Headquartered in Carteret County, the nonprofit N.C. Coastal Federation has released a snapshot of its 2019 impact on coastal water quality and habitat protection and restoration. The federation engaged partners to reduce polluted runoff by millions of gallons, install thousands of feet of living shorelines, create acres of oyster reef and remove hundreds of tons of marine debris from the North Carolina coast.
To combat water pollution, the federation successfully reduced 7,770,000 gallons of polluted runoff along the N.C. coast, which is enough stormwater to cover three football fields to a depth of six feet.
To reduce stormwater, the federation partnered with the town of Beaufort, Wildlife Resources Commission, city of Wilmington, New Hanover County, UNC-Wilmington, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the town of Swansboro on several Low Impact Development projects. LID reduces runoff by directing it to soak into the ground before it can become polluted stormwater. Techniques like rain gardens, permeable pavers and infiltration chambers have demonstrated impressive infiltration capabilities, reducing runoff by millions of gallons.
Local governments were truly engaged in the hands-on projects and worked with community members, academia and local, state and federal agencies to make them happen.
That is exactly what we want to happen with our collaborative stormwater projects. Coastal communities learning how to cost effectively reduce runoff so they can replicate LID techniques in new projects and future restoration efforts is what makes the real impact.
The federation also reports that 2019 was a great year for living shorelines. Working with over 30 partners including local businesses, college groups, schools, community volunteers and nonprofit friends, the federation designed and installed 2,379 feet of living shorelines at 16 different sound-side properties on both public and private sites at the coast. In total, 21,987 salt marsh grass plugs were also planted at these sites.
Many more shoreline projects are lined up for 2020 and the federation’s collaborative efforts have made them widely accepted as the best environmental alternative for shoreline stabilization.
State and federal agencies including the N.C. Division of Coastal Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed their support for living shorelines by simplifying the permitting process. The permits are significantly easier to obtain and essentially eliminate the regulatory barrier to building living shorelines. Throughout the course of the year the federation and partners worked to increase consumer demand for living shorelines and as a result, many were permitted in 2019 and that number is expected to increase in 2020.
In addition to building living shorelines, the federation and N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries also added nearly 11 acres of oyster reef to the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary in Pamlico Sound, which serves as a nursery to help repopulate nearby reefs. A total of 40 acres of reef have been created at Swan Island as part of the Senator Jean Preston Oyster Sanctuary Network.
To fill the void left by state budget cuts, the federation also laid the groundwork to reinvigorate oyster shell recycling in the state. Oyster shells are a valuable resource that is used by the federation, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and others to build new oyster reefs. In 2019 the federation worked with volunteers to recycle nearly 1,500 bushels of shell and will be ramping up the volunteer program in 2020.
“I am thrilled with our partnerships and the cumulative impact of everyone’s efforts to build back our oyster resources in North Carolina,” said Erin Fleckenstein, coastal scientist with the federation’s Wanchese office.
The federation also worked tirelessly with partners this year to clean up the coast, leading volunteer shoreline cleanups that removed over 18.5 thousand pounds of trash, equivalent in weight to 4-1/2 average U.S. cars. The federation’s crab pot removal program, the Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project, is part of a statewide marine debris removal effort and was equally successful resulting in the removal of 3,112 crab pots from North Carolina’s coastal waters. In addition, the federation’s biggest debris removal effort this year was the removal of 200.3 tons of marine debris from over 42 miles of coastline. Much of this was left by Hurricane Florence but it became evident that dedicated funding for annual coastal cleanups is needed to keep the coast free of debris. Crews are still in the field collecting debris and in the new year, the federation and partners will unveil the N.C. Marine Debris Action Plan that showcases a series of strategies to not only remove debris but prevent future debris along the coast.
From these accomplishments, it is evident that people who are passionate about the coast and commit to protecting its future help make the federation’s mission of Working Together for a Healthy Coast a reality.
The N.C. Coastal Federation is a nonprofit membership organization that works to keep the coast of North Carolina a great place to live, work and play. Through a variety of programs and partnerships, the federation provides for clean coastal waters and habitats, advocates to protect the coast and teaches and informs people about the coast and what they can do to protect it.
The federation has offices in Ocean, Wanchese and Wrightsville Beach.
To learn more, please visit nccoast.org or call (252) 393-8185.
Lauren Kolodij is deputy director of the federation.