waves 1

Wave attenuators are in place in the area near the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, the first step in an effort to save the historic structure and others from recent rapid erosion. (Contributed photo)

CAPE LOOKOUT — A wave attenuator system – a series of linear devices that slow waves and reduce their energy in order to help reduce erosion of shorelines – is in place near the Cape Lookout Lighthouse within the Cape Lookout National Seashore (CLNS) in Down East Carteret County.

waves 2

A park service employee loads ballast water into a wave attenuator Thursday at Cape Lookout. (Contributed photo) 


The devices, donated to the National Park Service (NPS) and CLNS after a fundraising campaign by the Save Cape Lookout Foundation, were to be filled with water for ballast Thursday and Friday. The system is a temporary erosion reduction measure until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) dredges Barden Inlet and uses the dredged sand to rebuild the beach, beginning in November. 

CLNS Superintendent Jeff West said Wednesday he and the park service are grateful for the fundraising effort by the foundation but said the fight to save the lighthouse is far from over, as the main problem is sea level rise, which attenuators certainly don’t stop.

“This device, along with a series of Jersey barriers installed last year, are part of an ongoing effort to protect these historic structures,” West said Wednesday. “In November of this year, the Army Corps of Engineers will begin a dredging project on the channel from Harkers Island to Barden Inlet. Some of the sand removed from the channel floor during dredging will be used to build up the beach near the lighthouse. Once that is complete, the NPS will design a living shoreline to protect this section of beach. Living shorelines allow for natural processes to take place but minimize the effects of waves.”

A living shoreline uses rocks or shells, along with vegetation, and is an increasingly popular and often more effective erosion control method than seawalls.

Although there have already some complaints on social media about the attenuator’s color and unusual appearance, Joni Dennis, director of the foundation, said Wednesday the attenuator sits on and off 300 feet of the beach, leaving lots of beach available for the public.

“When it's high tide, it will float and stop the waves,” she said. “When it's low tide, it will sit on the beach. There is plenty of beach on each side to go to when visiting.”

The orange color, Dennis said, is for safety. The system needs to be highly visible.

Dennis, whose family in the area dates back to the late 1600s, said she was amazed the fundraising effort worked so well. There were 140 donations totaling about $56,000 in seven weeks, and although a few donations were large, most were small: $5, $10, $20, a lot of $25s.

 “A lot of people didn’t know who we were” when the effort started, Dennis said, in part because the seashore is so remote, and there’s no road to get people to the islands that make up the park. Only about 10% of the donations came from local people.

But, she added, fundraising was the only way the foundation could get the system for the park to use, and it can be used in other locations.

 “I’m so thrilled,” she said, even though she knows it's temporary. “We appreciate all the people who donated.”

West said all of this – the barriers, the attenuator system and eventually the dredging and beach nourishment – will “buy time” for the lighthouse and other beloved historic structures that mean so much to the area’s culture and to the many people from all over the country and world who visit the seashore.

“It will give the buildings a chance to survive,” West said. “Of course, if we get a direct hit from a Cat 3 hurricane, all bets are off.”

What many people don’t realize, West added, is that the barrier island system within the park is still healthy, doing what barrier islands do, migrate and offer storm protection to the mainland. “The island is in no danger,” he said.

If there were no buildings and no lighthouse, there'd really be little reason to do anything. “It’s the buildings, of course,” West said. “It’s such a rich history and legacy to so many.”

He thinks the living shoreline will be important and is glad there are many people here, at the N.C. Coastal Federation and the marine laboratories who know a lot about the right materials to use. The foundation will also raise money for the living shoreline.

Once the dredging begins, it will include not only federally maintained Barden Inlet, but also the “drain” and the “S turns.”

The long-needed work can’t start any earlier than November, West said, because dredging in this area is prohibited between from April 1 through October. That’s partly because of the presence of sea turtles and manatees and endangered birds. It’s not legal to put dredge spoils on islands when there are endangered birds there.

