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Albemarle- Pamlico Environmental Education  Activity Kit

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So What's Wrong with the Sounds Anyway?
When you hear the words "Albemarle Sound or Pamlico Sound," what do you think of? Places for boating? Big swimming and fishing holes? The homes of tasty blue crabs, oysters, and trout? Receiving places for treated sewage and industrial waste? Something to be crossed on your way to Nags Head or Ocracoke Island?

What Are the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds?
The Sounds are more than just large bodies of water. They are an estuary, a shallow place where salty water from the ocean mixes with fresh water from rivers. The Albemarle-Pamlico estuary is the second largest estuary in the Eastern United States. The largest estuary is Chesapeake Bay. Like all estuaries, it is rich with plant and animal life. The estuary is home to young fish, oysters, crabs, and clams. Ninety-two percent of the fish landed in North Carolina depend on the estuary as a nursery habitat. When you visit the Sounds, see how alive the marshy places are with plants, fish, and birds.

The Sounds are also part of a larger system. The Albemarle-Pamlico system includes the sounds, the rivers and creeks which flow into the Sounds, and the land surrounding these rivers and creeks. This entire area is called the Albemarle-Pamlico watershed. The watershed includes thirty-six counties in North Carolina and sixteen counties in Virginia. Water in the watershed will eventually drain into the Sounds. This water can carry harmful things, such as improperly treated sewage, oil, fertilizer, and pesticides, from distant places into the estuary.

Sound Facts
  The Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds cover 2900 square miles of surface water. Approximately 30,880 square miles of land drain into the rivers which feed the Sounds.
 

What Is Wrong With the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary?
The Sounds are faced with several complex problems. They are made worse by the increasing pressures of population growth in the watershed. Each problem alone is troublesome, but together they can harm the Sounds and their resources if we do not help.

Excessive Nutrients:
Nutrients are substances which help plants and animals grow. Two nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorous, are present in plant fertilizer and wastes from animals and people. Rain can wash fertilizer from lawns and fields into streams and the Sounds. This type of pollution is called "nonpoint source" since it does not come from a single point, but it is from water running off a large land area. Sewage treatment plants and leaky septic systems can also add nutrients to the water. When pollution comes from a single point, such as an outfall pipe, it is called "point source" pollution.

When too many nutrients get into the water, they disturb the natural balance by allowing too much algae (microscopic plants) to grow. The algae cloud the water and block vital sunlight to underwater plants (submerged aquatic vegetationor SAy). When the algae die and decay, they use up much of the oxygen needed by fish and shellfish, often killing them.

Toxic Materials:
Toxics are chemicals that can cause cancer (carcinogens) or other harmful effects. Their effects can be immediate such as a poison, or occur very slowly such as with cancer. Streams and rivers are very effective at hiding the effects of poisons. Often the fish that are killed are not seen. They may be small and hard to see or eaten by turtles, snakes, crabs, or other scavengers. Modern pesticides (i.e., chemicals used to kill animals, insects, or plants) used on lawns and fields are very poisonous but, fortunately, they break down much more quickly than older pesticides such as DDT. Because these modem pesticides are toxic they should not be used near rivers or streams or along roads with storm drains which lead to a stream. Cancer-causing substances enter our rivers from municipal sewage treatment plants or industrial discharges and sometimes from nonpoint source discharges. Although we are usually exposed to low concentrations of carcinogens, there are thousands of cancer-causing agents. The cumulative effects of these agents is not fully understood.

Erosion and Sedimentation:
Every time it ralns around the Albemarle-Pamlico watershed, water erodes the land. The precious soil which washes away into streams is called sediment. Sediments are carried downstream and may eventually enter the Sounds, where they settle out of the water and cover the bottom.

Sediments can harm Sound life in several ways. Sediment particles pick up toxic materials on their surface and concentrate them on the bottom of the Sound. Floating or suspended sediment clouds the water, cutting off light to SAV. Excess sediment smothers clams, oysters, and other bottom dwellers.

Habitat Loss:
An animal s habitat is its home. Habitat provides shelter, food, water, and space. As more and more people come to live and work around the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, more and more habitat is being lost. Some animals, such as squirrels, can adapt to these changes and learn to coexist with humans. But many others, such as black bears, bald eagles, and black ducks, do not adapt well to change. Habitat damage and loss can decrease a population of plants or animals or even cause extinction.

Wetlands, one of the most important types of habitat, are threatened all around the Albemarle-Pamlico watershed. They are filled in for development, drained for agriculture, or dredged for marinas. Pollution has degraded water quality in the Sounds and their rivers, resulting in declines of important SAX  and scallops.

Where Are These Problems?

City Sewage Treatment Plants:
Due to an increase in population, many sewage treatment plants receive more wastewater than they have been designed to handle. Often this leads to discharge of poorly treated sewage into our rivers and streams.

Industry:
Treating wastewater to the extent that it does not harm the environment takes a special effort. Certain industries do excellent jobs of cleaning their wastewater, but others do not. Since industries release tens of millions of gallons of wastewater into our rivers every day, proper treatment is essential.

Agriculture and Forestry:
Farms and forestry operations that allow sediment or pesticides to enter our rivers and streams, or that infringe upon wetlands, damage our estuary.

Development:
Runoff during construction and from parking lots should be controlled to prevent erosion.
Wetland areas should be preserved; they do not make good locations for homes and shopping
centers.

Consumers:
Most environmental problems are ultimately caused by the consumer. Industry and business must make a profit to provide jobs. We, as individuals, can help by doing our share. We can buy environmentally sound products such as brown paper; do without immaculate lawns which require fertilizers and pesticides; and do not waste water.
 

How Do I Fit In The Picture?
Although you may not realize it, you do have an impact on the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound system. By living in its watershed, your individual actions affect the Sound s environment. You can harm the Sounds if you are not careful, or you can act responsibly to help the Sounds.

You might ask, "What can I do to help save the Sounds, I m just one person?" The Sounds did not deteriorate overnight--the two and one-half million people living in the watershed contributed to the problems. It is estimated that the population will reach three million by the year 2000! But just as these people can harm the Sounds, they can also help them. If each person in the Albemarle-Pamlico watershed did just positive thing for the environment, we would be well on our way to reversing the damage. Usually, when one person joins in others become interested and concerned, too.

The situation is not hopeless--far from it. In 1987, North Carolina and the Environmental Protection Agency began the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine Study. The agreement calls for a cooperative effort between science, government, and the public to restore and protect the living resources and water quality of the Sounds. This goal will be achieved through implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for the Estuaries. Many citizen organizations and other federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have joined in on this crusade to make a difference in the Albemarle-Pamlico watershed.

The Sounds depend on us for life just as we depend on the Sounds. Therefore, it is extremely important that we exercise great care with our actions. We must become responsible citizen caretakers of the Albemarle-Pamlico watershed in order to restore and preserve our natural neighborhood.
 

 



For additional information regarding this Web page, contact Doug Newcomb, in Raleigh, NC, at doug_newcomb@fws.gov



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