Carrot Island (Rachel Carson Component) Habitat Improvement Demonstration Project
The N.C. Division of Coastal Management’s N.C. Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve (Reserve), in partnership with the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores (Aquarium), has received nearly $15,000 from the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program to improve a dredge spoil habitat located on the Rachel Carson component of the Reserve.
Since 1915, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has deposited dredge spoil material on what is now the Rachel Carson component. The placement of dredge material has significant ecological effects; short term impacts include replacement of natural plant and animal communities with bare sediments (U.S. Army Corps, 1976). In time, bare substrates become colonized with grasses and herbaceous perennials, followed by shrubs and ultimately maritime forest, thereby stabilizing the spoil sediments. The presence of feral horses on the Rachel Carson site disrupts this natural process of plant colonization on dredge spoil mounds through trampling and grazing, resulting in erosion and a slower than normal process of soil stabilization (Evans, 1988). Lack of soil stabilization can cause unwanted sedimentation from the dredge spoil cells into nearby wetlands and waterways, potentially causing water quality problems.
The objective of this project is to improve 22,000 square feet of dredge spoil habitat through native plantings and fencing to stabilize the habitat and protect water quality in the surrounding water bodies. Specifically, the project will:
- Use native seaside little bluestem (Schizachyrium littorale) and saltmeadow hay (Spartina patens) plantings (3,000 total) to stabilize bare or sparsely vegetated sediment, thereby creating improved habitat and increasing the biodiversity of native fauna on the Rachel Carson component;
- Construct a permanent perimeter fence to protect the planting site from the damaging effects of feral horse trampling and grazing;
- Inform the public about the importance of habitat improvement through involvement and outreach activities and the effects of non-native species (i.e., feral horses); and
- Inform management decisions about habitat improvement at Rachel Carson and other coastal sites that receive dredge spoil.
Reserve volunteers build a fence to protect the project area from the damaging effects of feral horse trampling and grazing
Seaside little bluestem attracts native wildlife, such as the significantly rare Crystal Skipper butterfly. The Crystal Skipper has been identified on the west tip of the Rachel Carson site where seaside little bluestem (its host plant) thrives and feral horses do not often travel. New habitat will also be created for many small mammals and birds. A permanent fence around the project site will provide a long-lasting environmental benefit by protecting plantings and other native plants that will naturally seed from the damaging effects of feral horse grazing and trampling. Over time, the project site will experience a natural process of plant succession, resulting in a mature shrub-scrub plant community followed by forest in approximately 30 years (Evans, 1988).
Crystal skipper photo provided by Randy Newman, Ft. Macon State Park
Newport Middle School students, as well as staff from the Aquarium, will grow, donate, and help to install approximately 1,500 seaside little bluestem plants. The Town of Beaufort staff and Aquarium and Reserve volunteers will help with the project.
For more information on this project, or to volunteer, contact Paula Gillikin at 252-838-0886.
Evans, J.P. 1988. Plant succession and stabilization of dredge spoil habitats in the Rachel Carson National Estuarine Research Reserve, NC. NOAA Technical Memorandum Series. 47 pp.
Soots, R.F. and J.F. Parnell. 1975. Ecological succession of breeding birds in relation to plant succession on dredge islands in North Carolina estuaries. NC Sea Grant Publ. UNC-SG-75-27. Raleigh, NC.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Wilmington District. 1976. Maintenance of the Waterway Connecting Pamlico Sound and Beaufort Harbor. Final EIS.