Nevertheless, West said, it’s great news that the dredging is finally scheduled by the ACE. NPS had to five ACE $5 million to pay for it.

It was a long process to get the project approved. Due to the majority of the channel lying outside CLNS, the NPS needed partners to get Barden Inlet dredged. The park service formed a cooperative management agreement with county commissioners and the Carteret County Shore Protection Office in 2019 with the purpose of establishing and maintaining waterways to various areas in the park, according to West.

County and NPS officials then negotiated with state officials and the ACE for the dredging effort. In the process, they found the last environmental assessment for the Barden Inlet channel was in 1975, which West said was “way out of date” and had to be updated, a time-consuming process. 

Shoaling in Barden Inlet became a serious problem in late 2017.

The U.S. Coast Guard removed navigation aids because it didn’t meet the standards for a navigable channel. Despite the removal of navigation aids, West said last year local boaters still use the deepest parts of the inlet channel. 

The last full dredging of Barden Inlet was in 1977-78.


Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.


(7) comments


I just am so blown away that after all of the tourist & grant $ pouring into the county that the county hasn't spent money on preserving the lighthouse or other more important attractions, instead spending it on new $$ municipal buildings, sidewalks, etc. I am also still so shocked about the way the ad valorem taxes are always spent on the higher end areas, yet the lower ones are forgotten...actually, why am I shocked? The county seems to think the higher wage earners who move here will live forever, catering to the older wealthy ones instead of the locals or younger people.


Uh oh ... ol' Jeff just stuck his foot in it. "Sea level rise?" Isn't that some of that liberal socialist commie-think? Crystal Coast realtors across the region will be calling for his head on a pike. Brace for the torchlight mobs ...

"CLNS Superintendent Jeff West said Wednesday he and the park service are grateful for the fundraising effort by the foundation but said the fight to save the lighthouse is far from over, as the main problem is sea level rise, which attenuators certainly don’t stop."

David Collins

The problem with sea level rise is that it always occurs somewhere else . Ponder that for a moment . Yes Mr. West said what he said . Must realize if you work for the NPS or it’s clones , whatever comes down stream from top management , you must at least repeat and appear to agree with . Just saying it is career dependent that you do that . Enough said !

Enjoy the orange ring around the beach . Plastics and all that . Thought that I read about the micro-plastic threat to all life on this earth , recently , in this newspaper ? How can it be that government is adding to it ? Not China , not Russia or even Nigeria but our government ? Oh , the travesty of it all . Bungles strikes again !


“Of course, if we get a direct hit from a Cat 3 hurricane, all bets are off.”

If? If? sea level rise is only one aspect of a warming world, When CAt 5's are regular as rain and they have to make a CAT 6 category, when the gulf stream and the labrador current no longer stir the ocean.. The lighthouse will be the very least of our problems

David Collins

If , if’s and buts were toys and nuts , then all would have a Merry Christmas .


Nursery rhymes are cute, however the number of cat 3 hurricanes that have hit us square on the chin is a simple google search away. In case facts have any bearing on the discussion.

David Collins

Have to beg forgiveness for the rhyme . What happened to the Cat 5s that were regular as rain ?

Beginning to read like a take off of an old Art Bell gloom and doom show on coast to coast AM . Even wrote a book on the very things you mentioned . Still waiting !

Fortuitously , last weeks Economists contains a segment on the ocean’s various currents . What they do and how . Short version is those currents play a much bigger part in influencing atmospheric events and carbon capture than previously realized . We are probably good for another 3 or 400 years unless global events muck things up . Of course with all the climate accords being signed we are good to go . Aren’t we ?

Welcome to the discussion.

As a privately owned web site, we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that contain spam, advertising, vulgarity, threats of violence, racism, anti-Semitism, or personal/abusive/condescending attacks on other users or goading them. The same applies to trolling, the use of multiple aliases, or just generally being a jerk. Enforcement of this policy is at the sole discretion of the site administrators and repeat offenders may be blocked or permanently banned without warning.