers were ordered to pull up oysters.  Oyster growers, however, looked at the eelgrass for restricting tidal flows.  Eelgrass is frequently mentioned in the historical fisheries literature as harming shellfish habitats in times of heat.  (Niantic would in time become famous for harvesting eelgrass for use in a household batt insulation called Cabot’s Quilt.)     

Farmers also noticed this organic build up in the estuaries and realizing it was basically a leaf compost sought to harvest it as a fertilizer and soil nourishment which they did in large numbers in Connecticut all the way to the Canadian Maritimes termed “marine mud” or “mussel mud” (See Drawing Lines In The Ice by Joshua McFaden, 2013).  Coastal farmers spread this mud on crop land and salt marsh to produce more hay.  In the 19th and 20th centuries dredging projects largely side costed dredged materials creating islands and marshes.  This was discouraged in the 1970s and side casting is today termed “rainbowing.”

Farmers also noticed the impact of high heat, sulfate and bacterial reduction surface deposits in heat could produce ammonia and deeper deposits produce sulfuric acid.  Agricultural Experiment Stations (The first Agricultural Experiment Station was built in New Haven) would test this marine compost (sapropel) and issue acid levels, advising farmers to cut in oyster shell or lime to offset this hurtful acidity (See publication CT New Haven Experiment Station “Manure From The Sea” 1917).

In the north farmers were urged to use lobster shell instead, this is a quote from “Fish and Men in The Maine Islands by W. H. Bishop (1880) who then described farming and fishing on Maine Islands.  Island soil tended to be less productive and needed fish and seaweed (something that Native Americans along the coast here knew so well) for plant growth with much higher yields from the use of mussel mud (sapropel) this is a segment from page 17 (Original printing Harpers New Monthly Magazine, 1880):   

“The principal crop as in the State of Maine in general was hay.  The Dear Island farmer thought it would be worth double all the others put together.  He put on his lands a top dressing of the refuse from the Lobster factories, and also flat’s mud, which he found excellent.”

The use of reduced organic matter for soil nourishment did have a caution – those deep deposits sealed from oxygen could once applied could produce sulfuric acid (Acid Sulfate Soils) as part of the bacterial reduction sulfur cycle deep below.  These deposits were described as a jelly like, a blue-black muck, (See Appendix #2 “blue billy”) that had sulfur smells and contained a “hurtful acidity.”  New England Experiment Stations – especially Maine noted that samples sent in wood barrels for testing also produced ammonia.  Connecticut farmers from Essex, CT commented – (CT Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin #37, 1880):

“Our mill ponds a few miles back from the (CT) River contain a rich black mud, quite deep and with a very strong smell.  It has been tried on various crops but kills everything.” 

The CT Agricultural Experiment Station urged farmers to add lime (shell) to offset this acidity.  This offset only acidity and was then a useful soil nourishment and rinsed of salt.

The most valuable mussel mud was deposits in creeks and rivers that had an oyster reef crust, oysters that had set over peat or bog as the heat increased oyster sets in the northern maritimes.  This soon had farmers at odds with shellfishers as described in the 1913 report, The Canadian Oyster by Josh Stafford, Committee of Fisheries, Game and Fur Bearing Animals, Ottawa, The Maritimer Co., Ltd., 1913.  The compost with bivalve shell would buffer sulfur acidity, but oyster fishers saw it as a loss of setting cultch.

As coal is fossilized sapropel, it contains many of the biochemical properties found in fresh sapropel – sulfur bacteria.  Sulfate reducing bacteria as part of their sulfate metabolism concentrate heavy metals including mercury in a chemical chelation process with the presence of iron (FE) even to concentrate mercury.  This mercury and sulfur compounds locked in coal-(fossilized sapropel) are released when burned and began an atmospheric depositional process.  The use of coal as a fuel increased any industrial contamination – it represents many of the environmental concerns today with coal – sulfur and mercury both naturally complexed in sapropel.  The affinity of sulfate reducing bacteria to bind (concentrate) heavy metals and mercury it (sapropel) is used as an environmental spill media to clean up hazardous waste in Europe.  It is also under some circumstances applied to crop land to replace soil metals needed by plants leached by acid rain.  It is sold commercially in Europe and is considered a “green fertilizer.”

