State officials, lawmakers and community partners got an up-close look at how rising sea levels and more severe storms are impacting Currituck Sound and some of the innovative ways Audubon North Carolina plans to meet these challenges on a June 21 tour of the Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. Sanctuary at Pine Island.

            N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan, Senator Bob Steinburg, Representative Bobby Hanig, Representative Brian Turner, Currituck County Commission Chairman Bob White and other state and local officials and partners walked the trails of the 2,600-acre sanctuary. A dynamic landscape of marshland, maritime forest and dune barrens, the sanctuary is a globally important bird area, home to 60 climate-threatened and endangered bird species and thousands of wintering waterfowl.

            Near the water’s edge, where a boat dock has been reconstructed in the wake of damage from Hurricane Michael, Audubon is embarking on Phase 1 of a marsh restoration project that includes installing a living shoreline. The structure will protect sensitive marshland and an access road from erosion while allowing living organisms to pass through. The project, funded by a Clean Water Management Trust Fund grant, serves as an example of the nature-based resilience solutions that future research at the sanctuary will support.

            On the main grounds of the sanctuary, Audubon has plans underway to raise and renovate historic structures, including a century-old hunt lodge, ensuring the facilities can serve as a community gathering place and hub of coastal research in the future. The physical changes are part of a larger effort by Audubon to double-down on the organization’s resilience initiative for Currituck Sound. Renewed efforts include expanded investments in scientific research, a new coastal resilience program manager, strategic partnerships and science-based habitat restoration in Currituck Sound.

            The day began with remarks from Audubon North Carolina Executive Director Andrew Hutson, who spoke about the magnitude of the pressures now facing coastal communities and the importance of collaborating to find solutions. “We’ve learned that it’s not enough just to protect this amazing place. We’ve got to adapt to the new reality of sea level rise and more severe storms, including learning to live with nature by restoring marsh and wetlands as natural buffers and retrofitting our buildings and infrastructure for the future. A stronger Currituck Sound ensures a better future for both birds and people,” Hutson said.

            Regan spoke at the event. “We’re here today because Audubon is leading the way, pioneering new efforts to restore coastal habitats, and mitigate the damage done by storms," Regan said. "They’re teaching us how to use living shorelines to conserve plant and animal habitats … and those methods will definitely inform how we protect our coastal communities.”

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