Carrot Island Habitat Improvement Demonstration Project
The N.C. Coastal Reserve and N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores partnered to improve a dredge spoil habitat at the Rachel Carson Reserve. Native vegetation was planted to stabilize soils and provide an improved habitat for various species of wildlife, including the rare Crystal skipper (Atrytonopsis new species 1). To protect vulnerable plants, feral horses were excluded from the project area with fencing. Project outreach is ongoing and focuses on the benefits of habitat improvement, protection of rare species, and impact of non-native species. This project was funded by the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership.
Feral Horse Activity Budget Study
Feral horses at the Rachel Carson Reserve are maintained as a cultural resource for the public to enjoy, even though they are considered a non-native species that can cause habitat damage. As a part of feral horse management, studies are periodically conducted to assess environmental and horse health. Activity budgets can be a particularly useful way to assess food (vegetation) stress by analyzing the percentage of time horses spend feeding. Compared with feeding data from the 1980’s when the herd size was much larger, the current time spent grazing was found to be significantly lower. This indicates that more food is available to the horses, stress on vegetation has decreased, and the current smaller herd size is more appropriate. This type of information is invaluable in informing feral horse management at the Rachel Carson Reserve.
Hydrologic Restoration at Buckridge Reserve
The hydrologic restoration project at the Emily and Richardson Preyer Buckridge component of the North Carolina Coastal Reserve signals a step forward in protecting the water quality of the Alligator River and restoring rare Atlantic white cedar habitat. Historic timber management and canal construction have caused significant hydrological changes to this unique ecosystem, as the canals drain freshwater away from wetlands and introduce saline water into the system. The altered hydrology has the potential to impair the filtering ability of the rich organic soils at the Buckridge Reserve, which could increase mercury, heavy metal, and nitrogen levels, and affect the adjacent Alligator River. The N.C. Coastal Reserve undertook a restoration project to re-establish the surface and groundwater flows of the Buckridge wetland systems to reduce the release of nutrients into surface waters, prevent saltwater intrusion into the sensitive organic peat soils, and to accommodate adjacent property owners’ water rights during restoration. Eventually, the results of this project should ensure that the forested wetlands at the Buckridge Reserve are able to fulfill their natural functions, including providing habitat for endangered species, storing carbon, protecting estuarine water quality, and providing flood control.
Abandoned Vessel and Marine Debris Removal
Abandoned vessels and marine debris found on Reserve sites are a priority management challenge. Both can compromise public access and safety, damage habitats, and degrade viewscapes. Reserve staff document abandoned vessels and debris and work with volunteers and partners on removal. Beginning in 2020, over 40 vessels have been removed from the Masonboro Island, Rachel Carson, Kitty Hawk Woods, Permuda Island and Currituck Banks Reserves. Additionally, almost 600,000 pounds of debris was removed from Rachel Carson, Permuda Island, Masonboro, and Zeke’s Island Reserves. Most of these vessels and marine debris were removed through a partnership with the North Carolina Coastal Federation.