Core studies that analyze heavy metals and mercury offer little guidance if not calibrated to climate conditions that favor sulfate reducing bacteria biochemical reactions in sapropel.  Older deeper sapropel cores show increased metals as a natural bacterial process is often not reviewed and therefore biased toward pollution and not climate.  This often occurs in material testing associated with dredge projects, the metals present may have a natural bacterial “compost” connection.

Herring Runs – Oil Mill Brook Smelt – Waterford, CT

Early colonials settlers on small coves would move quickly to reopen such barrier inlets to save valuable herring (alewife runs) and prevent the formation of “black waters” sulfide rich and toxic made possible by the reduction of organic matter in low oxygen conditions.  The importance of barrier inlets, the formation of sand bars and problems in “stagnant” waters occurs in every barrier spit system including the Niantic River.  In fisheries literature, a century ago Oil Mill Brook was mentioned as having a large smelt run.

Most of the effort to reopen or stabilize barrier spits occurred during the period of 1880 to 1920 – here very hot summers heated shallow waters and resulted in fish kills, winter sulfide “deadline” kills of oysters smells of red “herrings” and as mentioned before a link to human disease.  Although many efforts included navigation (dredging) projects to increase flows as the hot term proceeded into the “Great Heat” the smells of sulfur and fish kills increased, as sulfate reducing bacteria, digested organic matter in low oxygen, complexing heavy metals turning bottoms “black” and releasing sulfides – the rotten egg odor of spoiled chicken eggs in heat during this same time.  A classic example of a barrier inlet is found in Rhode Island Brightman Salt Pond but the railroad tidal crossings in eastern CT (including the Niantic Bar) created much the same difference in “tidal heights” and the changes in vegetation and animal life behind them.  The Cape Cod and Islands to our north have many examples of horse drawn scoops or oxen teams restoring flows.  One such example was provided to me regarding Quiambaug Cove Connecticut in 1987.  It describes colonial efforts to keep coves clear and maintain flushing/fisheries.  Edgar P. Fornell wrote me this letter dated June 30, 1987.

Itek Electronic & Optical Industries
Edgar P. Farnell
Vice President
Legal Counsel

June 30, 1987
Mr. Tim Visel
Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program
University of Connecticut
Building 24
Avery Point Campus
Groton, Connecticut 06340

Dear Mr. Visel:
Mr. Frank Rich has advised me that you are considering improving the tidal flow in Quiambaug Cove.  I maintain a small floating dock on the Billings property at the end of the Cove.  While the ease of traveling between the bridges would be helpful if the channel was dredged, most of the small boat owners have already adopted measures to deal with traveling at low tide.  I have a hydraulic motor lift on my outboard motor, so the low water is not really a problem.
The buildup of muck and heavy vegetation is more of a concern; it certainly has had an effect on the cove as a whole including clams, oysters, crabs, fish and mussels. When the filter plant was built many years ago, the north end of the cove increased the buildup of heavy mud that has continued for many years. 
When my father (deceased 1972) was young, he recalled that every spring landowners along the cove would use a team of oxen and plow to dredge the Cove every year between the bridges at a perigee tide. This, no doubt, improved the tidal flow, because when I was a boy the cove had little of the muck which now prevails.
I thought my Father’s recollection might be of help in validating your forecast that dredging the area between the bridges would have a dramatic effect on the quality of sea life within the Cove.
Very truly yours,
Edgar P. Farnell
EPF

As herring runs were blocked, coves often termed “black” and sulfide fish kills emitting a foul stench.  Farmers, especially, would quickly move oxen and horse teams to dig a path to the sea.  Following is a section of the Annual Report of the Rhode Island Shellfish Commissioners – 1908, pg. 19, Brightman’s Pond – Widening and Deepening the Entrance or Breach Way into Brightman’s Pond – Act of Rhode Island General Assembly, January Session, 1907.  My insertions are in brackets (T. Visel), Section 1, part 3 – pg. 20 The Condition at Brightman’s Pond:

“The physical conditions most noticeable are:  that the sand has washed into the pond and piled up in large masses forming shoals (sand waves – T. Visel) and bars which impede the ingress and egress of the water.  (Flushing rate T. Visel) There is the remains of a jetty at the east side of breach, built, we were told, many years ago which appears to have had sufficient effect to keep the breach way open, a bar has formed in the outlet about 4,000 feet from the ocean which comes up nearly to low water and acts as a dam to retain the water in the pond on the ebb of the tides, this bar also prevents the free flow of the water into the pond on the incoming of the tide.”     

