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Work underway to keep eastern North Carolina island from “washing away”

By Annette Weston

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    MOREHEAD CITY, North Carolina (WLOS) — The Town of Morehead City is working with two aquatic restoration groups to protect Sugarloaf Island from continued shoreline erosion.

One of the methods being considered would use offshore wave attenuation devices – hollow concrete structures meant to flatten larger waves before they hit the shore – in combination with seagrass plantings to stabilize the sediment and create essential fish habitat and a living shoreline to build salt marsh and upland vegetation.

The $2 million project is being funded by the NC state legislature and construction is expected to begin later this year.

Todd Miller, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation, said the project presents a good opportunity to protect and restore Sugarloaf Island so that it continues to provide important recreation, fish habitat, and storm protection values.

“The Federation supports and appreciates the financial support provided by the North Carolina General Assembly to Morehead City to allow this project to move forward in preventing this island from washing away,” he said.

Officials said Sugarloaf Island is a vital destination for many local people, tourists, and wildlife but right now the seaward shoreline of the Island is eroding, leaving uprooted trees and vegetation behind. In addition, wave exposure and swift currents are eroding the shoreline, sweeping nutrient-rich sediment into the water column, degrading water quality, and filling in navigational channels.

Morehead City Mayor Jerry Jones said protecting and restoring the island has been a priority for the City for years and now, thanks to the State Legislature, they finally have the funding to make it happen.

“We’re looking forward to working closely with the professionals from Sea & Shoreline and the North Carolina Coastal Federation to see this project come to fruition,” he added.

The restoration techniques will not impact boat traffic because they will be installed in areas too shallow for boats to navigate safely at high speeds. In addition, wave attenuation structures will be staggered so that fishing can occur in and around the structures.

The project is expected to: Stop erosion and increase the shoreline Increase fish habitat and fishing opportunities Enhance the coastal resilience of Morehead City Increase ecotourism opportunities Enhance seagrass and water quality Stop tree loss Stop shorebird habitat loss Increase carbon sequestration

Brian Henry, Director of Sea & Shoreline’s North and South Carolina offices, said, “We are excited to partner with not only the Federation and the City on this project, but also other local companies to restore our beloved island.”

The Federation has contracted with Sea & Shoreline to construct the project. Sea & Shoreline has completed over 150 aquatic restoration projects including offshore breakwaters, living shorelines, and seagrass restorations.

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