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Coastal habitat protection plan outlines dozens of recommended actions

 Pine Island marshes in Currituck Sound
Kuldeep Rawat
Elizabeth City State University
Pine Island marshes in Currituck Sound

North Carolina environmental officials recently added dozens of new goals and recommendations to the state's Coastal Habitat Protection Plan.

The document was first created in 2005 and has been updated every few years since then. The 2021 amendment to the plan outlines several potential action items to address numerous ongoing issues along the coast.

"There are increasing concerns about declining water quality and the influence that it is having on structured habitat such as submerged aquatic vegetation, shell bottom, and wetlands," the document states in the executive summary. "Consequently, most of the selected priority issues in the 2021 ... amendment include elements of improving water quality."

The five main issues highlighted in this year's update are:

  • protection and restoration of submerged aquatic vegetation through water quality
  • protection and restoration of wetlands through nature-based solutions
  • environmental rule compliance and enforcement to protect coastal habitats
  • wastewater infrastructure solutions for water quality improvement
  • coastal habitat mapping and monitoring to assess status and trends.

Suggested actions under these issues include restoring submerged aquatic vegetation to 191,000 acres coastwide, using new technologies to map coastal wetlands, and increasing education to local landowners about nature-based watershed management strategies.

The new recommendations also call for the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to increase staffing in regional offices, prioritize research on alternative wastewater collection system designs, and seek funding to supplement state-appropriated compliance efforts.

Anne Deaton, a habitat program supervisor at DEQ, said the public was highly involved and engaged in putting together this year's amendment.

"We had overwhelming support to implement the actions in this plan so we're really excited and hopeful that these actions will get done," Deaton said. "Because we have ... specific recommended actions in the plan, which is a little bit different than we used to do, we're hoping it will push progress along."

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

Celeste Gracia was born and raised in deep south Texas. She’s always loved to read and write, so when she discovered journalism in high school, she knew it was for her. She graduated from the University of North Texas. She previously interned at CBS News Radio in New York and Morning Edition in Washington D.C. She constantly craves cookies & creme ice cream and enjoys singing along to Broadway musicals.