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N.C. Seagrass Loss Bad Sign for Water Quality

North Carolina sounds are losing seagrass, an indicator of the state’s water quality.

According to a recently published metric report by Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership, or APNEP, there’s been a net loss of at least 5% between 2006 and 2013 of the high-salinity submerged aquatic vegetation, or SAV, habitat in the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system, which is the second-largest in the United States.

APNEP works to identify, protect, restore and monitor the natural resources of the Albemarle-Pamlico region, which has more than 3,000 square miles of estuarine waters and a land area of 28,000 square miles. Pasquotank, Chowan and Roanoke basins flow into Albemarle Sound, and the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse basins into Pamlico Sound. Rivers of the White Oak basin flow into the southern sounds — Core, Back, and Bogue – of the region.

Also known as seagrass or underwater grasses, this vegetation plays various roles in keeping Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System waters healthy by providing habitat, food and shelter for aquatic life as well as absorbing and recycling nutrients and filtering sediment, according to the report.

The seagrasses also act as a barometer of the condition of water. SAV is extremely sensitive to water quality, including nutrient and sediment pollution. The decrease in acreage suggests that the overall health of North Carolina’s estuaries may be worsening, according to APNEP.

“Because these underwater meadows are a public resource that play a vital role in maintaining the diversity, health, and sustainability of North Carolina’s sounds, APNEP has designated seagrass as a ‘valued ecosystem component’ and an ecosystem indicator that should be regularly monitored and assessed,” Dean Carpenter, program scientist for APNEP, told Coastal Review Online.

The data used for the report from two aerial surveys, one from 2006-2007 and the other from 2013, confirm that the state has about 100,000 acres of seagrass, the largest acreage on the east coast, according to APNEP.

However, the overall amount of seagrass meadows in the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary decreased by 5,686 acres or 5.6% between 2006 and 2013, even though the estuary is an ideal habitat for seagrasses to survive.

The seagrass communities in the APNEP region are on the back-barrier shelves of the Outer Banks between the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge on U.S. 64 that connects Roanoke Island and the Outer Banks, south to Ocracoke Inlet, and on the Outer Banks and mainland shores of Core, Back and Bogue sounds, the report states.


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