Issues of Importance

OceanMoon-Millsx520

Issues of concern for Currituck NWR are habitat loss and fragmentation, changes in hydrology, siltation of aquatic ecosystems, and proliferation of invasive aquatic species.


    The South Atlantic Coastal Plain has changed markedly over the last 100 years as civilization spread throughout the area. An estimated 40 percent of the coastal plain’s natural vegetation has been lost to land conversion. The greatest changes to the landscape have been in the form of land clearing for agriculture and urban development.  Although these changes have allowed people to settle and earn a living in the area, they have had a tremendous effect on biological diversity, biological integrity, and environmental health of the South Atlantic Coastal Plain.

    In addition to the loss of vast acreages of bottomland forested wetlands, substantial alterations have occurred in the region’s hydrology due to managed stream flows from flood control and hydroelectric power generation reservoirs; drainage ditches; river channel modifications; flood control levees; deforestation; and degradation to aquatic systems from excessive sedimentation, contaminants, and urban development.  The natural hydrology of a region is directly responsible for the connectedness of forested wetlands and indirectly responsible for the complexity and diversity of habitats through its effects on topography and soils. Instead of natural hydrology, large-scale, man-made hydrological alterations have changed the spatial and temporal patterns of flooding throughout the entire South Atlantic Coastal Plain.

    Aquatic systems, including lakes, rivers, sloughs and bayous, have been degraded as a result of deforestation and hydrologic alteration. Clearing of bottomland hardwood forests has led to an accelerated accumulation of sediments and contaminants in all aquatic systems. Many water bodies are now filled with sediments, greatly reducing their surface area and depth. Concurrently, the nonpoint source runoff of excess nutrients and contaminants is threatening the area’s remaining aquatic resources. Turbidity caused by sediment limits light penetration into the water and consequently the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation.

    Compounding the problems faced by aquatic systems is the growing threat from invasive aquatic vegetation. Static water levels caused by the lack of annual flooding and reduced water depths resulting from excessive sedimentation have created conditions favorable for several species of invasive aquatic plants. Additionally, the introduction of exotic (nonnative) plants threatens the natural aquatic vegetation and chokes waterways to a degree that limits the natural range of plans and animals normally present and often prevents recreational use.

    The declines in the South Atlantic Coastal Plain’s dune, marsh, shrub, and forest communities and their associated fish and wildlife resources have prompted the Service to designate the Currituck Banks an area of special concern. A collaborative effort involving private, state, and federal conservation partners is now underway to implement a variety of tools to restore the functions and values of wetlands and other coastal habitats in the South Atlantic Coastal Plain. The goal is to prioritize and manage areas to most effectively maintain and possibly restore the biological diversity in the South Atlantic Coastal Plain. Some areas are prioritized as focus areas for intensive management, others for reforestation, and still others for preservation.