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Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership - Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan

Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership

Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan

Adopted by the APNEP Policy Board on March 14, 2012 in Columbia, NC

The official Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan is in .pdf form and can be downloaded here.  The substantive parts of the plan are also provided below, with definitions and links incorporated into the document.  

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

Introduction

Question 1: What is a healthy Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System?

Question 2: What is the status of the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System?

Question 3: What are the greatest challenges facing the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System?

Question 4: What actions should be taken to move toward healthier Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds by 2022?

 Appendix I: APNEP's Ecosystem-Based Planning Process, 2008-2012

Executive Summary

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The 2012-2022 Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) is a significant step forward for the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program (APNEP). While the Albemarle-Pamlico region is rich in natural resources, the ecosystem faces unique challenges. The CCMP aims to usher in a new era of environmental resource management to ensure these resources are sustained and available to future generations.

The shift from management methods presented in the previous CCMP (1994) is most notably evident in the integration of ecosystem-based management practices. Ecosystem-based management (EBM) includes consideration of human and natural systems, an adaptive management framework, and meaningful engagement with the region’s citizens to find environmental management and policy solutions. Following a directive from APNEP’s Policy Board in December 2009 and support from APNEP’s Policy Board and Advisory Committees, the CCMP was developed using principles of EBM.

The CCMP is organized by asking and then answering four basic questions: what is a healthy Albemarle-Pamlico system, what is the current condition of the system, what are the most significant challenges facing the system over the next 10 years, and what actions should be implemented to best achieve a healthy system? Goals, outcomes, objectives, and actions were carefully crafted through a systems-based analysis of the regional ecosystem. To achieve the APNEP mission, three overarching goals have been established:

Goal 1: A region where human communities are sustained by a functioning ecosystem

Goal 2: A region where aquatic, wetland, and upland habitats support viable populations of native species

Goal 3: A region where water quantity and quality maintain ecological integrity

Initiatives include protection and restoration efforts to improve water quality and habitats, identification of gaps in knowledge of the system, and engagement of the public to make connections between the natural environment and services provided by the system. APNEP has placed an emphasis on assessment and monitoring to gain further knowledge of the system and facilitate adaptive management.

Finally, as a National Estuary Program, much of APNEP’s work is achieved through collaborative partnerships and leveraged resources with others interested in environmental and natural resource management in the region. Many of the objectives and actions in the CCMP rely on involvement from key governmental, non-profit, and other partners. In a time of growing austerity, the continued success of our program is dependent on the success of these partnerships.

Introduction

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The Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System

The Sounds

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The Albemarle-Pamlico estuary includes eight sounds on the coast of North Carolina and Virginia. The Albemarle Sound and the Pamlico Sound are the two largest bodies of water in this interconnected system, but many coastal residents are also acquainted with the region’s smaller sounds, including Back, Bogue, Croatan, Currituck, Core, and Roanoke Sounds (Figure 1).

These sounds give a shared sense of place to the counties and municipalities found along their shores. Towns like Bath, Edenton, Manteo, and New Bern each have their own charming character, drawing upon rich histories dating to and beyond colonial America. Separated from the mainland, villages along Hatteras and Ocracoke islands have developed unique waterfront identities. In down-east Carteret County, like many areas in the Albemarle-Pamlico region, a unique way of life persists in communities intimately tied to the ecosystem.

Tourists visit the region from all over the world to experience these special places. Some are content enjoying coastal cuisine and relaxing in the sun, while the more adventurous will explore an extensive array of parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. The barrier islands attract thousands of visitors each year, while some continue to visit the estuarine shorelines and communities for their subtle beauty, relaxed pace, and southern hospitality.

Up and down the coast, people participate in water-dependent recreation like fishing, hunting, swimming, and boating. On most weekends, hundreds of recreational anglers can be found sound side. On fishing piers, in tackle shops and behind duck blinds, outdoor tradition and knowledge are shared among generations. Paddle trails beckon to kayak and canoe enthusiasts. Sailboats tack in the stiff winds characteristic of the region, while speedboats tow skiers in their wake.

The sounds also support North Carolina’s commercial fishing industry. Fishing boats leave before dawn, staying in the sounds or making their way through coastal inlets to the waters of the Atlantic. Oystermen brave the elements, prying delicacies from reefs and mud bottoms. Crabbers set and pull thousands of pots daily, selling their catch to fish houses that serve as a community pillar. The commercial fishing industry provides income for residents and stocks many markets and restaurants in the region. Perhaps more importantly, it is also the backbone of coastal culture in many smaller communities.

