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Warmer waters are affecting fish and coral in Long Island Sound, experts say

Associate Professor of Biology, Marine Biology, and Environmental Science at Roger Williams University Dr. Koty Sharp examines a piece of Northern Star Coral at Fort Wetherill State Park on Monday, July 24, 2023 in Jamestown, R.I. Sharp is part of the Astrangia Research Working Group, a research collaboration working to study the species of coral.
Joe Buglewicz
/
Connecticut Public
Associate Professor of Biology, Marine Biology, and Environmental Science at Roger Williams University Dr. Koty Sharp examines a piece of Northern Star Coral at Fort Wetherill State Park on Monday, July 24, 2023 in Jamestown, R.I. Sharp is part of the Astrangia Research Working Group, a research collaboration working to study the species of coral.

Warming waters are affecting a variety of marine life in Long Island Sound.

The sound is actually home to coral – the Northern Star Coral – and the species is helping New England scientists learn how warmer water linked to climate change might affect coral found in the tropics, too.

Shawn Grace, a marine ecologist and biology professor at southern Connecticut State University, is studying the long-term effects of Northern Star Coral that never went dormant last winter. He said temperatures were too high in Long Island Sound, so the coral stayed active.

“We brought some in just to check what they were feeding on. And yeah, they were actively feeding throughout the entire winter,” Grace told Connecticut Public’s “Where We Live.” “For me, this is the first winter that we’ve ever experienced this.”

Grace said there are thousands of colonies of corals to study – both in Long Island Sound and Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.

Water temperatures have been getting warmer in Long Island Soundover the past few decades,state officials say.

Warming waters are also driving north fish that historically lived in the south. That means Northern Atlantic states need to work with southern states, said Bill Lucey, the soundkeeper with Save the Sound, the environmental nonprofit.

Marine ecologist and Professor of Biology at Southern Connecticut State University Sean Grace and his student Kerry Bresnaham emerge from a research dive at Fort Wetherill State Park on Monday, July 24, 2023 in Jamestown, R.I. Grace and Bresnaham are tracking the prevalence of Northern Star Coral, or Astrangia Poculota, in the waters of the Narragansett Bay.
Joe Buglewicz
/
Connecticut Public
Marine ecologist and Professor of Biology at Southern Connecticut State University Sean Grace and his student Kerry Bresnaham emerge from a research dive at Fort Wetherill State Park on Monday, July 24, 2023 in Jamestown, R.I. Grace and Bresnaham are tracking the prevalence of Northern Star Coral, or Astrangia Poculota, in the waters of the Narragansett Bay.

“We all have to work together on the coast to set the fishing rules,” Lucey said.“[The] problem is that because these fish historically live down south most of what we call a ‘quota’ are sort of the annual allowable take held by Southern states. As those fish have moved up here, the management structure hasn't responded as quickly.”

More frequent, heavy rainstorms in New England are also changing the way fish move around Long Island Sound. Lucey told “Where We Live”that it’s one example of climate change driving concerns among people who fish and environmentalists alike.

“If you go out in Long Island Sound right now, the water is chocolate brown,” he said. “We've had a huge influx of freshwater because of a really unseasonable flood and the Connecticut River. There's a ton of suspended sediment in the water.”

Lucey said runoff from all that rainfall can affect water quality by depleting oxygen levels that marine life needs to thrive. It also affects the seafood industry, he said.

“I've heard from fishermen that it has driven fish out of areas where they would normally be at this time of year, which has impacted fishing activity,” he said.