SoundWaters sets sail on new educational program with $100,000 grant from EPA

JThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is awarding a $100,000 grant to SoundWaters Inc. of Stamford, which will be used to provide underprivileged students and their family members the opportunity to participate in research projects carried out on board the SoundWaters. , the organization’s 80-foot sailing schooner.

The program, dubbed Sound Families, will be a collaboration between SoundWaters and five partner organizations spread across Norwalk, Stamford and Greenwich.

According to Michael Bagley, vice president of programs at SoundWaters, the funds will be used to organize two-hour sailing cruises on the schooner from Stamford Harbor to “learn a bit more about the Sound, have the experience of being on a sailboat, and not only learning a bit more about sound, but ideally coming away inspired and empowered to make a difference to the environment within their communities.

“We like to think of them as ambassadors,” Bagley added, “They go back to their communities saying, ‘Hey, here’s what we just went through. Here’s what we learned.

The SoundWaters schooner. Contributing photo.

The grant will also allow SoundWaters to operate its schooner for 23 two-hour trips, each with up to 40 passengers. Bagley said he expects five to seven families per trip, while the EPA estimates 805 children and adults will be able to take advantage of the program over the course of two years.

“The voyages will involve the use of a trawl to collect the fish and marine life that live on the bottom of the strait,” Bagley continued. “When we go up the net, we share what we know about what we caught and explain what’s out there. We will also do a water quality analysis — they will take water samples and look at what signs are good and what is bad in the water. Depending on the season, we might collect microorganisms that live in the strait and observe them through microscopes. »

“Throughout,” he added, “there’s a general conversation about what Long Island Sound is and how do we live next to it. We’ll be discussing some things we can do that are good for it. and what might create unfavorable conditions. We try to generate those kinds of conversations with people.

Bagley pointed out that the ability to navigate during the trip is in itself an exciting opportunity.

“We like to have the awe and wonder of seeing this thing, and for our Stamford guests it may be something they’ve seen before from here on Cove Island, but now they have the chance to get on board and be a part of it,” he said.

Although the schooner is an environmentally friendly means of transport – it does not require fossil fuels to navigate – it does require a trained crew to operate safely, even before educational instructors are considered. Additionally, a portion of the funds will go to five partner organizations, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stamford and Greenwich, the Future 5 program for students at Stamford High School, and the Riverbrook Regional YMCA, which has branches in Norwalk and Wilton. .

“A lot of the money goes to our partners,” Bagley explained. “The EPA recognizes that if we want to find them, recruit them and transport them free of charge to our docks, it requires administrative and logistical work. We may compensate these organizations for their assistance in achieving this goal. »

The first trips funded by the grant will begin in mid-September, with several more before the sailing season ends in October. Travel will resume in spring 2023.

“The Connecticut coast is something like 97% private,” Bagley noted. “It’s very difficult to get to Long Island Sound if you don’t own adjacent property, don’t have a boat, or have a friend who does. Norwalk is lucky to have Calf Pasture, and we are lucky here to have Cove Island and a few other parks, but for the most part access is quite difficult. If you even live in parts of Stamford, Downtown, or the North, it might seem like a whole other universe. Our mission is to ensure that everyone in the region knows the sound, appreciates it and understands how it can influence it.

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