Sea oat ‘spikelets’ head north for processing ahead of next nourishment project

This sea oat spikelet, or seed head, will be processed and the seeds will be used to grow plants to be installed on dunes in Emerald Isle next year. (Carteret County Shore Protection Office photo)

EMERALD ISLE — Crews from Florida-based company EarthBalance harvested enough beach vegetation cuttings last week in Emerald Isle to grow 300,000 plants that will be planted on dunes created next year in a major beach nourishment project along the town’s strand.

Greg Rudolph, manager of the Carteret County Shore Protection Office, which is responsible for nourishment projects, said Thursday the unusual harvest went well.

“They knocked it out in just a couple of days,” Mr. Rudolph said. “They got 500 pounds of (sea oats and bitter panicum) spikelets and if 10 percent of them are productive and generate good seeds, that should be enough.”

The spikelets will go north to a Massachusetts company which will extract the seeds and ship them south to an EarthBalance greenhouse in Florida to grow into tiny plants that will be planted on the dunes in the spring.

The planting will happen after completion of the planned $31.6 million nourishment project that will begin in the winter and cover central Emerald Isle, eastern Emerald Isle and extreme western Emerald Isle beaches with about 2 million cubic yards of sand dredged from the ocean off Atlantic Beach.

“It’s pretty cool,” Mr. Rudolph said. “It’s like, full-circle.”

 The spikelets were taken from plants that have matured since they were planted after a nourishment project in 2019. Plants were also put in after a 2020 nourishment project, but those were not yet mature enough for spikelets to be harvested, Mr. Rudolph said.

The plants installed next year, like those installed in years past, will help hold new dunes in place, which is the reason it’s illegal and punishable by a fine to remove sea oats from beaches in North Carolina and other coastal states.

Mr. Rudolph stressed no four-wheel-drive vehicles were on the dunes this week, just field crews that stripped the spikelets, or seed heads, by hand. The stem stalks were left behind, presumably without damage.

The county’s contract for the upcoming nourishment project stipulates only native vegetation can be used for dune planting. This year’s planting effort took several months.

The upcoming effort, known as phase three of the post-Hurricane Florence beach nourishment project, will be performed by low bidder Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. of Illinois. EarthBalance is a subcontractor working for Great Lakes.

The nourishment work will start early next year and must be finished by Friday, April 30 because of federal law that protects sea turtles, which hit the beaches in late spring and early summer to lay nests.


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

(2) comments

David Collins

So !


You mean sow.

Welcome to the discussion.

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