View this email in your browser

Welcome to Issue Two!

Thank you for signing up to receive this special newsletter about the NC coast and climate change. We hope you find it informative and that it enriches your experience of reading the “Changing Tides” series from Carolina Public Press. 

Seagrass: The building blocks of coastal ecosystems

Retired National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist Jud Kenworthy of Beaufort lifts a small net dipped into a patch of grass submerged in shin-deep water near the edge of a salt marsh on the central North Carolina coast to reveal colorfully striped juvenile pinfish, no bigger than a pinky, among the strands of green and brown vegetation.

Pinfish are among dozens of fish species residing in estuaries for part of their lives, grazing on underwater grasses. Eventually, schools of the small fish, distinguished by a sharp dorsal fin, will spawn offshore in large groups and be hunted by predators: groupers, snappers and dolphins.

Their journey ends when hooked by a recreational angler from a pier or captured by a commercial fishing vessel to be used as bait for bigger catch.

But the pinfish depends on the rich estuarine habitat that flourishes along the North Carolina coast — an ecosystem that relies heavily on a meadow of grass covered by 12 inches of saltwater where land and sea merge. The threat of climate change to those seemingly mundane patches — which are seldom above water — is a threat to the entire oceanic ecosystem.

From "Changing Tides." Start reading the series now.

Marines invest in restoring NC shoreline

A project funded by the Department of Defense will make the NC shoreline more resilient against severe weather and protect fragile ecosystems.

Why is NC seagrass a 'diamond in the rough?'

Underwater seagrasses are found throughout the coastal United States, where they support wildlife, improve water quality, and help buffer shorelines from waves and storms.

On the Atlantic coast, no state has more seagrass meadows than North Carolina. The Pew Charitable Trusts is working with state agencies and other North Carolina partners to protect this resource. Seagrass, marsh, and barrier islands are really parts of one big geological feature critical to the existence of our estuaries.

Leda Cunningham, an officer with the Pew Charitable Trusts, overseeing its work on conserving U.S. marine life, talked with Jud Kenworthy, who is currently an adjunct professor at UNC Wilmington and advises the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership and the state on seagrass monitoring and assessment.

LC: What makes North Carolina’s seagrass so special?

JK: North Carolina has the largest and healthiest seagrass ecosystem on the Atlantic seaboard. North Carolinians should realize that our marine seagrass is a diamond in the rough. And one important message is that we need to keep our marine seagrass that way. The other, equally important message is that our low-salinity underwater meadows — in rivers and closer to the mainland — are facing greater threats from watershed degradation and coastal development and need to be restored.

LC: What are the benefits of seagrass — broadly and in North Carolina?

JK: Seagrass is like salt marsh, only completely submerged. It anchors itself and takes up nutrients from the sediment, and then as it photosynthesizes, it pumps oxygen to its roots, which aerate the water and submerged soils. This makes it possible for some species, like polychaete worms, to live in this sediment. And these species feed a lot of animals, like flounder, speckled trout, and red drum, which are important to the ecosystem and to recreational and commercial fishermen. 

Seagrasses are also ecosystem engineers. As they grow, they make the water clearer and calmer, which is good for them and other species. They reduce wave energy, protecting shorelines from erosion. Seagrass, marsh and barrier islands are really parts of one big geological feature critical to the existence of our estuaries.

LC: How is seagrass faring in North Carolina?

JK: Our large, high-salinity seagrass meadows are healthy, and our goal should be to conserve this good resource, although we should keep an eye on parts that may be experiencing issues, like in Bogue Sound.

We need an intervention-recovery-restoration approach for our low-salinity meadows. The state is in the midst of updating its Coastal Habitat Protection Plan, and I’ve been pleased to see a diverse group of people with a range of expertise coming to it with energy and enthusiasm. I think we can make real progress conserving and restoring this amazing resource.

Edited from a published interview. Read the full interview.

Find out more: Disappearing Seagrass Protects Against Pathogens, Even Climate Change, Scientists Find (NY Times)

The more than 300 miles of ocean and sound shoreline shape the state’s economy, culture and politics. In our series, “Changing Tides,” reporter Jack Igelman and photographers Mark Darrough and Calvin Adkins explored the many facets of the coast, from the tiniest sea creature to the king mackerel, to better understand the way climate change shapes our coastline and our state. Publishing in September on  
Start reading "Changing Tides"
"Changing Tides" is made possible in part with support from the Pulitzer Center Connected Coastlines initiative, a nationwide climate reporting initiative in U.S. coastal states, and through the support of readers like you.  
Like what you read? Become a 10 for 10 member today by pledging at least $10 a month to support nonpartisan, public interest reporting for North Carolina. Carolina Public Press is a wholly independent nonprofit news organization devoted to in-depth and investigative reporting in the public interest for all of North Carolina.
Yes, I want to join!
Share this with a friend. 
Carolina Public Press is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit news organization dedicated to nonpartisan, in-depth and investigative news for North Carolina. Launched in 2011, our award-winning, breakthrough journalism dismantles barriers and shines a light on critical overlooked and under-reported issues facing our state's 10.2 million residents.
Copyright © 2022 Carolina Public Press, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.