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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

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Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership - Fast Facts

Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership


Fast Facts

about the Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds and Watershed


Estuary Region and Basin |  Rivers and Streams | Fisheries and Wildlife | Economy | History |

*Hover over numerical values for metric conversions 


  • There are 9,115 miles of total estuarine shoreline in the Albemarle-Pamlico region. 8,136 miles are unmodified natural shorelines based on 2006-2010 shoreline data.1,2
  • Carteret County has 1,738 miles of estuarine shoreline, the longest in the Albemarle-Pamlico region. Currituck and Dare County are also medalists, with 1,106 and 969 miles respectively. 1,2
  • With more than 3,000 square miles of open water, the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary is the second largest estuarine complex in the lower 48 states.7
  • North Carolina has greater acreage of submerged aquatic vegetation than any state on the Atlantic coast except Florida, and 99% of that acreage is in the Albemarle-Pamlico embayment. In APNEP's latest survey (2006-2008) 138,000 acres were visible from the air, and nearly 200,000 acres are estimated to exist.13,14
  • The Albemarle-Pamlico estuary includes eight major sounds – Albemarle, Pamlico, Back, Bogue, Core, Croatan, Currituck, and Roanoke. 3
  • Wind off the Albemarle-Pamlico sound averages 9-10 mph. 15


Region and Basin

  • The area of the Albemarle-Pamlico Basin is 31,478 square miles. The APNEP management region is 23,803 square miles (76% of total basin), which excludes parts of the Roanoke and White Oak basins, and is the largest unit in the National Estuary Program.3
  • Lake Mattamuskeet is the largest natural lake in North Carolina at 40,000 acres. Nearby Lake Phelps is the second largest at 16,600 acres.5,6
  • There are approximately 4.8 million acres of farmland in the APNEP region (32% of total management region).8,9
  • There are 1.4 million acres of land under conservation management in the APNEP region (9% of total management region).10
  • There are approximately 2.8 million acres of wetlands in the Albemarle-Pamlico Basin according to 2006 data, down 130,000 acres since 1992.15
  • The geographic center of the Albemarle-Pamlico basin is at 36.150218, -77.714994. This place is halfway between Enfield and Whitakers in North Carolina, just east of I-95. 18
  • Merchants Millpond State Park contains a grove of Bald Cypress trees that are 800 years old. 22
  • 16,000 farms covering 4.8 million acres are in the Albemarle-Pamlico region.8,9


Rivers and Streams

  • There are 9,299 miles of freshwater rivers and streams in the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine ecosystem.4
  • The Roanoke River floodplain contains the largest and least-disturbed bottomland forest ecosystem in the eastern slope of North America, and the Albemarle-Pamlico region includes the greatest extent of pocosin wetlands in the world. 11,12
  • Six river basins flow in to the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary: Chowan, Roanoke, Tar-Pamlico, Neuse, and Pasquotank and White Oak. 16
  • The largest river basin in the Albemarle-Pamlico region is the Roanoke. 12
  • Water from 43 NC counties and 38 VA county and cities drain into the Albemarle-Pamlico estuaries. 3
  • The White Oak and Chowan Rivers are "blackwater" rivers because tannins dye the water the tint of tea/coffee. 24
  • The human population within in the Albemarle-Pamlico basin in 2010 was 3.9 million with 2.9 million (74%) living in North Carolina and 1 million (26%) living in Virginia. The most populous river basin in the watershed is the Neuse.15


Fisheries and Wildlife

  • Half of the juvenile fish habitat from Maine to Florida is represented by the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary.26
  • About 90% of the United States' recreational fisheries catch and 75% of its commercial catch spend time in estuaries. 27
  • The Albemarle-Pamlico estuary is among the few places where Atlantic sturgeon continue to produce young on an annual basis.28
  • The Albemarle Sound was the epicenter of the once-prolific, and potentially restorable, herring fishery.29
  • As a result of captive breeding programs, the red wolf (Canis lupus rufus) was reintroduced to the Albemarle Peninsula. It is the only place in the world where red wolves can be seen in the wild.30
  • Striped bass can lay as many as 2 million eggs during spring spawning.31
  • More than 220 bird species can be found in the Roanoke floodplain.12
  • North Carolina issued 22,533 commercial fishing licenses in 2013.32
  • A recent study found 897 obstacles to fish migration in the Chowan basin alone. Dams prevent fish from swimming upstream to mating areas, but restoration efforts can help.33
  • The West Indian Manatee is seen occasionally in NC estuaries from June to October.34, 35
  • Female shortnose sturgeon can live as long as 67 years.36
  • The endangered Tar River spinymussel is only found in small sections of the Tar River basin.37
  • Anadromous fish like shad and sturgeon reproduce in rivers but live their lives in oceans.38
  • Most eels are catadromous, spending their lives in fresh or brackish water but spawning in the sea.39
  • Fish need about 5 parts per million of dissolved oxygen to thrive in aquatic environments.40
  • Aquatic plant species are important because they release oxygen into the marine ecosystem.41
  • Overgrowth of algae can cause anoxia - lack of oxygen in water - which can lead to fish kills.42 
  • Non-native Phragmites australis, an invasive grass, is a problematic and aggressive species in the region. In 2010, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge reported 7,567 acres.15
  • Endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers are found in all basins of the Albemarle-Pamlico region.43
  • The Croatan National Forest has the largest population of carnivorous plants of any National Forest.19



  • Recreational fisheries in 2008 had a $1.6 billion impact on North Carolina's economy.45
  • Saltwater fishing in 2010 created over 17,000 NC jobs.45
  • Commercial fisheries in 2012 had a $116 million impact on North Carolina's economy.46
  • The estimated economic impact of seafood dealers on North Carolina’s economy in 2009 was $255 million.47
  • The economic impact of tourism in 2012 by the Albemarle-Pamlico’s four oceanside counties—Dare, Carteret, Currituck and Hyde—exceeded $1.37 billion.48
  • The Intracoastal Waterway is critical for shipping products across state lines. The ICW traverses the Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds for 214 miles.49
  • The 2012 total market value of products sold from farmland in the Albemarle-Pamlico region was $4.88 billion.8,9
  • Beaufort has the highest value of delivered timber in North Carolina's portion of the Albemarle-Pamlico region. 44



  • The Cape Hatteras lighthouse in 1999 was moved 2,900 feet to prevent damage by the Atlantic Ocean.50
  • The Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary was named an estuary of national significance by Congress in 1987.3
  • The National Estuary Program began in 1987, with APNEP as a charter member.51
  • The first English settlement in America was on Roanoke Island in 1584.52
  • George Washington himself formed the company whose laborers drained the Great Dismal Swamp in 1763.53
  • Pocosin is the Algonquin Native American word for swamp on a hill".54
  • Estuaries are among the earth's most productive habitats, but are increasingly affected by impacts of human population growth on our coasts.55
  • Tropical cyclones having passed within 150 miles of Swan Quarter, NC since 1950: 235.15



    26 Burkholder, J., Eggleston, D., Glasgow, H., Brownie, C., Reed, R., Janowitz, G., . . . (2004). Comparative impacts of two major hurricane seasons on the Neuse River and western Pamlico Sound ecosystems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(25), 1-6. Retrieved from

    33 Carpenter, D., Brinn, L., Colchero, F., . . . Weaver, J. (2010). An improved model to identify and prioritize the preservation and restoration of river herring habitat. In M. Doll, R. Ferrell & S. Pearsall (Eds.), River herring habitats: Searching the Chowan River Basin (pp. 54-55). Environmental Defense Fund.



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