Power partnership tackles debris

Mar 5, 2020 | Healthy Habitats, North Carolina, North Carolina, Reserves

A crew removes a derelict vessel from marshes near the Rachel Carson Reserve, a component of the North Carolina Reserve. Photos courtesy of North Carolina Reserve.

Big problems require strong partnerships. That’s why the North Carolina Reserve has collaborated with the Town of Beaufort, the Atlantic Coast Marine Group, and NOAA’s Marine Debris Program to remove  almost 127,000 pounds of large debris like abandoned vessels and derelict fishing gear from sensitive habitats along the coast. 

“The partnership between the Reserve and the Town not only led to funds to remove abandoned boats, it set the stage for the Town to develop and pass an ordinance that will prevent vessels from becoming derelict or abandoned,” says Paula Gillikin, the central sites manager for the North Carolina Reserve. “Functionally, the law protects estuarine habitat, water quality, and visitor experience.”

Derelict vessels and other debris damage  habitats and often cause shoreline erosion when they are removed. This makes the issue a top management concern for the Rachel Carson Reserve, a component of the North Carolina Reserve adjacent to Beaufort. That concern is shared by local residents, who raised problems caused by marine debris and derelict vessels in a 2018 Beaufort Harbor management public meeting.

Many expressed the value they saw in reducing marine debris—from opening navigational channels and creating beauty to improving recreational access and boosting the local economy. North Carolina’s coastline contributes $32 billion to the state economy through industries like fishing, shipping, recreation, and tourism, all of which can be impaired by marine debris. 

“Beaufort is working hard to clean up our waterways. The partnership with NOAA, the NC Reserves, and Atlantic Coast Marine Group has had a dramatic and positive effect on our clean-up efforts,” says Rett Newton, mayor of Beaufort. “The massive work after Hurricane Florence stimulated follow-on initiatives to improve water quality, and we hope these efforts will become a template for other communities facing the same challenges we are.”

The Town of Beaufort also relies on the Reserve as a buffer against storms and as a partner on other coastal management issues. 

“Estuarine reserves are protected places that are woven deep in the fabric of a community—in its history, culture, and often economy,” says Gillikin. “Naturally, this sets the stage for Beaufort and the Reserve to collaborate on a variety of topics such as water quality, community resilience, and enforcing Reserve rules that protect the ecosystem and public safety.”

The effort to clean up and prevent large marine debris is supported by NOAA’s community-based grant program. “The NOAA Marine Debris Program is proud to support the efforts of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve and Town of Beaufort to clean up Taylor Creek,” says Sarah Latshaw, Southeast Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

Derelict and abandoned vessels are  hazardous and unattractive and a threat to coastal habitats.

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