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Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership - Soundings 2016-02-04

Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership

Soundings Archive



November 15, 2017
The 2017 Albemarle-Pamlico Ecosystem Symposium: Eyes on the Horizon

October 16, 2017
From Dust Came Soil Conservation

September 11, 2017
Taking Nature's Pulse

August 18th, 2017
Teaching Teachers to ExPLORE NC

July 13, 2017
Protecting North Carolina's Coastal Habitats with Jimmy Johnson

May 19, 2017
Cypress Trees as Sentinels of the Sounds

April 5, 2017
Becoming the Napa Valley of Oysters

February 28, 2017
Sound Science Guiding Conservation of the Albemarle-Pamlico Region

February 6, 2017
Celebrating Five Years of SciREN Coast

Jul-Dec 2016

December 12, 2016 
Proud Shaddys and Shamommas! A "Shad in the Classroom" Tale

November 2, 2016 
Cape Hatteras National Seashore Provides Opportunity for Scientific Discovery

September 19, 2016 
Restoring Estuaries, One Bag of Recycled Oyster Shells at a Time

July 15, 2016
Landscapes Standing Sentinel in Eastern North Carolina

Jan-June 2016

Jul-Dec 2015

Jan-Jun 2015

Jul-Dec 2014

Jan-Jun 2014

Jul-Dec 2013

Jan-Jun 2013

Jul-Dec 2012

Jan-Jun 2012





A fresh take on the region's salty affairs

Taking the Estuary's Vital Signs with the Coastal Condition Assessment

By: Katia Griffin-Jakymec
February 04, 2016

Last summer, APNEP completed an intensive field sampling effort that took APNEP staff and partner volunteers to 33 sites located throughout the Sounds, from the northern reaches of Currituck Sound to the brackish waters of Bogue Sound near Swansboro. Our objective was to measure indicators of water quality, sediment type and benthic macro-invertebrates (those little critters like worms that live in the sediment) within a nine-week field season. With the clock ticking, we had to move quickly. After ordering equipment, completing training, assembling crews, it was time to get our feet wet!


The 33 sample sites APNEP visited span the Sounds.

From August to October, the APNEP field team became part of a nationwide estuarine monitoring program that the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) undertakes every five years. Known as the National Coastal Condition Assessment (NCCA), this monitoring effort uses a rigorous, standardized protocol to measure numerous indicators from coast to coast to answer questions such as: what percent of the nation’s coastal waters are in good, fair and poor condition for key indicators of water quality, ecological health and recreation? And, how much do key stressors like nutrients and contaminated sediments make an impact?


Dean Carpenter and Marygrace Knight filter water to collect a sample.

Just as we all need to visit a physician to take vital signs such as breathing capacity and blood pressure during our annual exams, we also need to monitor our estuarine waters periodically to determine their condition and how they’re changing. Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous are like the diet of the estuary: they form the basis of the food chain as food for microscopic phytoplankton, algae and billowing tendrils of submerged aquatic vegetation, but excessive nutrients can also have negative effects, causing plant life to grow rapidly and choke out sunlight and oxygen. The Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system is at the base of an immense watershed, therefore much of the fertilizer, chemicals and stormwater that ends up on our lawns and streets in Raleigh, Greenville, Washington, Edenton and the towns and farmland in between wash down into the estuary, which is why it’s so important to monitor. Measuring water quality and sediment chemistry is just like taking the vital signs of the estuary.


Peter Rowe and Marygrace Knight collect a sample from the sediment grab, moments after it was lowered into the water to graze the bottom of Pamlico Sound.

Earlier in the year APNEP program scientist Dean Carpenter found a window of opportunity to monitor our estuarine system more intensely so USEPA assigned APNEP 33 randomly distributed sites throughout the Sounds, doubling the original 33 USEPA contractors had already begun sampling. You might be thinking, why double the number of monitoring sites? While the National Coastal Condition Assessment baseline effort is designed to provide statistically significant findings about the nation as a whole, or about a multi-state regional subset, it is not designed to address more local scales. After consulting with USEPA statisticians, we learned that to gain statistically significant data about the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system specifically it would be necessary to double the site number. As luck would have it USEPA statisticians already had 33 extra sites set aside in case any of the original sites were too unsafe or unreasonable to sample. This undertaking took us from end to end of the more than 3,000 square miles of open water in the system. In becoming the first National Estuary Partnership to take on this kind of sampling intensification, APNEP staff will evaluate whether such an effort has merits for long-term monitoring.


After samples are collected, they are filtered, labeled and shipped immediately to the lab.

There was no such thing as a typical day in the field. This undertaking also brought plenty of surprises, such as caravanning down a flooded Route 12 on the Outer Banks, bracing as storm cells on the horizon moved toward us, negotiating a sample site located in the Ocracoke ferry path and another in Hatteras Inlet brimming with white caps, and planning for a possible Hurricane Joaquin landfall. After hours of sampling we came ashore to immediately filter, label and package the samples for overnight shipment by afternoon’s end, leading to some creative methods of getting a cooler onto a FedEx truck, in one instance chasing the truck onto the runway tarmac. Let’s just say there are some FedEx staff on the coast that might remember us. We thank you, FedEx heroes!


The APNEP research vessel is primed to sample a site in Currituck Sound.

Once the samples reached the lab they were analyzed for dissolved nutrients, chlorophyll-a, dissolved oxygen, salinity, pH, algal toxin, microsystin, Enterococcus, organics, metals and benthic macro-invertebrates, just to name a few of the measured indicators. We await the results and look forward to sharing them. The countless hours spent sampling under the beaming sun and in rain showers, of heavy lifting, careful filtering, and FedEx truck-whispering will pay off with a deeper knowledge of the complex systems we call our Sounds.


The sun rises over Pamlico Sound as estuarine life hums beneath the surface.

This type of undertaking doesn’t come together overnight, and it would never have been possible without support from our partners and colleagues. Like everything we do at APNEP, our fieldwork was a product of teamwork and collaboration. In addition to the core field team of Dean Carpenter and Marygrace Knight, many colleagues graciously offered their time to join as crewmembers. We want to especially thank (in no particular order) John Finnegan and Judith Radcliffe of the Natural Heritage Program, Nancy Guthrie of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, Clay Caroon and Caitlin Forster of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, Rhonda Evans and Simona Platukyte of USEPA Region 4, Peter Rowe, David Carpenter, and fellow APNEP staff Jim Hawhee and Katia Griffin-Jakymec. Another shout-out is due for our valiant and faithful warrior of a watercraft, R/V Stumpy, a.k.a., the Stallion of the Sounds. We could not have accomplished this undertaking without the support of so many partners, so thank you!


The field team stands triumphant after a full day of sampling.

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