The sounds provide other benefits that are not quite as easy to see. Coastal wetlands filter water supplies and provide a buffer against storms and hurricanes. Submerged aquatic vegetation provides important habitat for most fish and shellfish species in the sounds, while also creating oxygen and removing excess nutrients in the water. Oysters, clams, and other shellfish filter the water column before being served in homes and restaurants throughout the state. The brackish waters that connect the sea and rivers were once legendary runs of shad and herring.

The sounds collectively support billions of dollars in economic activity and natural services for Americans each year. Yet many residents of the region might suggest that no dollar figure can truly capture the rivers’ and sounds’ value, as the ecosystems and cultures they support are irreplaceable.

The System

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Concerted efforts to restore and protect the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary have been ongoing for decades. However, effective management of the sounds requires the study and management of the broader ecosystem that impacts them. The Albemarle-Pamlico ecosystem includes the sounds, the streams and the rivers that flow into them, and the land that catches the rainfall and drains into these rivers (collectively known as the watershed).

The Albemarle-Pamlico ecosystem spans a land area of more than 28,000 square miles. It also includes 2 million acres of estuarine waters and 10,000 miles of streams and rivers (Figure 1). The headwaters of this ecosystem are found as far as the mountains of Virginia and the North Carolina Piedmont. The ecosystem includes wetlands, forests, farms, and cities – all of which affect the downstream estuary in complex ways. Some areas are particularly susceptible to environmental degradation, including urban waterways and areas of low elevation. To effectively safeguard the sounds for future generations, it is necessary to protect and restore the entire ecosystem – its water, air, land, and residents.

Figure 1: River basins and sounds of the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system.

Figure 1: River basins and sounds of the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system 

The Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program

Overview

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The mission of the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program (APNEP) is to identify, protect, and restore the significant resources of the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system. APNEP pursues this mission with guidance and support from its overarching Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, advisory bodies and regional partners.

APNEP is a cooperative effort jointly sponsored by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, with financial support provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Currently, N.C. Governor's Executive Order #122 provides the advisory structure through a Policy Board and three advisory committees (Citizens’, Management, and Science and Technical).

APNEP’s Policy Board and advisory committees provide invaluable participation and support to APNEP on the implementation of measures to restore and protect the sounds’ resources. These bodies are comprised of mor 80 members representing a diverse cross-section of governmental, societal, economic, and scientific interests. These members also act as ambassadors for APNEP within their own positions, interest groups, and agencies. With their guidance and support, APNEP collaborates with dozens of agencies and organizations every year to improve the estuarine ecosystem.

History

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In recognition of the numerous benefits provided by the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, the United States Congress designated the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System an “estuary of national significance.” In 1987, The Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine Study (APES) was among the first of 28 National Estuary Programs established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through amendments to the Clean Water Act.

From 1987 to 1994, APES sponsored nearly one hundred research initiatives in the Albemarle-Pamlico region, each designed to give scientists and managers a better understanding of how this ecosystem functions and to evaluate its health. These research initiatives culminated in the development and implementation of the region’s first CCMP. Upon adoption of the CCMP in 1994, the program became known by its current name (Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program) as it broadened its mission to include applied conservation, management, and engagement initiatives.

Since its inception, APNEP has led or contributed to scores of conservation efforts in the region. APNEP’s first CCMP (1994) called for the creation of several important environmental management initiatives that came to fruition in the form of Partnership for the Sounds’ Estuarium, the Center for Geographic Analysis, and the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund. Annual restoration and demonstration projects improve habitats and water quality throughout the estuarine system. APNEP continues its proud tradition of facilitating applied scientific research that began during the APES period, which recently led to the completion of a coast-wide map of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) for the estuary. APNEP has supported citizens monitoring for over two decades. Outdoor classrooms funded by APNEP dot the region, improving water quality while giving students a place to learn about the natural world. These are just a few of the many ways APNEP continues to benefit the sounds and the ecosystems that support them.

Management Approach

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Since the release of the 1994 CCMP, APNEP has consistently implemented a management approach anchored by two key tenets. With the 2012-2022 CCMP, APNEP reaffirms its fidelity to these principles while further pursuing its newly adopted ecosystem-based management approach.

