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FEATURE

Singing Their Praises:

With summer in full swing and people coming from all over the state and country to visit Wilmington’s pristine beaches, it’s easy to forget what it takes to protect those beaches and waters so near and dear to locals and visitors. No one wants to see cigarette butts or soda cans in the vacation photos, nor does a child’s first impression of the beach need to be similar to one of a landfill.

Beaches are generally associated with paradise, and when thousands upon thousands of people visit, the image can deteriorate with time and human traffic. The heroes of nonprofit environmental groups protect that image when they spearhead the tasks and activism behind land, ocean and beach preservation. This week, we sing their praises and thank them for the invaluable work they do and call for continued support of them as well.

North Carolina Coastal Federation
The NC Coastal Federation (NCCF) is a nonprofit organization focused on protecting and restoring the coast of North Carolina through education, advocacy and habitat restoration and preservation. The federation operates a southeastern regional office out of Wrightsville Beach, a headquarters in Ocean, and a northeastern regional office in Manteo.

Current NCCF volunteer opportunities in the southeastern region include two projects in Stump Sound behind Topsail Island. Both target estuarine habitat restoration and water quality protection. They protect, create and restore oyster reef and salt marsh habitat in the incredibly productive and important waters of Stump Sound.

These projects offer an opportunity for volunteers of all sorts to get involved with coastal environmental stewardship, says Ted Wilgis, the coastal education coordinator. “Volunteers include NCCF members and volunteers, general public, schools and universities, corporations and U.S. service members,” Wilgis says.

High-school students receive credit with clubs like Beta and Honors Society, while college students get credit for required service hours and some credit for class work. Additionally, some professionals get credit for community service work and U.S. service members can get credit toward community service awards through the Operation Noble Heart program.

Both projects will provide valuable habitat space for oysters, shrimp, crabs and other recreational and commercially important finfish and shellfish. The oyster reefs and salt marsh will also help to protect vulnerable shorelines, buffer waves from storms and boat wakes, and improve water quality by filtering sediment and excess algae from the water of Stump Sound.

Volunteers are critical to NCCF’s program areas, and they help ensure the federation meets its mission. Individuals, families and organized groups are all welcome to volunteer. Project activities are suitable for ages 10 and up, though children must be accompanied by an adult. NCCF supplies all equipment, supplies and refreshments and ask that people pre-register for each project by calling Ted Wilgis at 910-509-2838 or e-mailing him at tedw@nccoast.org.

North Carolina Coastal Land Trust
Land along the coast dwindles away each year for various reasons: building, erosion or the like, and local nonprofits like the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust (NCCLT) has been here since 1992, protecting the invaluable resource. The NCCLT enriches the coastal communities not through advocacy, land regulation, lawsuits or lobbying but through the acquisition of open space and natural areas, conservation education and the promotion of good land stewardship.

“There are three notable things about the Coastal Land Trust,” explains outreach coordinator Nancy Preston. “1) We are community based; we’re a local land trust, not a big national group; 2) We are effective—we have protected more than 47,000 [acres of land] by a staff of 10; 3) We are focused and work solely on land conservation along our state’s coast.”

The Coastal Land Trust is active throughout North Carolina beaches, river corridors, farms, forests and marshes, bringing together citizens and landowners, native and new Wilmingtonians, to set aside land for conservation. Places like the Springer’s Point Preserve in Ocracoke, legacy farms in the northeast, beautiful bottomland forests in the mid-coast region and barrier island beaches are but a few.

The goals of the Coastal Land Trust are to protect and monitor NC land and land protection agreements, while educating the public about private conservation options and assist communities in important land conservation acquisition. This affects our waterways and preserves clean waters and beautiful vistas along coastal North Carolina, protecting water quality, providing habitats for wildlife and offering recreational opportunities for visitors and locals alike.

The NCCLT is funded by donations from individuals, public revenues from special events, grants, corporations, government agencies and fees for service. Projects are generally acquired through donation of land or a conservation easement or a purchase made with government grants. Occasionally the Coastal Land Trust will raise private contributions to purchase or enhance land.

More information about the organization, including places to visit, recent news and upcoming events, can be found at www.coastallandtrust.org.

Cape Fear Surfrider Foundation
Since its beginning in 1984 in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation has been a grassroots organization that has swelled to over 50,000 members in the U.S., 60 national chapters and multiple branches in five other countries. The Surfrider mission is to protect and enjoy oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network.

What makes the Surfrider Foundation unique are diverse beach enthusiasts and powerful activists. The Surfrider Foundation members have proven to be a force in protecting what they love.

“Locally, we have worked with municipalities to look at recycling efforts in their communities and in public spaces,” the current Cape Fear Surfrider chair, Sean Ahlum, says. “Further, we are now highlighting the first three Rs in the recycling mantra: rethink, reduce, reuse.”

The award-winning efforts of the Cape Fear Surfriders never cease as they work to gain support for a plastic-bag ban or fee system similar to what exists in D.C.; the Board of Alderman has recently agreed to a resolution supporting such a fee/ban on plastic bags.

“Our group is also very actively engaged in an anti-cigarette butt litter campaign,” Ahlum continues. “I would suggest you look at the blog of one of our members and volunteers, Danielle Richardet (http://itstartswithme-danielle.blogspot.com). Richardet and her family go to the beach for 20 minutes each day to pick up and count the butts, and then present at town meetings in support of more strict litter policies and perhaps even a ban on cigarettes on the beach.

“I think it is important for individuals to gather together under a common cause,” Ahlum concludes. “We are blessed to live here, and it is our duty to preserve our world so that future generations can share in the beauty.”

Other large campaigns are coastal beach access issues and hardened structure policy combined with beach renourishment. In addition, the Cape Fear chapter works in conjunction with the affiliate program at UNCW, the UNCW Surfrider Group, who do many of the same campaigns and one additional program called “Respect the Beach.”

To learn more about the Cape Fear Surfrider Foundation or the UNCW Surfrider Group and upcoming projects, like Hands Across the Sands and the 7th annual Reef/Sweetwater Pro-Am surf contest, visit www.surfrider.org/capefear.

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