CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A North Carolina utility plans to give $1 million to help a wildlife refuge on the state's coast adapt to rising sea levels and climate change.
Duke Energy is making the donation to the Nature Conservancy for the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, The Nature Conservancy announced Tuesday.
“This is valuable work that will help all of coastal North Carolina and the country adapt fragile coastal areas to rising sea levels,” Duke Energy Chief Executive Jim Rogers said in a statement. “This is the kind of groundbreaking research that helps us learn more about climate change and will make a positive difference in our future.”
North Carolina’s coast is considered particularly vulnerable to climate change because it is so long and flat, according to The Nature Conservancy. A 2008 study by the University of Maryland identified North Carolina’s coast as one of the country’s most vulnerable areas to climate change.
The Alligator National Wildlife Refuge is located behind the Outer Banks beaches and sits on 2,100 square miles of the Albemarle Peninsula. Some two-thirds of the land is less than 5 feet above sea level, and officials say the 152,000-acre refuge is losing shoreline to erosion and salt water is creeping into the refuge.
Rising sea levels have already changed the area, which is valuable habitat for an array of wildlife, including black bears, red wolves and migratory songbirds, officials said. Peat soils are degrading, and plants and trees have died as saltwater has pushed into the area.
If nothing is done to adapt the area to rising sea levels, researchers estimate 1 million acres could be lost within 100 years, officials said.
The project will make the fragile shoreline more resilient to encroaching seas. Adaptations will include planting marsh grasses and restoring wetlands as a buffer to rising sea levels and building oyster reefs to absorb wave activity. The project also will plug drainage canals and ditches to restore the region’s natural hydrology and limit saltwater intrusion, officials said.
In addition to Duke's gift, other donors are giving $250,000 to the sea-level project, which is the first of its kind for the conservancy