First, APNEP implements a watershed approach to protecting and restoring the estuarine system. Consistent with this practice, management efforts have been directed from river headwaters to the sounds throughout the region. This ecological approach helps APNEP ensure that issues are addressed in a holistic way, and that APNEP has standing to address issues throughout the watershed.

Second, APNEP takes a partnership approach to achieve its mission. Protection of the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system is an enormous undertaking, and the resources directly allocated to APNEP are limited. APNEP seeks to overcome this hurdle by leveraging partnerships among governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academia, and the public to make significant improvements for the sounds. Most notably, North Carolina and Virginia are parties to a memorandum of agreement to manage the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system, and APNEP staff members are hosted by both states. As a result of its broad reach, APNEP is well positioned to fill gaps and identify synergies among its partners.

With the implementation of this plan, APNEP adopts the principles of ecosystem-based management to better support its mission. The ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach includes a systems-based consideration of both human and natural systems, an adaptive management framework, and meaningful engagement with the public to find environmental management and policy solutions.

Overview of the 2012 Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan

Plan authority and overview

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As detailed in §320 of the federal Clean Water Act, the guiding document for APNEP, as for all other National Estuary Programs, is its Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP). The CCMP offers objectives and actions designed to protect and restore the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary. Since the adoption of APNEP’s original CCMP, many scientific and management developments have occurred. With this new plan, APNEP introduces a new ecosystem-based approach to achieving its mission.

This ecosystem-based plan charts the course for APNEP’s activities for the coming decade. It incorporates scientific and planning advances into a plan that serves as a potential model for broad-scale ecosystem-based management efforts. The plan further provides a statement of common purpose across the watershed and forms the basis for cooperation and collaboration among implementing partners. Ultimately, the new CCMP makes it easier to match APNEP’s annual work plan activities to existing goals and priorities, better couple those priorities with existing and future funding resources, and build on the program’s strengths and partnerships.

Ecosystem-based planning

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How is this document different from its predecessor? First, this plan has much less technical language, representing APNEP’s desire to craft an approachable, readable, and often-referenced document. Close inspection also reveals a careful framework that represents efforts to incorporate ecosystem-based principles into the CCMP. Management objectives and actions were developed through a systems-based analysis of the regional ecosystem. The plan is further structured to support adaptive management, which will allow APNEP to improve its approach as both successes and shortcomings are documented. Ultimately, APNEP is working to introduce more accountability into the environmental management process by monitoring the ecosystem, setting management targets, and critically evaluating progress.

For a more detailed description of APNEP’s EBM planning process, see Appendix A.

Figure 2: APNEP’s adaptive management cycle.

APNEP Adaptive Management Cycle

Organization of this Plan

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Ecosystem-based management is a complex undertaking, and this complexity created some challenges for organizing this plan. After much consideration, the plan was organized around four basic questions. By systematically considering each of the first three questions, APNEP developed its management actions and presents them in its treatment of Question 4. Each question is discussed in a separate chapter. The questions:

Question 1: What is a healthy Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System?

Question 2: What is the status of the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System?

Question 3: What are the greatest challenges facing the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System?

Question 4: What actions should be taken to move toward healthier Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds by 2022?

Discussion of Question 1 allows a diverse group of stakeholders to articulate the characteristics of a healthy Albemarle-Pamlico system. These characteristics serve as the environmental goals and outcomes sought by the plan. Question 2 offers insights into the current state of the ecosystem. It further allows for the identification of environmental trends and shows areas where progress is most desirable. In Question 3, major environmental challenges are identified that must be overcome to achieve the goals set forth in Question 1. After formally considering these three questions and working through a systems-based model to address them, management actions were developed and presented in response to Question 4.

In some ways, the heart of this management plan rests in its answer to Question 4. For organizational purposes, the many actions developed for the plan were grouped together as appropriate. Closely related actions were categorized as objectives, and closely related objectives were categorized into five broad components entitled Identify, Protect, Restore, Engage, and Monitor.

For each action within the CCMP, APNEP has identified key partners that will be engaged for implementation. Key partners were determined by their mission, statutory mandate, published materials, or by consultation with the partner.

Additionally appropriate outcomes and outputs were developed as metrics for measuring success. Actions generally generate two kinds of products: outputs and outcomes. Outputs are the tangible things the action intends to produce. Examples include a plan, a training program, a report, acres restored, or a constructed feature. Outcomes are changes in status or condition. Examples include changes in environmental measurements or new management processes.

