MOREHEAD CITY — Coastal habitat loss may cost North Carolinians the natural benefits the habitat provides, but researchers are working to keep decision makers informed of the risks and potential solutions.
Representatives from Pew Charitable Trusts, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, Duke University and East Carolina University held an online workshop Monday discussing the hazards coastal habitat faces and how scientists and state officials are working to preserve and protect it. Pew Charitable Trusts Director Jennifer Browning said the workshop was a part of the trusts’ coastal habitat learning series and evolved from approximately three decades of fisheries management.
“It’s been wonderful to watch how the (N.C.) Coastal Habitat Protection Plan has evolved,” said Ms. Browning, who was on the team which developed the CHPP.
Duke University Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Ecosystem Services program director Lydia Olander said Duke researchers, in partnership with the U.S. Climate Alliance, have been taking part in a project to map the effects of sea level rise on coastal ecosystem services. She said the project focused on six Atlantic Coast states, including North Carolina.
“The purpose was to facilitate coastal and climate mitigation planning,” she said.
Duke Ecosystem Services Program policy associate Katie Warnell said among the effects that climate change-induced sea level rise can have are loss of sea grasses, loss of marsh grasses, inland migration of salt marshes, loss of freshwater marshes and loss of coastal forests.
DMF biologist Casey Knight said there are six types of coastal habitats defined in the CHPP: water column, soft bottom, shell bottom, ocean hard bottom, wetlands and submerged aquatic vegetation. All these habitats provide a variety of ecosystem services, including water quality treatment, shoreline erosion control, storm protection, flood control, carbon sequestration and harvestable habitat.
“They (coastal habitats) are highly correlated with fisheries production,” Ms. Knight said.
ECU ecology evolution and marine science postdoctoral researcher Dr. Christopher Baillie said specific recommendations on how to prevent loss of these habitats and restore already lost habitat are still in the works.
“There’s a ton of research…that points to the fact the status quo isn’t the way forward,” Dr. Baillie said.
One example is studies show over the last 20 years, many acres of estuarine wetlands have been lost due to property development, agricultural operations or becoming flooded and turning into open water or unconsolidated shores.
Whatever the solution is, it won’t be a single step, according to Ms. Knight.
“There’s no one solution,” she said. “It’s a death by 1,000 cuts situation, so it needs 1,000 Band-Aids.”
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