Early setters often noticed this tidal compression of the ocean trying to enter ponds or bays through such narrow “guts” or spits as waters here were fast and difficult to navigate.  Once opened in times of energy (1950’s and 1960’s), they were difficult to close.

The Dardanelles in Clinton’s Cedar Island reopened after the 1938 Hurricane and was closed by cabling with wire rope into abandoned cars together in a string to hold fill.  Previously any fill placed here quickly washed away (Personal Communication, George McNeil – T. Visel 1980’s).

The difference in tidal flood, and tidal height was also easy to observe as I have seen this difference on the East River railroad crossing over the East River between Madison and Clinton – the difference in tidal height was almost a foot higher – and velocities increased, it creates a very deep hole because of this tidal scour under the railroad opening.

Again, once cuts were widened (and often to make them more navigable) the tides now became “higher” and seawater with sulfate could later the habitat quality of many species.  Most quickly the type of vegetation from fresh water Ruppia or duck weed (an important food such for freshwater ducks) changes to eelgrass a saline plant that was a food for saltwater ducks especially Brant.

The opening and closing of the bar created a habitat war between species that thrived in a more freshwater dominated estuary to one that preferred salt.  Several Rhode Island salt ponds were breached including Great Salt Pond (PT Judith Salt Pond) because of the impact of heat and low energy in the 1890s.  This period had tremendous heat waves, warm seawater tended to push off shore sand bars to the beach (it is during this time of few storms beaches actually grew wider – the reserve sand bars now offshore moved inshore to the beach and blocked inlets.  The reduced flushing caused the buildup of organic matter – black mud and the beginning of sapropel although the term sapropel (the rotting of organic matter without oxygen) would be reported in 1906.  After this happened the smell of sulfides and possible fish kills.  George Field describes this plowing to open salt ponds in Rhode Island a century ago.

Research of George Field – Point Judith Pond, Rhode Island Salt Pond Inlets

The Judith Pond once a popular bay scallop fishery has an extensive habitat history mostly regarding oysters.  The PT Judith Salt Pond was breached and oyster fisheries did improve for a while but as seawater now could enter so could salt water oyster predators such as oyster drills and starfish.  In times of cold these predators can move with oxygen and salinity into these salt ponds destroying shellfish.  In the historical literature during these times, you find references of increased saltwater predators especially starfish after a breach and hydrogen sulfide after a blockage.  The closure or reduction of flow was immediately noticed by Dr. Field, the smell of hydrogen sulfide still thought to carry germs – the Miasma of “foul airs.”  This except is from proximity to seacoast: G.W. Field and The Marine laboratory at Point Judith Pond, Rhode Island 1896 to 1900 by (Leah Devlin and P.J. Capelotti (1996) pg. 263:

“Closing of the breach, Field wrote in 1897, directly inhibited the movements of migratory food fishes into an out of the pond (Pt Judith Pond Tim Visel).  Increased sedimentation also smothered “thousands of bushels” of adult oysters and other shellfish.  The reduction of fish in the pond led to an increased growth of pond weeds; the sudden decay of this vegetable matter increased the production of hydrogen sulfide, a gas toxic to shellfish.  Field argued that the closing of the breach increased the deposition of sediment from the Saugatucket River and was transforming the beautiful sheet of water (Point Judith Pond) to a miasmatic bog hold.”

The equivalent perhaps in terrestrial terms of the period a bog hold was a pig sty.  Once a breach happened greater salinities allowed salt water predators to follow the increased tidal exchange.

