Most estuaries have been developed, especially in urban areas across the United States because, as we know, waterfront property is valuable. There are very few remaining tidal estuaries in urban areas, but Ash Creek is one of them. It's importance needs to be understood in order that we preserve and protect it for ourselves and future generations. The Ash Creek tidal estuary borders Fairfield and Bridgeport
Did you know that over 250 different species of migratory shorebirds have been sighted in Fairfield, Connecticut according to Milan Bull, Senior Scientist at Connecticut Audubon? It is an important stopover area for migratory shorebirds, some of whom travel from as far away as the Arctic Circle to Argentina and back again each year. The shallowness of the Ash Creek tidal estuary is important because migratory shorebirds feed on the mudflats. Keeping the shoreline free of docks is important, not just for human aesthetic enjoyment of this beautiful natural area, but also because semiparmated sandpipers and other shorebirds avoid docks as they could harbor predators. Ash Creek is also important to nesting birds such as the osprey, which have now been enjoying their nest platform in Ash Creek for the past 20 years. The platform was built on a 15 acre island near the mouth of Ash Creek, which is now owned partly by the Town of Fairfield as Open Space and partly by the Aspetuck Land Trust (on the Bridgeport side) as Open Space after being in the hands of developers for over 100 years.
Dr. Jennifer Mattei, Professor of Biology at Sacred Heart University, is also one of the Directors of Project Limulus, a collaborative research project with U.S. Fish & Wildlife. She is knowledgeable about the nutrient cycle of estuaries. The Ash Creek tidal estuary catches the runoff from the Rooster River watershed that extends to Trumbull. As runoff from hard surface areas such as parking lots comes into Ash Creek, the salt marsh cleanses the water before it enters the Sound. The plants along the shoreline pick up chemical and organic elements and hold them. This serves an important function for fishermen and oystermen. You can't put a price tag on the cleansing value of the tidal estuary.
Jennifer believes that the estuary gives back more than it costs to plant the vegetation and is worthy of restoration, although the lower part of Ash Creek is very healthy and may not be in need of much restoration. The plants also hold sediment to prevent erosion. In bad storms, like Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy, the plants keep homes from flooding. A healthy salt marsh keeps a good balance between predators and mosquito larvae, which means fewer mosquitos due to fish eating the larvae. Jennifer said we should look at the marsh in relation to human health. The marsh also provides us with education opportunities aesthetic values, recreation such as kayaking, and there is even an economic value in terms of ecotourism.
Dr. Steven Danzer, a soil scientist and professional wetlands scientist, who is very familiar with Ash Creek, having worked with the Ash Creek Conservation Association over the years, joined Jennifer Mattei in a panel discussion called "Why Ash Creek Matters" that was open to the public. He talked about the relatively undeveloped shoreline of Ash Creek as being unusual in an urban area. Ash Creek has a very densely populated area surrounding a relatively pristine natural area. In most watersheds there is more development the closer you get to the Sound, whereas in Ash Creek it's the opposite. Steve said that Ash Creek is unique and worthy of protection. The most cost effective way is to preserve what you have rather than trying to restore a natural area that has been lost to development. Grassroots citizen efforts over the past 50 years have resulted in self-restoration of this estuary by nature itself.
The Ash Creek Conservation Association was formed in 2003 to protect and preserve this rare and beautiful tidal estuary. They recently published the first scientific study of Ash Creek ever undertaken which was supported by funding from two grants and pro bono work by consultants.
For more information about the Ash Creek tidal estuary and the organization that protects it, please visit www.ashcreekassoc.org