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