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By Jim Hawhee, APNEP staff
Bogue Sound from Salter Path
On Sept. 29, people across our nation will celebrate National Estuaries Day. Estuaries are places where rivers meet the sea, and they are some of America’s most valuable natural resources. Throughout the United States they are known by many names, including bays or lagoons, but in North Carolina we refer to our larger estuaries as “sounds.”
North Carolina is home to one of the country’s largest estuaries. Scientists call it the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system, but residents are more likely to identify with the individual sounds of northeastern North Carolina. From north to south, the sounds of the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system include Currituck, Albemarle, Croatan, Roanoke, Pamlico, Core, Back and Bogue Sounds. Virginia’s Back Bay is also part of this system but contains only freshwater due to its distance from Oregon Inlet.
Shallowbag Bay and Roanoke Sound from Manteo
In addition to 3,000 square miles of open water, the Albemarle-Pamlico watershed encompasses more than 28,000 square miles of land. Whether rain falls in the Research Triangle, Southside Virginia or the Outer Banks, much of it will ultimately flow downstream to the sounds. Brackish water also flows between these sounds, making the protection of estuarine water quality a regional effort.
Whether you like the taste of fresh seafood, the view from a soundfront pier, or just the smell of money, the sounds are important environmental and economic drivers in our region. Precise regional figures are hard to come by and dollar figures can’t tell the whole story, but the sounds are worth billions of dollars to North Carolina’s economy every year.
Albemarle Sound from Edenton
Consider these facts. In North Carolina alone, outdoors enthusiasts spent more than $3 billion to hunt, fish or observe wildlife in 2011. In 2010, the state’s commercial and recreational fisheries were valued at $1.7 billion. Coastal tourism in the Outer Banks, dependent on the perception of a healthy aquatic environment, employed 16,000 people and brought in $1.3 billion in receipts last year.
To celebrate National Estuaries Day, our partners throughout the region are hosting many great events in honor of the sounds, and we hope you might find the time to join them.
The North Carolina Coastal Reserve is hosting several events in Beaufort. Catch a film honoring the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, take a tour to learn about birds dependent on estuarine habitats, or roll up your sleeves at their coastal cleanup.
If you are near Manteo, you might consider feasting on the sounds’ bounty with the North Carolina Coastal Federation.
Pamlico Sound near Stumpy Point
As for APNEP, we’re a little too wonky to throw a great party. Instead, we’ll celebrate by reflecting on what we love about the sounds, and we invite you to join us.
Take a minute and tell us why you love the sounds or how you’re celebrating National Estuaries Day. Better yet, send a picture and show us! We’ll retweet your insights and a few of our own, with our favorites posted to Facebook.