Large-Scale Marine Debris Clean-up at the Rachel Carson Reserve

OCEAN, N.C.—Given that 2020 was such a difficult year, the North Carolina Coastal Federation is pleased to share some really remarkable and encouraging accomplishments. Thanks to the significant contributions of many partners and supporters, the federation has continued protecting and restoring the state’s coast this year.

The federation overcame many challenges and tested out new approaches to accomplish our ambitious goals. We engaged partners, although sometimes virtually, to restore thousands of acres of wetlands, reduce millions of gallons of polluted runoff, install over a mile of living shorelines, build oyster reefs, remove hundreds of tons of marine debris from coastal estuaries, and work to promote management decisions and policies that maintain a healthy coastal economy and environment.

“Our staff held many virtual meetings and worked directly with paid contractors to accomplish most of the things we set out to do in 2020,” said Todd Miller, executive director of the federation. “This year’s tangible, long-term accomplishments make a difference not only now but for decades to come,” he added.

Coastal waters are better protected by dozens of stormwater retrofits that now soak in the rain. Rain gardens and porous parking stalls were installed at the UNCW campus and now absorb 4.5 million gallons of rain a year. On coastal farms and forests, the federation restored more than 2,700 acres of wetlands that now hold back hundreds of millions of gallons of drainage, protecting creeks and estuaries. Working with local, state and federal agencies and Hyde County residents, the federation made significant headway in implementing the Lake Mattamuskeet watershed restoration plan to improve water quality and reduce flooding.

More than a mile of living shorelines was built in 2020 by the federation and its partners in Carteret County, Oriental, as well as at dozens of private residential waterfront properties. “Thanks to funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the North Carolina Land and Water Fund and the state’s Community Conservation Assistance Program, we were able to significantly increase the demand for living shorelines and the number of living shorelines built in the state this year,” said federation scientist Dr. Lexia Weaver. “We also provided technical assistance to an additional 77 waterfront property owners, sparking their interest in living shorelines,” said Weaver.

Working toward a coast that is free of debris, the federation removed nearly 300 tons of debris from the coast in 2020. “To visualize this tonnage, it would be equivalent to lining up two-liter soda bottles end-to-end and having them extend from Beaufort all the way to Dallas, Texas,” observed federation board member Lewis Piner when he applauded this amazing effort to clean up our coast. The federation worked with the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service to raise funds to hire contractors to clean up coastal marshes and shorelines to make this large-scale effort possible.

In 2020, the federation helped convince the N.C. General Assembly to enact new legislation that sets the stage for the removal of hundreds of abandoned and derelict boats in 2021. Sara Hallas, a coastal education coordinator on the federation’s staff, said, “With all the unexpected challenges that this year brought, I’m so proud to see our volunteers, contractors and community partners persevere with making great strides on tackling some of the goals within the N.C. Marine Debris Action Plan that we adopted in early 2020.”

There are now more oysters growing along the coast of N.C. as the federation and its partners continued to carry out numerous strategies outlined in the Oyster Blueprint. “In 2020, we continued to follow the blueprint as we updated it for another five years,” said federation coastal scientist Erin Fleckenstein. “Through hours of online virtual meetings, nearly a hundred stakeholders worked together to outline oyster management and restoration priorities for the next five years,” Fleckenstein remarked.

“This year we learned from monitoring by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries that the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary we helped to build now hosts an estimated 136 million oysters,” said Fleckenstein. She observed that, “These oysters now help to seed new natural oyster reefs in Pamlico Sound.” The federation also continued to expand an oyster shell recycling program along the coast, support the shellfish mariculture industry through numerous projects, and worked with N.C. Sea Grant and the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources to launch the N.C. Oyster Trail.

In 2020, the federation remained on the cutting edge of dozens of coastal management policy efforts including helping to: (1) obtain informed public engagement in how to manage the public health threats of emerging chemical contaminants in our surface waters; (2) convince federal officials to continue a moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling; (3) update the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan; (4) provide leadership for the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary Partnership; (5) plan how federal funding for disaster mitigation can be directed to long-term strategic flood reduction strategies in N.C.; and (6) examine ways to reduce the vulnerability of docks and other waterfront structures to storms so as to reduce future amounts of marine debris.

“This work reaffirms my faith in our ability to work cohesively and productively for the good of coastal communities and environment, despite any challenges we may face,” said Dr. Joe Ramus, the federation’s board president.