Permuda Island

permudaThe 83-acre Permuda Island Coastal Reserve is near Surf City on Topsail Island. The 50-acre island is important for its archaeological remains and to protect the surrounding shellfish waters and Outstanding Resource Waters of Stump Sound.

The Stump Sound estuary is an important nursery ground for fish, shrimp, crabs, clams and oysters. Shorebirds use the local marshes and mud flats.  Willetts, American oystercatchers, egrets, herons, black skimmers and sandpipers are common.  Upland portions of the island are home to sparrows, warblers and other songbirds.  Mammals found in the reserve include opossums, raccoons, marsh rabbits and cotton rats.  River otters are occasionally found in the marsh and sound areas.

Prehistoric Native Americans fished for oysters, clams, scallops, crabs and whelks from the waters of Stump Sound surrounding Permuda Island and left thick deposits of shell refuse on the island. Archaeological evidence indicates that they may have occupied the island as early as 300 BCE.

The Fight to Save the Island

ritterVarious plans had been proposed over the years to develop Permuda Island. Local people worried about the effects such developments would have on the water quality of Stump Sound, which had supported generations of fishermen. A proposed condominium project in 1983 spurred them to take action. The project was planned to have 383 condominiums, two swimming pools, four tennis courts, a yacht basin, and a marina with 140 slips.  A new bridge would connect the resort to Topsail Island. Led by Lena Ritter, a commercial fisherwoman from Holly Ridge, local residents fought the project with the help of the federation. This coalition of shellfish growers and harvesters, farmers and conservationists argued that because the proposed development would pollute Stump Sound so badly that the fishing grounds would be severely degraded. Such degradation, they said, would violate the federal Clean Water Act. The state eventually denied the permits reasoning that high-density development on Permuda would generate significant stormwater runoff and that the proposed sewer system would be overwhelmed by flooding in a big storm.  

This decision was an important precedent, for it was the first time that the state protected shellfishing from degradation. It was also the first time that stormwater runoff and high-density development were major issues in a state regulatory decision. Finally, in 1987 the State bought Permuda Island for preservation as part of the state’s Coastal Reserve system. A. D. Guy, a local legislator, was instrumental in getting the state funding to buy Permuda. In 1989 Stump Sound was successfully nominted by the federation to be designated was one of North Carolina’s “Outstanding Resource Waters” (ORW).  Building density, runoff, and marinas are more strictly controlled in areas near water classified as ORW.  Robert Grady, another local legislator, helped get the ORW designation for Stump Sound. Thus, after a struggle of over six years the Stump Sound Shellfishermen won the battle to protect the fishing waters they loved. 

Restoring Habitat, Protecting Water Quality

The federation partnered with a local landowner, Holly Ridge Associates, to remove 300 feet of a wooden causeway that extended from Topsail Island toward Permuda Island. The project, completed in 2009, removed a portion of the causeway and some pilings and restored the natural grade and salt marsh on the end closest to Permuda Island. The goal of the project was to improve shellfish habitat and productivity in Stump Sound.

During the summer of 2012, the federation partnered with the state’s Coastal Reserve system to clean up debris from the remaining bridge and causeway on the island. The N.C. Division of Water Resources provided money for the project. The federation worked with a marine contractor to tear down and remove the bridge remnants and submerged pilings. The contractor also removed several tons of asphalt and other debris lining the shoreline. Forty volunteers, staff and interns from N.C. Division of Coastal Management, Coastal Reserve and the community joined federation staff to install 700 bags of recycled oyster shell and 2,000 salt marsh plants along Permuda before causeway was removed.

 the shoreline of the remaining causeway on the island. Volunteers and staff also re-planted the disturbed areas of the Permuda Island causeway on the Topsail Island mainland, which was used as access during construction and restoration events. The restored oyster reef and salt marsh will become valuable habitat for important species of commercial and recreational fish and shellfish. The habitats will also buffer the shoreline from waves and boat wakes and help to improve water quality by filtering sediment from the water.

Permuda after causeway was removed.