Local News

Duke Researchers Study the Effects of Flooding on the Pamlico Sound

Posted October 7, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— It is easy to see much of the damage caused inland by Hurricane Floyd. But what effect has it had on our coastal waterways? A crew from Duke University's Marine Lab is surveying the Pamlico Sound for damage.

Duke Marine researchers are getting one of the first looks at how Floyd's flood waters from the Neuse and Tar Rivers are impacting the body they feed into, the Pamlico Sound.

"This is unprecedented. This is the flood of the half-millennium," says Joe Ramus, a Duke Marine Lab professor.

Ramus and other researchers are running a series of tests on the water and the marine life. The fear is that high levels of pollutants in the flood waters is reducing the amount of oxygen fish and other creatures need to breathe.

"Like blue crabs, and so on, basically couldn't move. They were listless, they were almost dead. The fish looked like they were still doing OK, but we know they can't tolerate these kind of oxygen levels in the long-term," says Larry Crowder, a Duke Marine Lab professor.

This is bad news for a number of reasons. Primarily, the fact that 80 to 90 percent of North Carolina's commercial fisheries depend on the Pamlico Sound.

"The material that came in here is going to be with us for at least the coming year, and maybe on beyond that. Those materials include organic material, hog waste, human waste," says Crowder.

This work is hardly conclusive, though. The Duke researchers plan to test for the effects of Floyd's flooding at least twice in the next week. They are just one of several scientific teams trying to get to the bottom of this Pamlico problem.

The team from Duke estimates there is a 30 to 40 square mile area in the Pamlico Sound that has little or no oxygen for the fish to breath.

In 1993, massive flooding doubled the size of a Gulf of Mexico ``dead zone'' that some scientists believe is caused by fertilizer runoffs in the Mississippi River basin.

The situation in the Pamlico Sound, an estuary second in size only to Chesapeake Bay, is causing concern because pollutants won't readily flush into the ocean. It as just three inlets through the Outer Banks to the Atlantic and most of the sound's water leaves through evaporation.

At this point, researchers do not know how long the oxygen levels will stay low in the Pamlico Sound. From staff and wire reports