New Web site provides underwater tour of Long Island Sound
Seen from the shore, Long Island Sound is a greenish, foamy brew that washes various life forms and occasional debris onto the sand. From the bottom looking up, the Sound is a strange and busy world of many colors. A new Web site created by University of Connecticut marine scientists and state Department of Environmental Protection biologists offers a tour of the Sound’s many layers: from the gray moonscape of the silt layer and the wavy seagrasses to the rocks and crevices where coral, starfish, whelks and plankton flourish.
What lies beneath, DEP spokesman Dennis Schain said, is a fascinating world just below a swimmer’s feet or a boat’s hull.
“The Web site brings Long Island Sound to life,” he said. “It is a tremendous opportunity for people, especially children, to see what’s under the waves. Being a coastal state, the Sound is an important natural resource.”
The Web site, http://www.lisrc.uconn.edu/lis_uwtour, uses slide shows, still photos and videos to show soft red beard sponges and pink coral that look almost tropical, along with the more prosaic shellfish, including lobsters and scallops.
City resident Tim Chaucer, director of the Milford Marine Institute, said the water in the Sound tends to be murky because of all the algae and plankton suspended in it.
“I’ve scuba dived in the Sound and the visibility is not great; it’s not like in the Caribbean where you can see several feet ahead,” he said.
That would make the Web site particularly valuable as a resource, Chaucer said, though he said he couldn’t evaluate it as a teaching tool until he spent some time on it.
The site was developed by Peter Auster and Ralph Lewis, faculty members at UConn’s Department of Marine Sciences, with a $25,000 grant from the DEP’s Long Island Sound Fund. It has been online since early spring.
The project is a collaboration between the DEP, the university’s National Undersea Research Center, and the Long Island Sound Resource Center, a partnership of UConn and the DEP.
The underwater photos were taken over the past 30 years during exploratory dives by university researchers, Schain said, including a recent expedition to three deep-water areas that are rarely visited by humans.
UConn scientists collected images using a remotely operated vehicle with state-of-the-art video equipment, Schain said.
Auster said the site reflects the tremendous variety of species in the Sound: 1,200 invertebrates and 170 species of fish, along with marine mammals, sea birds and sea turtles.
“Most people have no idea that the biological diversity is so high,” the UConn professor said.