It is vital that both types have defined metrics and tracking mechanisms to ensure progress toward achieving the deliverables proceeds according to plan. If the progress deviates from the plan, corrective actions need to be taken to ensure positive ecosystem results from management actions.

These questions often have complex answers, which are offered in light of changing demographic trends, different environmental pressures, and advancements in ecosystem science. In this plan, APNEP and its partners propose their best solutions to these questions, with the realization that these answers may change over time. While much remains to be achieved, this plan provides guidance for APNEP and its partners as they respectively strive to most effectively carry out their missions.

Question 1: What is a healthy Albemarle-Pamlico Ecosystem?

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“Ecosystem health” is a term that is difficult to define. A healthy system has innumerable variables and relationships that can be difficult to describe and study. The meaning of the term differs depending on context. In general terms, a healthy Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System might include a thriving natural world, a high quality of life for its people, and a vibrant economy. The air would be safe to breathe and the water would be safe to drink. Farmlands would be fertile and fishing would be bountiful. Outdoor recreation and education opportunities would be readily available. Businesses would be profitable while minimizing negative environmental impacts. While one person might agree that a healthy ecosystem includes all of these factors, others might think this definition is either misguided or woefully incomplete.

Defining the elements of a healthy system is a difficult process. The Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system encompasses more than 31,000 square miles of land and water. The importance of reaching stakeholder agreement on environmental goals and outcomes to benefit ecosystem health is difficult to overstate. It will always be necessary to consider competing uses and interests when planning for such a large region, and management approaches should consider them fairly. In short, APNEP and its many partners in the region must be able to articulate environmental goals before developing a plan to achieve them.

APNEP and its partners have developed a vision for a healthy Albemarle-Pamlico estuary that accounts for the various interests found within the region. This vision of ecosystem health is communicated through three overarching goals, each of which includes measurable ecosystem outcomes. The CCMP management actions outlined in Question 4 are each predicated on effectively pursuing the goals established by stakeholder representatives.

Three goals have been established that, if fully met, would reflect a healthy Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system. To assess progress in reaching each goal, a set of ecosystem outcomes has been developed. These ecosystem outcomes are qualitative statements of what a healthy ecosystem should look like. Each outcome will be supported by a set of measurable indicators and associated ecosystem targets or benchmarks, which are currently under development. Establishing these indicators and targets is the first action in implementing this CCMP. An example, of these types of indicators is displayed in Table 1. These candidate indicators are physical, biological, or chemical conditions that can be measured to provide data about the status of the ecosystem.

As time passes, APNEP will periodically consult with its partners to ensure current outcomes remain meaningful and refine management targets to reflect a balance between competing priorities. Furthermore, as monitoring capabilities improve, APNEP will work with its representative stakeholders to develop, refine, and agree upon new targets and benchmarks, which are the most precise expression of these ecosystem goals. Ultimately, the development of measurable indicators and benchmarks for the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system enables APNEP to determine whether environmental progress has been made, adjust management actions when necessary, and report on the state of the ecosystem to partners, stakeholders, and the public.

The proposed goals and associated outcomes for the program are:

Goal 1: A region where human communities are sustained by a functioning ecosystem

 

Ecosystem Outcomes:

a. Waters are safe for personal contact.

b. Designated surface and ground water supplies are safe for human consumption.

c. Surface hydrologic regimes sustain regulated human uses.

d. Fish and game are safe for human consumption.

e. Opportunities for recreation and access to public lands and waters are protected and enhanced.

Goal 2: A region where aquatic, wetland, and upland habitats support viable populations of native species

 

Ecosystem Outcomes:

a. The biodiversity, function, and populations of species in aquatic, wetland, and upland communities are protected, restored, or enhanced.

b. The extent and quality of upland, freshwater, estuarine, and near-shore marine habitats fully support biodiversity and ecosystem function.

c. Non-native invasive species do not significantly impair native species’ viability or function, nor impair habitat quality, quantity, and the processes that form and maintain habitats.

Goal 3: A region where water quantity and quality maintain ecological integrity

 

Ecosystem Outcomes:

a. Appropriate hydrologic regimes support ecological integrity.

b. Nutrients and pathogens do not harm species that depend on the waters.

c. Toxics in waters and sediments do not harm species that depend on the waters.

d. Sediments do not harm species that depend on the waters.

Table 1. Management goals, ecosystem outcomes, supporting CCMP actions and candidate indicators.

