Climate Adaptation in North Carolina: Assessing Coastal Habitat for Natural Shoreline Stabilization
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Climate change threatens our natural coastlines with sea level rise and increased levels of erosion. Although various solutions exist for these climate-induced threats, shoreline protection is the favored solution along North Carolina coasts. Currently, debate surrounds the use of unnatural engineered shoreline protection structures. Alternatively, natural stabilization methods have been suggested to protect shores while providing ecosystem services. Conservation organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy, are interested in protecting threatened lands through natural stabilization methods. Oyster reef and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) restoration represent two natural stabilization techniques. However, prior to project implementation, potential restoration sites must be identified. This study reviews North Carolina shoreline stabilization policies and identifies suitable oyster and SAV restoration sites. Habitat suitability indices were developed for Dare and Hyde county estuaries through ArcMap GIS spatial analysis and NOAA’s Wave Exposure Model. Overall, less than 5% of the study area is suitable for eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) restoration while about 14-15% is suitable for widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima) and shoal grass (Halodule wrightii) restoration. Suitable eelgrass (Zostera marina) restoration sites were also identified, but widgeon and shoal grass restoration potential was highest. Spatial analyses and previous shoreline erosion studies were used to recommend priority restoration sites. Managers are encouraged to identify critical conservation areas, promote living shorelines where applicable, communicate with stakeholders, and support living shoreline permit development. Although this study specifically informs The Nature Conservancy’s Coastal Climate Adaptation Project, the results are relevant to all coastal stakeholders.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
The Nature Conservancy
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