Our sounds are a delicate and important part of our coastal environment — their waters are calmer than ocean waters and provide critical habitat for oysters, fish and other animals. Every Thursday, visitors and residents alike can join the North Carolina Coastal Federation on the Duck Boardwalk to learn more about these important waters.
Erica Connery, the Americorps member at the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s northeast office, and Peggy Birkemeier, a long-time resident of the Outer Banks and member of the federation’s board of directors, developed Sound Discoveries as a summer program. This program aims to educate people of all ages and backgrounds about sounds and how they are different from an ocean environment.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that the sound is a completely different environment than the ocean, and I wanted to show people how they are interconnected but highlight their differences as well,” Connery said.
Birkemeier suggested the Duck Boardwalk on the Currituck Sound as a good location. She provided her contacts, and all of the shop owners were supportive of the idea. She helps out with program every week.
“We are seeing more activity on the boardwalk than I thought we might, and this is a great example of reaching out to visitors to share local information about the federation,” Birkemeier said. “To have the support from the businesses there and the property owners has been great.”
Connery and Birkemeier set up a booth every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Anyone is welcome to stop by and participate in various activities, including guessing games, animal habitat matching and water testing. Connery said both visitors and residents have stopped by.
“I really enjoy meeting all the different people that come to the Duck Boardwalk and hearing about where they are from and what brings them to the Outer Banks,” she said. “Whether they visit every year as a family tradition or this is their first visit, everyone is taken with the unique environment that surrounds us here.”
One of the activities is guessing the number of oyster shells in a bag, and most kids like to keep guessing until they’ve got the right number. Generally, people are most surprised by how important oyster shell recycling is to the oyster life cycle, Connery said. After learning about oysters, participants compare water samples from the sound and the ocean, determining which is which through salinity and pH tests. Connery also has a map that shows how inlets have changed over the years.
Birkemeier said her main focal point is oysters and how important they are for water quality, fishery habitat and living shorelines, all of which help create a healthy coastal estuary environment. She talks about the federation’s work and recommends visitors go to Jockey’s Ridge State Park so they can see what a living shoreline looks like.
The program aims to be fun but also educational, and Connery said she wants people to walk away with a deeper understanding of how they can help protect the coast.
“I hope that people will think about the natural beauty and importance of the coastal environments that they enjoy while on vacation or live and work in every day, realizing that they can have an impact in protecting them and keeping them healthy,” Connery said.
Sound Discoveries takes place every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the Duck Boardwalk behind the Waterfront shops. Click here for more information.