Hope Spots Hatteras

Posted on Updated on

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


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s