(In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, starfish were devastating to the bay scallop population in the Niantic River).  The change of energy temperature and salinity had in effect speeded up habitat succession and areas behind barrier spits and inlets record changes in habitat quality in core evidence.  In cold oxygen was not limiting (or less limiting) while in heat sulfate became a dominant oxygen source for bacteria.  The rise and fall of organic matter were influenced by these cuts and responsive to energy.  Some habitat changes could take decades but others quick differences – the new cut in Brightman’s Pond Rhode Island was completed in 1908 and reported on in 1909.  Although the cut functioned, it did not change the channel, and pg. 21 of the Rhode Island report of shellfisheries – 1909 contains this segment – (my comments in brackets, T. Visel) – what we know as an ebb channel:

“From the results which have developed it appears that the currents take a different course on the entrance to the lower end of the channel when the tide is flowing out (this is the ebb tide cut, T. Visel) from that which was anticipated when the original plans were made (perhaps a higher flood tide cut, T. Visel).  The cause probably is that the new channel above the entrance to this lower end (most likely a planned straighter flood cut channel, T. Visel).  The result of this action of the currents is that the lower end of the new channel has not been kept scoured out to the depth originally built.  The banks have fallen down and filled it into a large extent.” 

This is most likely the best example recorded of opening a flood cut – tides now flooded in but not out at low tide, at low tide the ebb cut was “still in play.”  It is these flood cuts that form lobes of sand pushed deep into a bay or cove in times of high energy.  The flood cuts change the estuaries by pushing sand waves deep into the bay which can change the ebb channel at a later time.  (Sometimes the sand may form a bar ending an ebb cut channel.)  However, the flood cuts fail in high heat, they tend to close and create the “stagnant waters” and changes in habitat quality for fish, shellfish and vegetation – submerged plants (SAV).  Again, the Brightman Pond example provides some insight to the change in sea level (It is interesting to note that in the historical literature farmers and fishers at times strongly disagreed about breaching – farmers opposed it as a less saline (sulfate reducing sulfide formation) exchange favored salt hay production and farm fields to the edge of salt marshes were poisoned by salt, however fishers promoted breach ways they could now harvest herring, and more saline environments promoted the growth of oysters while increasing winter flounder and clams in areas that were absent from previous bottoms.  A new bottom often occurred following a sand layer deposited from increased tidal energy (storms), farmers often were disappointed with increased seawater flows (See Green Harbor North River Cut – Wellfleet Dike Massachusetts Histories) salt water now crept into shallow wells, salt hay became softer as organics now accumulated sulfide and saline toxicity made adjacent farm fields unsuitable for terrestrial agriculture.  While these conditions are common with sea level rise over time, a breach can deliver surges of seawater inland in just a few days.

This terrestrial battle was easy to see as terrestrial plants unable to handle salinity or sulfides in heat yellowed and died.  What habitat battles occurred below the water were not so visible – freshwater plants (ruppia) now retreated back to the upper most reaches closest to fresh water while salt tolerant eelgrass now grew again in cycles that may be a century or more in length.  The bay scallop followed this hot to cold transition.  In cold scallops did well in heat they died out.  These habitat battles are recorded in estuarine cores as predicted by the shellfishers of Cape Cod who watched navigation projects as they cut into older “previous bottoms” in a massive excavation process much more noticeable then taking cores (See IMEP #63: Chatham Oyster Pond River Dredging Comments).  The habitat history of Niantic’s Bar long buried in core profiles as layers or bands.  The Brightman cut did have some of the habitat features mentioned above as it let in more seawater quicker – and these aspects mentioned over a century ago as “stagnant water” (my comments in brackets):

“The work (Brightman’s Pond, T. Visel) generally seems to have been effective in causing a change of the water of the pond at ebb tide to a much greater extent than formerly existed.  Reports from the people who live near the pond seem to indicate that there is a considerable greater difference in the level of the water between high and low tide at the present time than existed before the work was done.  Also, the reports of people living near the pond seem to indicate that oysters are beginning to set freely, and that there are promises of the opportunity for oysters to grow where before they soon died on account of the stagnant water” pg. 21. 

