Welcome to Perceptions of Environmental and Economic Change Along the North Carolina Coast

During the summer months of 2013 and 2014, Dr. Avenarius and her team conducted interviews with open ended questions to gather data about local knowledge and opinions regarding environmental change among a quota sample of Dare, Tyrrell, Hyde, and Washing county residents. Funded by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, our goal was to restart the dialogue on environmental change and economic development, and how to reconcile these two subjects. We share our data on local knowledge and opinions and on sources and channels for information on environmental policies to encourage conversations about environmental change. You can find more information about the team members, the project objectives, methods and sampling, and a summary of the results on this website. 

Key Findings

The review of local voices – 210 in Dare County, 85 in Tyrrell County, 45 in Hyde County, and 28 from the eastern parts of Washington Count – reveals a keen awareness of environmental change among residents. Only a few conversation partners – about 5% of participants – state that they have seen no significant changes in the shoreline of the ocean or sound since their childhood days or first arrival in the area. However, the examples and words local residents use to talk about their observations differs by county, specifically between Outer Banks and Inner Banks areas, and by position in the life cycle – for example, between young people who don't own property yet, middle aged property owners/ business owners, and retirees. 

Dare County residents predominately talk about erosion as the reason for a changed coastline. Less than 10% of participants mention the term sea-level rise without prompted. Their main concern is the search for a balance between the need to ensure longevity of the tourism industry and preservation of the natural assets that facilitate tourism by attracting visitors. Hence they deem beach nourishment a temporary remedy for the shoreline erosion they witness. (see Outer Banks Voices for more information).

Tyrrell and Hyde County residents are less reluctant to address sea-level rise. In particular, residents that have spent more than 40 years in the area have observed consistently higher water levels along the shoreline of their surrounding water bodies. Similar to Dare County residents, people living between the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds are concerned about their current and future economic well-being. Salt water intrusion has become a reality for many farmers in Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington County. From an ecological point of view wetland restoration seems a viable option, allowing fallow land to serve as a buffer to incoming salt water. However, from an economic point of view, taking land out of the crop rotation of agricultural production is not feasible. Communities are now facing the difficult task to find a middle ground in their response to imminent environmental changes. (see Inner Banks Voices for more information).

Where Do We Go From Here?

Long-term solutions to adapt to a continuously changing shoreline and landscape depend on the willingness of North Carolina residents to value in maintaining environmental assets with an eye for the needs of both humans and nature. Strengthening local community networks to facilitate the flow of information about suitable adaptations (such as building structures that are mobile, investing in alternative energy sources such as solar energy, wind energy, etc.) might yield benefits for both residents and tourists.

 Where do we go from here_opt


Chelsea Harvey of the Washington Post recently interviewed geoarchaeologist Paulette McFadden about her post-doctoral research on how past Floridians dealt with climate change. Read the full article below:


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Perceptions of Environmental and Economic Change in Coastal North Carolina

Get Involved:

American Shore and Beach Preservation Association

The ASBPA was founded in 1926 to combat erosion. Recently, the work of the Association has been expanded to a broad range of activities and interests related to the overall planning and management of shores and beaches, encouraging regional workshops as well as national meetings to benefit those working with our shores and beaches. 

UNC Coastal Studies Institute

Formed in 2003, the UNC Coastal Studies Institute (UNC-CSI) is an inter-university research institute formed to undertake research, offer educational opportunities, provide community outreach programs, and enhance communication among those concerned with the unique history, culture and environment of the maritime counties of North Carolina.

The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy addresses the most pressing conservation threats at the largest scale. Click here to see what they're working on in North Carolina.

Ocean Frontiers

The Ocean Frontiers film series portrays stories of citizens coming together for the sake of their sea. The goal is to leave audiences with sense of hope that change is possible through collaboration and science-based decision making that benefit our ocean and ocean economies. Host a screening or find a screening where you live!

North Carolina Coastal Federation

The NC Coastal Federation empowers coastal residents and visitors from all walks of life to protect and restore the water quality and critically important natural habitats of the NC coast.

Coastal Review Online is a nonprofit news service and a member of the NC Press Association, published by the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

Beach News is a courtesy service provided by the Carteret County Shore Protection Office that furnishes online news relevant to the beaches of NC with special emphasis on Carteret County. Click here if you wish to be added to the "Beach News" distribution list.
The Outer Banks Heritage Trails website currently features five trails: a community heritage trail, a maritime history trail, an outdoor recreation trail, a local seafood trail, and paddle trails.  The trails connect visitors and residents to the region’s heritage, history, and human stories.

Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation: Environment

The ZSR Foundation seeks to improve the quality of life for all North Carolinians by preventing harm to, ensuring access to and enhancing the resilience of the natural systems that sustain life. The Foundation is committed to strong and sensible environmental protection. ZSR has a particular interest in broadening the base of citizens acting on behalf of the environment and supporting organizations that empower people at the grassroots to effect state and regional policy decisions. ZSR funds a wide variety of strategies to meet its environmental goals, including but not limited to: policy development, advocacy, civic engagement, communications, and litigation.

Raising BertieThis documentary examines opportunities for young people living in rural areas and focuses specifically on education, economy, and family in a small, African-American-led farming community in Eastern North Carolina.

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