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North Carolina coastal group invites public to help protect 'nursery of the sea'

Two kayakers in an estuary. The sky is a mixture of blues, oranges, and pinks
Chris Council and Emily Chaplin
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C2 Photography
Two kayakers in an estuary head toward Jones Island near Swansboro.

The North Carolina Coastal Federation is celebrating National Estuaries Week through Saturday. What started as a single day in 1988 has transformed into a week-long celebration and education effort for these habitats.

The public is invited to join the group Friday to clean up litter along coastal waterways, including in Dare and Carteret counties.

Sara Hallas, the federation’s education and outreach director, said there's more than 2 million acres of estuarine habitat in North Carolina. Their unique combination of freshwater and saltwater gives estuaries a crucial role in the ecosystem.

“The estuary is sometimes nicknamed the 'nursery of the sea,'” Hallas said. “Most of the seafood that we eat, those animals spend part of their life in the estuary. So, it's a really important habitat for that nursery ground for animals to lay their eggs or raise their young, or to find shelter during migration.”

A blue estuary meanders around rich green lands
Todd L. Miller
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NC Coastal Federation
Estuaries contain brackish water, making them unique ecosystems for a variety of species.

Estuaries can be home to natural water filters, like oysters or grasses with intricate root systems, hinting at the role these wetlands can play in human lives as well.

“Stormwater runoff is the number one cause of water pollution off of the North Carolina coast,” Halles said. “The estuaries have a great opportunity to help to filter that out. But, as we have been paving roads, or building new buildings or marinas, there have been loss of habitat in our estuaries.”

Furthermore, estuaries can help protect shorelines from flooding and reduce shoreline erosion, according to Hallas, making it all the more important to protect these wetlands.

Hallas said helping the public understand their need for protection is particularly critical after recent federal actions. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency removed federal protections for millions of acres of wetlands.

Sophie Mallinson is a daily news intern with WUNC for summer 2023. She is a recent graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill, where she studied journalism. Sophie is from Greenville, N.C., but she enjoys the new experiences of the Triangle area. During her time as a Tar Heel, Sophie was a reporter and producer for Carolina Connection, UNC-Chapel Hill’s radio program. She currently is heavily involved in science education at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.
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