HARTFORD, Conn. — William Lucey has returned home to become a key watchdog of Long Island Sound, a new chapter of an environmental conservation career that has taken him to the frigid waters and forests of Alaska and the tropical landscapes of Hawaii.
The 48-year-old Wilton, Connecticut, native was introduced Thursday as the new “soundkeeper” of the 1,300-square-mile estuary that stretches from New York City to the eastern shores of Long Island and Connecticut.
Lucey grew up fishing on the sound with his father. In his new job, he’ll be patrolling the waters looking for signs of pollution, taking samples for testing and working with communities, citizens groups and fishermen. He’ll also be advocating on behalf of the sound before local, state and federal government officials.
He’ll be on the water in a 21-foot boat named after Terry Backer, a longtime Connecticut state representative and the founding soundkeeper from 1987 until his death in 2015.
“I guess I always had it in the back of my mind that I should come back to where I am from,” Lucey said. “It’s a great place to raise my child. My family is here. It was a logical next step. It kind of caps my career bringing back what I learned in Alaska and Hawaii.”
Lucey returned to Connecticut with his wife and 4-year-old son to take the job.
He spent the past three years in Hawaii detecting and controlling invasive plants, animals and insects on the island of Kauai for the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Before that, he was in Alaska for 20 years, including nearly 11 years as a biologist and coastal planner for the city and borough of Yakutat and about nine years as a fish and wildlife technician for the U.S. Forest Service.
Lucey said he quit the Forest Service because he didn’t agree with the way it was handling a proposed timber sale and its support of clear cutting. He later joined with other opponents in successfully blocking the sale plans.
He also has been a part-time commercial fisherman over the years, running his own 20- to 30-foot boats.
It was his combination of environmental expertise and advocacy that won him the job over more than 60 other applicants, said Tracy Brown, director of Save the Sound, a program of the nonprofit Connecticut Fund for the Environment.
“He’s got a classic keeper mindset” Brown said. “Someone who really wants to speak on behalf of the wildlife and the well-being of the waterway.”
When Backer first became soundkeeper three decades ago, Long Island Sound was in crisis. Fish and shellfish were washing up dead along harbors and shores because of pollution and low oxygen levels.
Huge algae blooms, caused by discharges from sewage treatment plants, and runoff of fertilizers containing nitrogen were depleting oxygen and causing so-called “dead zones.”
Good water quality and fish populations have returned, except in the western end in New York City. Whales have even returned to the sound.
Lucey said he plans to continue preservation and water quality improvement efforts. He also said he is concerned that President Donald Trump’s administration will be cutting back on environmental protection.
“Part of my message is that this is not a Republican-Democrat issue,” he said. “Clean water is bipartisan.”