Strategic Habitat Conservation
Southeast Region

Duke Energy will give $1 million to help combat effects of climate change

Credit: USFWS

Ditch at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. This is the type of ditch that is leading salt water into the refuge. Photo by Debbie Crane, The Nature Conservancy

Duke Energy will give $1 million to help a fragile coastal North Carolina peninsula adapt to climate change, The Nature Conservancy announced in North Carolina on Mar. 3, 2009.

“This is valuable work that will help all of coastal North Carolina and the country adapt fragile coastal areas to rising sea levels,” said Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers. “This is the kind of groundbreaking research that helps us learn more about climate change and will make a positive difference in our future.”

The refuge sits on the 2,100-square-mile Albemarle Peninsula, just inside the Outer Banks. The peninsula has very high vulnerability to sea-level rise, one of the hallmarks of climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency said in a January report.

“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.”

About two-thirds of the peninsula is less than five feet above sea level. Erosion is gnawing away up to 25 feet of shoreline a year.

Rising sea levels have already changed the area, 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.

In less than 100 years, accelerated climate change and sea level rise is predicted to turn half of Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge’s 152,000 acres into open water.

“Man-made ditches dug years ago to drain the low-lying land are growing wider nearest Albemarle Sound,” said Mike Bryant, Project Leader, North Carolina Coastal Plain Refuges. “Forests are dying and changing to marsh as saltwater creeps farther inland.”

"All we want to do is make sure the rate of change isn't being accelerated by man-made features like the ditches," Bryant said. “Devices to manage the flow of water in the ditches will help restore the natural hydrology.”

Adaptations will include planting marsh grasses and restoring wetlands as a buffer to rising sea levels and building oyster reefs to absorb wave activity. It will also include plugging canals and ditches to restore the region’s natural hydrology and limit saltwater intrusion.

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 North Carolina’s coast as one of the country’s most vulnerable areas to climate change.

Submitted by Tom MacKenzie, External Affairs, Atlanta, Georgia, and David Eisenhauer, External Affairs, Washington, D.C.
Last updated: December 3, 2012