After receiving the brunt of powerful hurricanes in 1996 and 1999, the Neuse River and Estuary and western Pamlico Sound in eastern North Carolina appear to have suffered few long-term ill effects from the storms, and have actually benefited ecologically in some ways from the storms’ scouring effects.
Annual commercial catch of bivalve molluscs (a), shrimp (b), and finfish (c) in Pamlico Sound (filled triangles) and the Neuse River Estuary (open triangles), 1994-2002 (N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources data).
Those are the findings of a team of North Carolina State University scientists and collaborators from various North Carolina universities and government agencies.
Dr. JoAnn Burkholder, NC State professor of botany and director of the Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology, says the research shows that water quality, numbers and health of most of the area’s shellfish and finfish, and the overall health of the surveyed water systems – though initially acutely affected by storms, especially Hurricane Fran in 1996 – have over the long run returned to normal, suggesting the resilience of estuarine systems such as the Neuse and Pamlico Sound. Some harmful organisms that took hold before the storms are now in abeyance, suggesting the storms beneficially flushed the areas studied. The one major estuary dweller that has been slow to recover is the blue crab, the researchers say, although its numbers are now creeping back toward average abundances.
Mick Kulikowski | NC State University
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