This table illustrates the linkage between the CCMP goals and ecosystem outcomes, the CCMP management actions, and example ecosystem indicators by which success can be measured.

Question 2: What is the status of the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System?

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Equally important to setting measureable goals and outcomes (Question 1) is determining the precise condition of the estuarine system. Ultimately, the gap between an ecosystem indicators’s current status and the desired state informs the amount of time and resources necessary to achieve that outcome. Thus, an evaluation of ecosystem status and trends must come before the identification and evaluation of challenges and threats (Question 3) and subsequent establishment and refinement of CCMP management actions (Question 4).

The Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary Study Status and Trends Report (1991) preceded the 1994 CCMP and set the stage for adaptive management in the region. Unfortunately, although recurring status updates were anticipated after the 1991 assessment, APNEP was unable to complete further independent assessments in a coordinated manner for more than two decades. However, APNEP partners at both the state and federal levels have conducted a number of large-scale assessments since 1991. Each of these assessments provided varying degrees of information on key ecosystem metrics.

The initial effort to reactivate this key adaptive management function was the publication of the 2012 Albemarle-Pamlico Ecosystem Assessment. Released concurrently with this CCMP, APNEP’s latest assessment offers a treatment of 24 important ecosystem indicators. Some indicators are presented in both the 1991 and 2012 assessments, and where possible the status and trends of these indicators are discussed as they relate to the estuarine ecosystem. These 24 indicators are presented as candidates for inclusion in APNEP’s integrated monitoring strategy, and a subset will also be incorporated into future versions of this management plan.

Currently in development, APNEP’s integrated monitoring strategy aims to provide a coordinated framework for monitoring in the Albemarle-Pamlico region. Substantial monitoring efforts are underway in the region, but they are often limited in scope, geography or interagency coordination. APNEP’s strategy will detail the monitoring efforts necessary to sustain adaptive practices and ecosystem-based management in the region, particularly as they relate to APNEP’s mission. In addition to informing planning and management actions, the monitoring strategy will help identify gaps or redundancies in the current monitoring structure to help ensure regional monitoring efforts are conducted as efficiently as possible.

High-quality data from an integrated monitoring network will be essential for rigorous evaluation of ecosystem status and trends. As APNEP implements the CCMP actions supporting the “Identify” and “Monitoring”components, it will produce regular status and trends assessments of ecosystem indicators and management actions. These assessments will be integrated into the CCMP by reference and relied upon as APNEP develops annual budgets and work plans and adaptively reconsiders its management approach at periodic intervals.

Question 3: What are the greatest challenges facing the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System?

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By developing or refining the specific ecosystem goals (Question 1) and then evaluating the current ecosystem status (Question 2), APNEP and its partners can determine the degree to which ecosystem health must improve to achieve desired outcomes. The next step requires identifying specific challenges to be overcome for the estuarine system to reach its desired state.

In the estuarine system, air, land, and water are connected. Therefore, in order to preserve and protect the sounds, many different challenges must be considered. Stormwater runoff can harm water quality and aquatic species as it carries excess fertilizer, sediments, and other pollutants. Recreational and commercial fishing can be threatened when young fish have limited habitat in which to grow. When harmful chemicals are carried to the sounds, fish and shellfish can become unsafe to eat. Improperly managed development activities can threaten rare species and natural communities. Poor air quality can result in excessive loads of nutrients falling into the sounds. Finally, global climate change and rising sea levels will impact the sounds in ways society is only beginning to understand.

The Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary Study Status and Trends Report (1991) listed the following environmental concerns: sores and diseases on fish, anoxia-related fish kills, declines in fisheries productivity, changes in distribution patterns of benthic organisms, impairment of nursery function, eutrophication, habitat loss, shellfish closures, and toxicant effects. While some of these previously identified concerns have diminished, all remain as challenges to the quality and viability of our sounds.

Two decades after the 1991 report, human population in the region has increased on the order of 50 percent (North Carolina grew from 6.2 million in 1990 to 9.5 million in 2010). This population increase has resulted in an expansion of residential and commercial development. Furthermore, additional concerns such as non-native invasive species and climate change have been identified as significant new management challenges.

To be effective, this plan must address these sources of environmental stress. Such challenges come from human activities in the following areas: agriculture, commercial forestry, residential and commercial development, mining and industrial development, waste disposal, commercial fisheries, recreational fishing and boating, tourism and recreation, and national defense. Recognizing that these industries also provide valuable benefits for the people of the region, APNEP will continue to pursue a balanced and inclusive approach to achieving the goals of this plan.

