Sept. 14, 2021
TO THE EDITOR:
Gibbs Creek is a tidal tributary on the North Reiver Estuary lying within the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Beaufort, NC. These creeks are vital habitats for wildlife, providing nurseries and supporting food webs sustaining valuable coastal fisheries.
Gibbs Creek is one of the very last pristine and mostly undeveloped tidal creeks within Beaufort's jurisdiction. Well over 80% of its watershed and shoreline are currently undeveloped with a robust cover of vegetation and healthy wetlands. This makes the creek locally unique and extraordinary.
A recently surfaced Master Plan is proposing to rezone the property and install a 400 unit Planned Unit Development (PUD) designed to urbanize the undeveloped landscape of the Creek's watershed.
Tidal creeks are remarkable natural features considered "Public Trust" resources belonging to all citizens of North Carolina. Twice daily, the North River estuary floods into the Creek bringing in saltier water that nourishes the fringing wetlands and creek bed. The tidal waters are laden with tiny, microscopic plankton and invertebrates vital for the sustenance of the larvae and young of the year juvenile fish (e.g., flounder, red drum, speckled trout, mullet), shrimp, oysters, clams, crabs and hundreds of other estuarine species that depend on the Creek.
Gibbs Creek is a nursery area where these species seek food and refuge from the larger predators in North River. Twice daily, water ebbs out of Gibbs Creek, physically connecting the watershed to the North River Estuary. Eventually, the juvenile species grow into adults and leave the creek permanently to become a crucial part of the fabric of our lives.
Recently, this newspaper provided a glimpse into the social and economic value of Gibbs Creek; the pounds for the top 5 commercial species landed in North River and Back Sound were: Blue Crabs (129,495 lbs.), Oysters (38,403 lbs.), White Shrimp (73,609 lbs), Brown Shrimp (162,525 lbs.) and Clams (19,845 lbs.) collectively worth millions of dollars to our local economy. No one has yet estimated the enormous recreational value of this estuary.
Gibbs Creek is also an important habitat for wildlife, wading birds and waterfowl. The creek's physical orientation and vegetated shorelines shelters and feeds ducks, geese and other aquatic birds (kingfishers, ospreys, bald eagles) which intrinsically recognize the isolation and protection afforded by this unique habitat.
Vegetation in the undeveloped watershed and wetlands is stabilizing soil, recycling and sequestering nutrients, preserving water quality in the wetlands and tidal waters and ensuring the quality and productivity of the Creek and North River. Terrestrial vegetation and wetlands also sequester carbon and mitigate CO2 emissions. It is an interconnected physical and biological system which ultimately depends on how we minimize our impact to its' watershed.
I urge the Beaufort Planning Board to seriously evaluate the developer's request to urbanize and threaten the integrity of the Gibbs Creek watershed. Is surrendering this unique environment and its public assets to high-density development something we are willing to accept without more serious due diligence? There are reasonable alternatives to consider.