The increase of bay scallops in the 1870s was when it was cold, oyster sets were not widespread.  In the 1900s scallops declined during heat while oyster sets now greatly increased.

Temperature/Energy and Habitat Histories

The Brightman Pond example is a classic as it describes the problem – diagrams the solution including the creation of brush palisade “Groyne” (modern spelling groin, T. Visel) to slow long shore drift of sand and the description of flood and ebb channels with the change in salinity and tide levels.  Salt ponds and coves were at times blocked and the smell of sulfides noticed.  When breached some fisheries were seen to improve, alewife and oysters mentioned most often.

The habitat history of Niantic River is forever linked to the opening and closure of barrier “Bar” inlets, the application of energy, the influence of temperature/rainfall now lies buried north of the “Bar.”

The shoal area just west of Mago point is a relic sand wave pushed into the bay perhaps over a hundred years ago.  The sand waves may exist nearly all the way up the Niantic River, which is a drowned lagoon – a buried river mouth from thousands of years ago.  From the early maps of Clinton Cedar Island the Dardanelles may provide a glimpse of this habitat history from the 1790’s the ebb channel has been somewhat consistent, but openings to the energy flood cut as its center, and a flood cut at the west end have occurred.  (Some maps do not show the Bar “Sandy Island” at all – before the Clinton Breakwater was built).  And Cedar Island has been an Island three times in the last 150 years (see IMEP #91 posted July 26, 2021).  In heat, barrier inlets tend to heal and sapropel forms.  In colder periods, these inlets break.  It is after these breaks associated with cold water and stronger storms that bay scallops, in order to thrive, need cold water and bottoms free of sapropel.  As cold winters happened in the 1840’s (and killing mulberry trees planted to support Connecticut’s silk industry), Greenwich, CT became New England’s bay scallop capitol.  In the hot 1890’s, scallop catches retreated to the east to cooler waters with more ocean exchange.

Each of these cycles can be examined by examining fishery records, weather information (temperature and storm frequency) and observations of habitats.  The changes in soil chemistry are preserved in coastal cores. 

Alewife Cove between the towns of Waterford and the City of New London is an example of this flushing tidal restrictions condition.  Investigations are underway to determine the depth and chemistry (sulfide levels) in sapropel trapped in the cove by a sand wave deposited by two recent hurricanes Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012. 

Tom’s Creek – a small creek next to my childhood home in Madison was totally blocked by a sand bar after these storms.  It was emergency dredged in 2013 by the State of Connecticut to restore normal tidal flushing.  When tidal flow is restricted, and high heat occurs the changes of sulfide formation is enhanced and the presence of bay scallops end.  This is frequently the time of blue crab surges and stronger oyster sets.

The opening and closing of barrier spits, the movement of sand waves and sand bars provide opportunities to study the danger of warming waters and a change of water quality chemistry when tides are restricted.  Residents along the coast and especially fishers notice this change by the depth of sapropel over previously firm or hard bottoms.



Appendix #1

The Hour (Norwalk, CT) October 21, 2012
The Unseen Consequences of Dumping Leaves in the River
By: Dick Harris

“Many homeowners, who reside along our river banks and feel that they are part of the green movement, incorrectly assume that Mother Nature will easily process what is "natural stuff" that enters rivers and streams without giving any thought as to the carrying capacity of the waterway. I would suggest that before you fire up that leaf blower and point it in the direction of your river, please know that there are consequences to your actions that should be considered. Leaves and yard waste that were thoughtlessly blown or dumped into the waterways are now lying on the bottom of Norwalk Harbor harbors decomposing and forming a black gooey paste that boaters known as "Black Mayonnaise."
When black mayonnaise forms and becomes abundant enough to cover large areas of the harbor bottom, it discourages benthic (bottom-dwelling) fish from spawning in that area. As documented by more than 20 years of fish population data collected by the Earthplace Harbor Watch (HW) Program, the growing amount of black mayonnaise is one factor closing our shallow water estuaries to a large number of benthic marine species. For example, the HW fisheries data show that trawling in
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T


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