Month: May 2016

Hope Spots Hatteras

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Humans are deeply embedded within coastal and marine ecosystems. We have the power to overexploit these resources as well as the power to choose to protect and manage them. Who are we? We are the University of North Carolina Wilmington chapter of The Plastic Ocean Project. Protecting and preserving our oceans is our mission. We strongly believe in education through field research, implementation of progressive outreach initiatives (like outreach through art), and creating solutions through innovation to address the global plastic pollution problem that our oceans are facing and work towards a more sustainable future for future generations. We are a group of students passionate about protecting the marine environment for our generation and future generations. We started the Hope Spot: Hatteras project after watching Sylvia Earle’s Netflix documentary, Mission Blue, an extremely inspiring story about her fight to preserve our oceans. Through intense research and momentum from community support, we proposed that a Hope Spot be established off the coast of Cape Hatteras, Outer Banks, NC. Cape Hatteras The Outer Banks (also known as OBX) is a 200-mile (320-km) string of narrow barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, USA beginning in the southeastern corner of Virginia Beach to the southern tip of Ocracoke Island. Roughly 85% of the islands belongs to Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Hatteras was named after the Hatteras Indians and is known as the blue marlin (billfish) capital of the world. What makes this area so unique and important? One of the unique characteristics of Cape Hatteras is its proximity to the continental slope, roughly 40 miles offshore, making it the closest landmass to the slope on the entire east coast. According to the National Resources Defense Council, the continental slope off Cape Hatteras receives exceptionally high fluxes of sediment and nutrients that are funneled off the shelf above, helping to account for high abundance of biodiversity seen in these areas. The incline of the continental slope is particularly steep, and the waters off Cape Hatteras have the steepest temperature gradient of any area off the Atlantic coast. This feature generates upwelling from the Deep Water Boundary Current that combines with the warm water from the Gulf Stream, and the cold water from the Labrador Current creating warm-core rings, making Cape Hatteras an unusually dynamic area for foraging unlike any other region on the entire east coast. Influenced by the currents, large windrows of Sargassum, a free-floating brown algae, consistently aggregate just off Cape Hatteras creating another important and unique characteristic beneficial to marine life. These windrows of Sargassum can become several miles long, is considered an essential fish habitat, and is charged by law to minimize any adverse effects on such habitat. Sargassum found off North Carolina’s coast is home to 81 fish species. Most of these fishes are juveniles that meander from the Gulf Stream. Commercially important dolphin fish, amberjacks, and tuna have been documented to use this unique Sargassum habitat, as well as dolphins and ESA protected loggerhead sea turtles. Cape Hatteras is one of the most important fishing sites on the entire east coast. It hosts, among others, the spotted sea trout, striped bass, king mackerel, spot fish, flounder, Northern and Southern kingfish, grey trout, croaker, speckled trout, bluefish, Red Drum, cobia, and blue and white marlin, tuna, wahoo and mahi mahi. The great variety of fish found in the region make it a popular area for fishing charters. Numerous species of marine mammals are known to visit this region to forage for food. Many of these species are federally protected and listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) including: the sperm, North Atlantic right, humpback, sei, fin, and blue whales. Other marine ESA-listed species that have been documented in this area are the critically endangered leatherback, the threatened loggerhead, green, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, roseate tern, Bermuda petrel, and piping plover. The endangered Atlantic sturgeon and shortnose sturgeon frequent this habitat as well the Risso’s dolphins, Nassau grouper, dusky shark, and great hammerhead shark. According to the literature Cape Hatteras has the highest density and biodiversity of marine mammals along the east coast. Multiple survey efforts off Cape Hatteras have documented year-round presence of fin and beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris and Mesoplodon spp) and are found exclusively along the deep continental shelf slope and beyond. The right whales migrate through this region in the fall from Bay of Fundy to Florida to calve. Cuvier’s beaked whales are seen in this coastal region year round, traveling north and south along Hatteras Canyon off Cape Hatteras. Furthermore, the head of the canyon is known to be a nursery area for many fish and crustaceans, including commercially important ones. We are lucky enough to have 5 of the 7 species of sea turtles inhabit the waters off our coast and utilize our beaches for nesting. However all 5 species are threatened, endangered, or even critically endangered. So much like other endangered vertebrates, protecting their habitats is key to saving these unique creatures from extinction. North Carolina has a large population of sea turtles that nest on its beaches. Of the 25 NC beaches monitored for sea turtle nesting activity, the combined Outer Banks beaches consistently rank among the highest in activity. In 2012, Cape Hatteras, Cape Lookout, Northern Outer Banks and Pea Island beaches produced 46% of all nests, 38% of all nests in 2013, and currently, 52% of all reported sea turtle nests in North Carolina. Not only are these islands important for marine species, they actually protect our main lands from intense storms (given the name barrier island). There are many threats the Outer Banks is facing including off-road vehicles monopolizing barrier beaches (threatening sea turtles and shorebird nests), global sea level rise, harden structures meant to stabilize a changing shoreline, dumping and marine debris, but maybe the most alarming threat currently is the fact that oil and gas companies have set their sights on Cape Hatteras. As we’ve discussed Cape Hatteras sits right along the continental shelf in an upwelling zone on top of oil reserves. As we watched in the movie, Mission Blue, oil spills are the main concern with drilling, we are still feeling the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill even today. Spillage, even with no malfunctioning equipment, can still occur during transport by sea. This area contains two major oceanographic currents coming together, where a lot of our offshore storms start. Disaster waiting to happen. So knowing the importance of this area and the threats it’s facing, what can we do? The answer is protect it! Due to the biodiversity drawn to this unique ocean region, we propose a Hope Spot with a geographical center point of, This spot lies along the continental shelf the critical area for biodiversity. It is a long the continental shelf about 40 miles offshore. Although Hope Spots do not guarantee formal protection, it can be a great step towards protecting an area so controversial, such as Hatteras. By establishing this Hope Spot we can educate communities across the world on what makes this area so special and inspire a respect and love for preserving it! “What we have on Earth is all we’ll ever have. And we have to remember that. This the time as never before. That we understand what we didn’t 50 years ago. If we wait another 50 years, opportunities we now have will be gone. This is the moment. Our decisions. Our actions will shape everything that follows.” By signing this petition you are showing your support and taking action for the protection of this unique critical habitat. This area is unlike any other place in the world, there’s only one, and it needs protecting. – SAM ATHEY, UNCW POP

