CIRCA Receives 2017 NOAA Coastal Resilience Grant to Evaluate Living Shorelines to Reduce Flood Risk

The Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) at the University of Connecticut will be awarded funds to monitor, evaluate and provide recommendations for the design and placement of living shorelines (a.k.a. nature-based infrastructure). The funds for CIRCA are part of a $1 million 2017 NOAA Coastal Resilience Grant to the Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) and New England Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Agencies (ME, NH, MA, RI, and CT) with partners from the Nature Conservancy. An additional $500,000 in matching funds was provided by the partners to undertake the work.

NOAA announced that this grant and 18 others from across the country were recommended for funding out of a total of 167 proposals received. Projects are expected to begin by October 1, 2017.

James O’Donnell, Executive Director of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation and Professor of Marine Sciences at the University of Connecticut will lead a team of researchers at UConn, in partnership with Dr. Jennifer Mattei, lead restoration ecologist at Sacred Heart University, to monitor the Stratford Point living shorelines site with sensors and a modeling effort. The monitoring data will inform how well this living shoreline performs to reduce coastal erosion under real-world conditions, including the storms and ice that we experience in Connecticut. Representatives from CIRCA and the Connecticut Coastal Zone Management program at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will also participate in the development of regional policy and practice guidance as well as engagement with regulators, natural resource management, practitioners and the general public on nature-based infrastructure. The grant and matching funds awarded to support this work in Connecticut total more than $180,000.

Stratford Point, CT Living Shoreline. Photo Credit: Jennifer Mattei, Sacred Heart University

The living shoreline at Stratford Point utilizes ‘reef balls’ to dissipate waves at the shoreline thereby protecting the restored dune and restored wetland habitats located there. The ‘reef balls’ are concrete structures designed to reduce waves, but also to allow for a continuous connection between the water and the upland shore, while also providing habitat for marine life. Data collected from this project will measure how much sediment accumulates around the reef balls and the extent to which the reef ball design and placement reduce wave height. This information will inform the design and construction of living shorelines throughout Connecticut and New England.

This project builds on extensive previous work at CIRCA to evaluate the effectiveness of living shorelines in Connecticut, including an award from the 2016 NOAA Regional Coastal Resilience Grants on Advancing High Resolution Coastal Forecasting and Advancing Living Shorelines Approaches awarded to CIRCA as part of a grant to NROC and the Northeast Regional Association of Coastal and Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS). CIRCA also previously awarded a $91,000 CIRCA Matching Funds Program grant to Professor Jennifer Mattei at Sacred Heart University to purchase an additional 273 reef balls at the Stratford Point living shoreline site, providing an ideal pilot site for this extensive new study. CIRCA was also launched in part through a grant from NOAA on Enhancing Coastal Resilience in Connecticut with Sandy recovery funds. That project yielded near-shore wave height statistics for use in the design of living shorelines.

“The coastal management community in the Northeast clearly recognizes the potential of developing an approach using natural systems, including living shorelines, to enhance the resilience of coastlines in our region, yet we have little practical experience with these methods,” said Connecticut DEEP Commissioner Rob Klee. “With this grant, we are able to leverage the power of region-wide partnerships to improve our understanding of how to appropriately design, implement and measure the success of natural systems of varying types and scales.”

James O’Donnell, the lead Project Investigator on the grant and Executive Director of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation and Professor of Marine Sciences said, “this project will help us take lessons learned from the living shoreline site at Stratford Point to develop improved guidance for municipalities and the state for the appropriate design and construction of other potential living shorelines sites in Connecticut based on sound science.”

Jennifer Mattei, the lead restoration ecologist on this project and Professor at Sacred Heart University said, “the Stratford Point living shoreline will be a model for the use of nature-based solutions to abate wave energy and prevent shoreline erosion in New England.”

The Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation at the University of Connecticut is a multi‐disciplinary, center of excellence that brings together experts in the natural sciences, engineering, economics, political science, finance, and law to provide practical solutions to problems arising as a result of a changing climate. The Institute combines the world‐class research capabilities of UConn and the progressive policies and practical regulatory experience of the CT DEEP to translate sound scientific research to actions that can ensure the resilience and sustainability of both the built and natural environments of the coast and watersheds of Connecticut.

For press inquiries please contact Dr. Rebecca A. French, Director of Community Engagement for CIRCA (; Ph: 860-404-9228).


All NOAA 2017 Regional Coastal Resilience Grant Awardees

More about the Coastal Resilience Grant awarded to UConn as partner with the NROC and the Nature Conservancy:

Grant Title: Reducing Flood Risk in New England with Nature-Based Infrastructure

Applicant: The Nature Conservancy

Recommended Federal Funding: $999,999

Match: $500,000

This regional effort to reduce flood risk in New England is focused on increasing the effective use of nature-based infrastructure for flood protection. The project team will develop region-specific information on suitable natural infrastructure types and benefits and will work with several communities to implement and monitor a range of nature-based coastal infrastructure projects. The experience gained here will benefit communities across the region and help to advance local, state, and national policies to promote effective use of the approach to reducing flood risk. The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with a consortium of state coastal zone management programs, is leading the project.

Project Partners: Maine Coastal Management Program, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Coastal Program, Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, Rhode Island Coastal Resource Management Council, University of Connecticut, Northeast Regional Ocean Council