Visitors to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina hope to spot a black bear, bald eagle, or even an endangered red wolf. The refuge is home to incredible wildlife – but it is also experiencing one of the highest rates of sea-level rise in the nation.

In fact, it’s expected to become completely flooded over the next fifty to two-hundred years. According to refuge wildlife biologist Dennis Stewart, flooding, erosion, and saltwater intrusion are already wreaking havoc on the land – turning the forest into salt grass marsh.

Stewart: “You can see trees along the canal bank that are turning brown or orange. There are pine trees that are dying.”

Sea-level rise may be inevitable, but refuge staff and volunteers aren’t giving up. They’re battling erosion by planting trees and building reefs made from oyster-shells. They’re also managing a system of canals and dykes to slow down the rate of salt water intrusion.

Stewart: “We feel that in order to protect these resources for a while longer, it’s buying some time to allow the wildlife species and the conservation effort to migrate westward or up-gradient.”

The lessons learned at Alligator River should help other high-risk areas along the Atlantic coast prepare for and adapt to the changing climate.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.

More Resources

Protecting North Carolina Wetlands as Seas Rise, by Sara Peach, Yale Climate Connections, August 27, 2014.

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Alligator River Refuge Rolls Back From Rising Sea
A Struggle to Fight Back the Sea

Sara Peach is the editor-in-chief of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist,...