Cheers, OBX Bound

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Cheers, this Coastinista is OBX or Bust this Memorial weekend.

The Outer Banks, and especially the southern OBX (Ocracoke, Hatteras, Frisco, Buxton, Avon, and Rodanthe), NC is a special place for me.  It is like traveling to a completely different world, but it’s sort of right around the corner.  Sometimes I think of pinching myself for living near such an amazingly beautiful and completely chill place rich in coastal heritage and exploding with maritime history.

What I adore most about heading to OBX is that it’s easy.  I know what to expect, I know what I am going to do, eat, see, and feel and I love every single minute.  It’s not to say that everything is the same every time, however, the feelings are pretty close and the familiarity is this magical bliss ball of nostalgia that gives me all the feels.  Even the journey there is chill (NC BY FERRY).

Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling the world and experiencing completely new cultures, food, and places, but there is something so magical about the Outer Banks that I just keep coming back time after time, year after year, several times a year, and I cannot imagine there being an end to this repetitive cycle of coastal backyard exploration.  It is like a familiar hot cup of tea that blankets me in comfort while thrilling me with the very best waves on the east coast, epic sound-side paddle locations, killer wrecks for diving – complete with my fav shark species’, wooded trails for hiking, challenging (I am freaked over heights) climbs up the lighthouse, and when all else fails I finally feel relaxed enough to get in some much needed nose-in-book-time with my fav inde book store or thrift store finds – and if I run out of reading material there is a great lil’ bookstore in both Ocracoke and Buxton.

This trip, Mr. Coastinista and I initially expected fair weather, blue skies, hot and sunny, and I was crossing my fingers for some dive time offshore.

Well… Things change.

The weather has turned and we are now expecting, not only bad weather, but a tropical storm no less.  Oh well..  Lemonade and all, I am still planning to have an amazeballs time filled with all the excitement one could expect from a slight adrenaline junkie and salt water nut.  After all, bad diving conditions usually mean good surf conditions and vice versa and so we are bringing everything we have in the realm of watersports (SUP, Surfboards, Dive Gear, floaty things, hand planes, there might even be a partridge in a pair tree – oh wait no the bird is nesting in our front door wreath and she is housesitting for us).