With the understanding that resources are limited and that the CCMP must prioritize the environmental challenges it seeks to overcome, APNEP developed a qualitative model that explicitly identifies the biological, chemical, physical, and human factors that most influence each CCMP outcome. A subset of these factors collectively represents the most significant challenges facing the Albemarle-Pamlico ecosystem, and they provide the rationale for CCMP actions supporting the management components Protect, Restore, and Engage.

Addressing the challenges facing this vast estuarine system is no simple task. Successful protection and restoration of the ecosystem will require thoughtfulness, dialogue, ingenuity, resources, and the commitment of those with the will to protect and restore the estuarine ecosystem. Sometimes difficult choices and compromises will be required. However, few would disagree that the beauty, culture, and unique natural history of the Albemarle-Pamlico region are worth maintaining. In that spirit, the following chapter details how APNEP and its partners will address the most significant challenges facing the estuary and the broader region.

Question 4: What actions should be taken to move toward healthier Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds by 2022?

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The management actions identified in this plan are presented in five general components (Identify, Protect, Restore, Engage, Monitor), which together address the major challenges to understanding, protecting, and restoring ecosystem health and function while embracing the new systems-based approach to managing the Albemarle-Pamlico region. The five components are based on the APNEP mission statement and the adaptive management cycle.

The objectives and actions described here are designed to achieve environmental and ecosystem outcomes at the watershed scale and address the complex connections among ecological and human aspects of the estuarine ecosystem. These actions also address the major threats to ecosystem health and function.

Each component begins with a situation assessment and provides a rationale for action followed by a set of broad objectives. Objectives are supported by more focused actions, which describe the program activities or initiatives that APNEP and its partners will implement to achieve the objective. Actions will be implemented through various steps that will be presented in APNEP’s annual work plans.

The proposed five components are:

A: Identify the gaps in our knowledge. APNEP will implement a focused scientific program with priorities for monitoring and research to improve understanding of the ecosystem and measure the effectiveness of implementation actions.

B: Protect the existing ecosystem processes, structures, and functions that sustain the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system. Avoiding problems before they occur is the best and most cost-effective approach to maintaining ecosystem health.

C: Restore the ecosystem processes, structures, and functions that sustain the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system.

D: Engage the public in sustained and coordinated efforts to increase public awareness and encourage individual stewardship. Greater awareness, citizen engagement and planning are critical for maintaining the ecosystem processes, structures, and functions that sustain the Albemarle-Pamlico ecosystem, including its human communities.

E: Monitor the ecosystem. Tracking and understanding changes in the ecosystem (outcomes) will require the establishment of a coordinated monitoring strategy to detect, measure, track, and assess changes in the ecosystem.

As part of the planning process, APNEP has coupled its recommended actions with regional partners who will be integral to their implementation. The efforts of many partners are required, which resulted in the unavoidable use of many acronyms in this section. State agencies are noted through the prefixes NC- and VA-, while federal agencies and other organizations are referred to by their most recognizable acronyms. In this online version of the CCMP, unabbreviated agency names can be seen by dragging the icon over an acronym.

Component A: Identify

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To Identify gaps in the knowledge of the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system, APNEP will implement a focused scientific program with priorities for monitoring and research to improve understanding of the ecosystem and measure the effectiveness of implementation actions.

To achieve its mission, APNEP and its partners must continually work to identify and assess trends in the regional ecosystem. This component also requires assessment of planning, management, and policy choices related to the ecosystem to ensure environmental progress. Comprehensive monitoring (Component E) provides the information on which these assessments are based.

Current situation

APNEP supported a vast amount of data collection and scientific research during the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine Study (APES) phase from the program’s inception in 1987 to publication of the original CCMP in 1994. These research efforts greatly improved knowledge of the region’s resources. Much of this applied research gave environmental professionals key insights on the state of the estuarine ecosystem. These various studies supported The Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary Study Status and Trends Report (1991), which provided an environmental baseline for the implementation of the 1994 CCMP. While APNEP’s activities have broadened since the early 1990s, promoting science-based management and policy remains a core principle of the program.

