MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. — North Carolina’s Marine Fisheries Commission has approved an updated version of the state’s Coastal Habitat Protection Plan, which experts say will improve the health of the state’s wetlands and estuaries, and increase communities’ resilience to climate change.
Leda Cunningham, officer for conserving marine life in the United States at The Pew Charitable Trusts, explained the plan includes new guidelines aimed at protecting seagrass, which filter out pollutants, improve water quality and help communities withstand increasing flood and sea-level rise from climate change by strengthening shorelines.
“I think it’s really important for the public to understand that a healthy coastal environment can contribute to healthier coastal communities,” Cunningham asserted.
The updated plan also includes information on how residents can design local projects and solutions to protect their estuaries.
Cunningham pointed to the Neuse River Basin as an example, and said communities could identify where additional vegetation could be planted along stream beds to help absorb and slow stormwater runoff and reduce algae blooms.
The plan also is in line with Gov. Roy Cooper’s 2020 Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan, which addressed the need to increase the resiliency of regions devastated by hurricanes.
Anne Deaton, habitat program supervisor of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, said the state’s valuable fisheries depend on the actions outlined in the updated plan.
“So if we are successful in implementation actions, it will improve our water quality, which will improve our habitat,” Deaton explained. “That improves things like tourism, water-skiing and swimming, harvesting shellfish. It also increases the resilience of the coast when we have storms.”
Cunningham emphasized she is excited about the plan’s recommendation to forge a public-private partnership to maximize the interest and commitment of residents who want local solutions. She added many of the recommendations already are happening in coastal communities, and noted the state will begin working on water-quality rule-making recommendations next year.
“They’re going to hit the ground running in January,” Cunningham remarked. “That’s going to take really pulling together between the environmental management commission, DEQ staff — especially the division of water resources — and this new public-private partnership that needs to get formed quickly and move things along.”
According to the Department of Environmental Quality, the state has received more than 1,200 signatures from North Carolinians endorsing the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan.
Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.