I also packed a couple of skateboards and bikes – wishful thinking, but if I don’t bring them I will wish I had and it’s not exactly like we haven’t been biking or skating in tropical weather – we do have rain gear.  Wes even wants to “bring the boat”.  Hehe and belly laughs = not happening, but next time fo sho.  It is funny how I can pack one single backpack of clothes, but the gear…

Cheers to the sand, salt, waves, and live music in the near future.  If you too are heading to the OBX – hit us up and join us for a surf sesh, rainy bike ride, brewskey over live music, blustery paddle venture, or whatever the weather brings.

Cheers to another Memorial weekend on the OBX and an Endless Summer meet up with our pal, Robert August.

Cheers to protecting the coast and the journey complete with beach cleanups and marine derbis tracking, of course.

Cheers to you and yours.

Most of all Cheers to our armed forces both past, present, and future and cheers to world peace.

Wishing everyone a safe, happy, and memorable Memorial Weekend complete with time for reminiscing about those loved and lost and that remain forever in our hearts and minds.

With much love and respect for those that died while serving our homeland, protecting these beautiful places that we call home,

LR (C)

ECHS AP Environmental Science Class Partners with the Duke Marine Lab to study Marine Debris

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East Carteret High School’s Advanced Placement Environmental Science Class will be presenting tomorrow on the Marine Debris work they’ve been doing with the Duke Marine Lab this semester.

During the past year, the class has toured the Duke Marine Lab drone facility and received hands-on experience in the operation of “autonomous fixed wing and multicopter” platforms in use for supporting marine science studies and research.

The AP class also had the opportunity to analyze large files of aerial multi-spectral, high-resolution images, and orthomosaics with a focus on marine debris. This opportunity offers valuable skills and experience that also engages them in improving our community environment.

The class also traveled to Carrot Island in Beaufort, also known as the Rachel Carson Reserve, which is a National Estuarine Research Reserve right across Taylor’s Creek from Front Street, to “ground-truth” the data they had analyzed.

To close-the-loop on the work they had been doing at the drone facility, and tracking marine debris from the air, the class visited the same site this past Monday to remove the marine debris that they had analyzed; eight students collected over ten bags of debris in about an hour.  Materials were separated to make sure recyclables were captured.  Since this island is not inhabited, it is clear that the debris is both washing up and also littered by reserve visitors.

The presentation, tomorrow at ECHS, will be the culmination of this marine debris research using drones.  Marine Debris specialists, researchers, removal coordinators, and stakeholders will be present to learn from the students and offer insight on how we move forward to collaborate and continue the effort to study, remove, and reduce marine debris here in North Carolina.

More to come…


NC Marine Debris Symposium Update

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Plans for the 2016 NCMDS are well underway at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort in Wrightsville Beach, NC.

Find out all the details, updates, get a copy of the draft agenda, and get your registration in here:

2016 North Carolina Marine Debris Symposium

For more information about the NCMDS, contact

See you in September,


Permuda Island Trash Fishing Tournament

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The National Estuarine Research Reserve, Keep Onslow Beautiful, Plastic Ocean Project, On Shore Surf Shop, and others partnered this past weekend for a Paddle Trash Fishing Tournament along the banks of Permuda Island, a local estuarine reserve site in North Topsail Beach, NC.  (see the news report link here: )

Want to join in on the next cleanup?  Stay tuned right here for updates on regional cleanups and more…




Friday the 13th Cleanup

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Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium

Shackleford Banks



Help keep the Crystal Coast pristine on Friday, May 13 during a public Beach Keepers beach clean-up event. Spend the day removing marine debris from Shackleford Banks with Cape Lookout National Seashore, the Crystal Coast Tourism Authority, Island Express Ferries and the Aquarium. Advance registration is required and participants need to provide their own food, reusable water bottles, and other beach necessities. This free event begins at 7:30 a.m. in Beaufort and will last approximately seven hours, including transportation to and from Shackleford Banks. For those on Instagram, the event will also include an InstaMeet – an opportunity for Instagrammers to come together, share photos, and tell stories about the day.

May 137:30 – 2:00

Help keep the Crystal Coast pristine on Friday, May 13, in a public Beach Keepers clean-up on Shackleford Banks. Join us at 600 Front Street, Beaufort, and spend the day removing marine debris from Shackleford Banks. For those on Instagram, the event will also include an InstaMeet. This is a great project for families or groups with children and is appropriate for anyone ages 8 and up.  Be prepared to get wet and dirty!

What to Bring:

Water Shoes


Lunch and Reusable water bottle

Ages 8 and up, maximum 60 participants

Duration 7 Hours

This activity is free