Today, APNEP’s mission, structure, and ecosystem-based approach allows for broad-scale inquiries and research designed to support management efforts in the region. APNEP staff members work closely with the Science and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), partner organizations, and project-specific contractors on diverse research initiatives. This network of professionals allows APNEP to consistently access and apply advanced scientific knowledge in areas of strategic interest to the program. Furthermore, natural resource managers, partner agencies and organizations, and other professionals commonly identify knowledge gaps, which if rectified could result in more robust management of the ecosystem’s natural resources.

Rationale for action

Priorities for research, management, and policy cannot be developed effectively without a clear understanding of how the ecosystem is changing. Increasing impact to the region’s natural resources from population growth and consequent land-use changes, coupled with technological advancements, require stakeholders to demand periodic integrated resource assessments based on high quality scientific information. Information derived in this component will help answer seven policy-based questions for any particular APNEP outcome:

  • Magnitude: what is the resource condition?
  • Extent: over what geographic area does the resource extend?
  • Trend: how has condition and range of the resource changed over time?
  • Cause: what stressors are believed to be responsible for changing trends?
  • Source: what agents are responsible for stressor intensity?
  • Risk: what is the likelihood of stressors causing a loss in human well-being or ecological integrity over the coming decade?
  • Solutions: what combination of approaches and tools are deemed the most effective and efficient to reduce impacts from stressors?

These integrated assessments will support APNEP’s planning and program processes and other policy and program planning activities, including North Carolina’s Coastal Habitat Protection Plan (CHPP) and North Carolina and Virginia basin-wide planning. To evaluate the success of program efforts guided by this plan, APNEP will provide a reliable environmental baseline condition of the ecosystem in its 2012 Albemarle-Pamlico Ecosystem Assessment.

Objectives and Actions

 

Objective A1: Develop and refine a conservation atlas

To effectively protect and restore the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system, the significant resources of the system must be identifiable. With recent advances in mapping and technology, this information is often most effectively conveyed, studied, and applied through the use of functional interactive maps. To achieve its mission, APNEP will work with partners to maintain, develop, and distribute current data and maps related to the significant landscape features, habitats, conditions, changes, and stressors in the region.

Action A1.1: Facilitate the mapping of significant ecological, bathymetric, geologic, demographic, and cultural features. In a dynamic natural and social environment, regional mapping efforts develop and maintain the timely information necessary to support environmental decision-making. It further provides one method by which management activities can be evaluated.

Key Partners: NC-OCPCA, NC-DMF, SALCC, USFWS, NOAA, NC-DCM, NC-WRC, NC-NHP, VA-NHP

CCMP Outcomes Supported: 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d, 1e, 2a, 2b, 2c, 3a, 3b, 3c, 3d

Outputs: Maps and GIS data

Results: Improved resource management decisions

Action A1.2: Facilitate the refinement and use of online conservation planning tools. Providing accessible tools for informed decisions is critical for addressing human and ecosystem needs. Tools such as the North Carolina Conservation Planning Tool, the Green Growth Toolbox, and Strategic Habitat Areas support resource management decisions. Additionally, such tools can assist in addressing the potential impacts associated with a changing climate.

Key Partners: NC-OCPCA, NC-WRC, TNC, USFWS, SALCC, NC-DEM, VA-DCR

CCMP Outcomes Supported: 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d, 1e, 2a, 2b, 2c, 3a, 3b, 3c, 3d

Outputs: Access to mapping, GIS data, conservation planning tools

Results: Improved resource management decisions

 

Objective A2: Assess the impacts of targeted threats on the ecosystem

The estuarine ecosystem and its various components are sensitive to localized and systemic changes. Population growth and associated development, climate change, sea level rise, increasing demand for freshwater, invasive species, and introduced pollutants are among the most significant stressors to the ecosystem. Scientific knowledge of the individual and cumulative impacts of these stressors can be developed further, and research is needed to identify thresholds for ecosystem resilience.

Action A2.1: Facilitate the development of protocols and conduct rapid assessments to determine presence and potential threat of invasive species.Aquatic and terrestrial invasive species can cause significant ecological damage. The timely identification and assessment of invasive species threats can ultimately result in cost-effective management if addressed before threshold levels are reached.

Key Partners: NC-WRC, NC-DENR, VA-DEQ, VA-DCR, EPA, NOAA, USFWS, NC-DWR, NC-DACS, USDA, NC-EPPC, USGS

CCMP Outcome Supported: 2c

Outputs: Protocols and assessments

Results: Better information on presence and potential threat of invasive species

Action A2.2: Create and improve projections of land use and climate change related impacts on the regional ecosystem. Forecasting future potential impacts allows managers to undertake proactive measures and consider environmental management initiatives.

