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A Talk on the Wild Side.

North Carolina: Working with Nature to Prepare for the Change

Oyster reefs along the coastline

Artificial oyster reefs parallel to the shoreline is a natural way to slow the rate of erosion by catching wave energy. Photo: USFWS.

Camera iconMore photos: Working with Nature to Prepare for the Change on Flickr

Video iconVideo: Working with Nature to Prepare for the Change on YouTube

What can we do about climate change?

One thing we can do is prepare for it, by working with Mother Nature. At the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, where rising seas are eroding the shoreline, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy are giving the Albemarle Peninsula a fighting chance.

Starting with a $1 million grant from Duke Energy, the partners have constructed artificial oyster reefs along the shoreline, planted salt- and flood-tolerant trees and vegetation, and restored freshwater wetlands. The goal is to give the land and its species, such as forest-dependent birds and black bears, time to adapt to sea level rise, increased salinity and other climate change impacts.

“We want to slow the rate of erosion; we’re not going to stop it,” said Mike Bryant, Project Leader for six national wildlife refuges on coastal North Carolina, including Alligator River. “If we did nothing, we think we’d see large-scale change in habitats from forest to marsh, and that means the wildlife dependent on these forest communities would have to find some other place. We’ll have larger expanses of marsh and then that marsh will succumb -- along with the soil that it’s standing on -- to the sea level rise and we’ll see continued, accelerated rates of erosion.”

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Delaware: Betting on Survival in Delaware Bay

A close-up of a red knot

A red knot tagged for research rests and refuels in Mispillion Harbor, Delaware. Climate changes such as sea-level rise and increasing storm intensity are adding challenges to red knot survival. Photo: Gregory Breese/USFWS.

Camera iconMore photos: Delaware Bay Estuary Project photoset on Flickr

Video iconRelated video: Crash: A Tale of Two Species on PBS.org

Not far from the casinos of Atlantic City, a different kind of wager takes place each May along the shores of Delaware Bay. 

That’s when red knots, birds the size of a coffee mug, stake their future on the eggs laid by tens of thousands of horseshoe crabs. Without enough crab eggs to fuel them, the long-distance fliers may not survive their 10,000-mile spring trek from the southern tip of South America to their Arctic breeding grounds.

In recent years, the red knots’ bet on the crab eggs has been more of a crapshoot. First, the over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs for bait caused an egg shortage. Now, scientists also point to a wild card.

“The peak of horseshoe crabs spawning in Delaware Bay has not always been aligned with the migration of the red knots,” said Gregory Breese, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s project leader for the Delaware Bay Estuary Project. “That could be related to climate change.”

Changing water temperatures in Delaware Bay and more frequent and intense storms appear to be disrupting the synchronization between the spawning of the crabs and the arrival of the red knots. When waters warm, the crabs lay their eggs earlier, and other creatures may beat red knots to the feast.

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South Carolina: A Closer Look at Sea Level Rise on Cape Romain

A bird sitting atop a post

Location: Charleston County, South Carolina
Size: 66,267 acres
Main Objectives: Provide habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, and resident species. There are over 277 species of birds found on the refuge.
Open to the public: Yes
Website: http://www.fws.gov/caperomain/
Climate Change Threat: sea level rise and loss of freshwater impoundments
Contacts: Stacy Shelton, USFWS, (404) 679-7290
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Photos: Photoset on Flickr
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Video: There's Nothing Level About Sea Level

South Carolina: A Closer Look at Sea Level Rise on Cape Romain

by Stacy Shelton

A wooden post in the middle of open water at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge near Charleston, South Carolina is literally a sign of climate change.

The sign warns visitors to keep their dogs off the refuge. It made sense until 2009, when the sea swallowed the island it sat atop. The narrow island, called Sandy Point, used to be a perfect nesting area for American oystercatchers, Wilson’s Plovers and terns. Just ten years ago, Sandy Point stretched for a mile.

Four aerial images show Sandy Point eroding
The disappearing island of Sandy Point at Cape Romain. Credit: USFWS. Click for full size.

The nearby Cape Island is also important habitat for wildlife. It’s one of the most important nesting areas on the Atlantic Coast for loggerhead sea turtles, a threatened species that may soon be uplisted to endangered.

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