A $1 million donation from Duke Energy is helping the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy and other partners help wildlife adapt to the effects of climate change on North Carolina's east coast.
The donation will fund climate change research and adaptation for a pilot project that focuses on the effect of rising sea levels on the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.
"This gift and partnership allows us to go from an open dialog to action on a climate change issue that is of great concern to everyone--conservationists, communities, and businesses," said Mike Bryant, Project Leader for the North Carolina Coastal Plain Refuges Complex, which includes Alligator River, Pea Island, Pocosin Lakes, Mackay Island, Currituck, and Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuges.
"The Nature Conservancy and its conservation partners have a big investment in the Albemarle Peninsula, protecting more than half a million acres there in 30 years of work," said Katherine Skinner, executive director of The Nature Conservancy's North Carolina Field Office. "Duke Energy's generous gift will help us protect that investment against rising sea levels."
North Carolina's coast is considered particularly vulnerable to climate change because it is so long and flat. A 2008 study by the University of Maryland identified the state's coast as one of the country's most vulnerable areas to climate change. Rising sea levels have already altered the landscape, which is valuable habitat for an array of wildlife, including black bears, red wolves and migratory songbirds. Peat soils are degrading, and plants and trees have died as saltwater has pushed into the area. If nothing is done to adapt the area to rising sea levels, researchers estimate that one million acres could be lost within 100 years.
"We know that the estuarine waters surrounding the refuge are getting saltier and we've seen with our own eyes shoreline loss and plant community changes on thousands of acres of this 24-year-old, 153,000 acre refuge," Bryant said. "Recently, we've been looking at refuge-specific modeling data that says we'll lose up to 67 percent of swamp land and 90 percent of dry land by 2100?and that's most of the refuge."
Bryant said the management response builds resilience into the land and helps managers decide how to connect it to other habitat. He said Duke Energy's donation will fund installation of water control structures with flap gates in ditches to slow salt water intrusion, which causes break down of peat soils and eliminates some native forest types. The money also will help efforts to plant salt-tolerant native trees to bind the soil and provide habitat for wildlife.
"It's only a start at trying to manage in the face of sea level rise," Bryant said, "but it's good to know that we have partners like Duke Energy who are willing to help."
Bryant said 11 national wildlife refuges comprising more than 400,000 acres are located in this same vulnerable landscape--and all within the same "bulls eye" of climate change-induced sea level rise. "We're starting to work with an ever growing number of partners--such as the Environmental Protection Agency's National Estuarine Program's Albemarle Pamlico Estuarine Study and the Albemarle Pamlico Conservation and Community Collaborative--to see how we can connect these refuges with other lands to give wildlife a place in the future and engage all citizens, organizations, and communities in this effort," he said.
Duke Energy Chief Executive Officer Jim Rogers said this is valuable work that will help all of coastal North Carolina and the country adapt fragile coastal areas to rising sea levels.
"This is the kind of groundbreaking research that helps us learn more about climate change and will make a positive difference in our future," he said.