Key Partners: EPA, SALCC, NOAA, USFWS, USFS, NC-OCPCA, NC-DEM

CCMP Outcome Supported: 2a

Outputs: Climate change impact models; land use projections

Results: Information to support better resource management decisions

Action A2.3: Support research on adapting to impacts associated with climate change and sea level rise. Current research suggests that climate change and associated sea level rise will be a significant stressor in the region for the near future. Science that helps predict impacts at the regional level will help support informed decision-making by those in a position to use it.

Key Partners: SALCC, NOAA, EPA, USFWS, USFS, NC-DCM, NC-OCPCA, NC-DEM

CCMP Outcomes Supported: 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d, 1e, 2a, 2b, 2c, 3a, 3b, 3c, 3d

Outputs: Research activities and reports

Results: Information to support better resource management decisions in the face of a changing climate

Action A2.4: Facilitate risk assessments of targeted personal care and pharmaceutical products in the aquatic system. Numerous chemical compounds reach our waterways and sounds, including medications and other products with unknown effects on the estuarine ecosystem. APNEP will work with its partners to better understand and address the risks associated with these chemicals. Understanding these risks helps prioritize future research and management efforts.

Key Partners: EPA, NOAANC-DWR, NC-DPH, VA-VDH, VA-DEQ

CCMP Outcomes Supported: 1b, 3c

Outputs: Risk assessments

Results: Information to support better resource management decisions regarding risks associated with personal care and pharmaceutical products

Action A2.5: Facilitate risk assessments of heavy metals and other toxic contaminants in sediments. Toxic materials come from smokestacks, roads, and other sources. While risks of some toxic sources have been well documented (e.g., mercury), the risks of other sources are unknown. Understanding these risks helps prioritize future research and management efforts.

Key Partners: EPA, NC-DWR, NC-DPH, NC-DMF, VA-DEQ

CCMP Outcome Supported: 3c

Outputs: Risk assessments

Results: Information to support better resource management decisions regarding risks associated with heavy metals and other toxic contaminants in sediments.

Objective A3: Assess current natural resource policy, laws, and regulations according to ecosystem-based management principles

To ensure wise stewardship of the public’s natural and fiscal resources, the rigorous review of various environmental laws, policy choices, and management efforts is necessary. These issues are typically complex and require expertise in many areas, and often-subtle changes in management approaches can result in significant environmental improvements. Considering their complex nature and effects on water quality in the sounds, wetland protection and riparian buffer implementation policies have been identified as two priority areas for study.

Action A3.1: Assess the effectiveness of policies and regulations to minimize wetland loss. Wetlands are extremely valuable habitats, providing flood protection and filtering runoff. Policies should support the preservation, maintenance, restoration, and creation of ecologically functional wetlands.

Key Partners: Sea Grant, NC-DENR, VA-DEQ, USACE, USFWS, SALCC, EPA, NOAA

CCMP Outcomes Supported: 2a, 2b

Outputs: Recommendations for improved wetland protection

Results: Information to support better resource management decisions

Action A3.2: Assess the effectiveness of policies and regulations regarding riparian buffers. Riparian buffers reduce runoff into the estuarine system and provide other ecosystem services; however, buffer requirements differ throughout the region. Further study of the issue can help demonstrate the costs and benefits of buffer rules, allowing for optimal investment in this conservation strategy.

Key Partners: NC-DWR, Sea Grant, VA-DEQ, USACE, USFWS, SALCC, EPA, NOAA, VA-VWWP, NC-DACS

CCMP Outcomes Supported: 2b, 3d

Outputs: Recommendations for improved riparian protection

Results: Information to support better resource management decisions

Action A3.3: Develop and refine ecological flow requirements for each major river. Many of the fish, aquatic plants, and other species that live within the estuarine system depend on flowing water to survive. Identifying these ecological flows will help ensure that these species and ecosystems are protected.

Key Partners: NC-DWR, USFWS, USGS, NC-WRC, VA-DCR, VA-DEQ, USACE, SALCC

CCMP Outcomes Supported: 1c, 2a, 2b, 3a

Outputs: Hydrologic models of each river basin within the APNEP region and associated ecological flow requirements to support better resource management decisions

Results: Management of river flows that support ecological integrity

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