The State of the Environment: People flocked to the outdoors during lockdown

Crystal Coast

Editor’s note: It’s been a year since the coronavirus pandemic changed things in Eastern North Carolina, around the United States and the world. 9OYS is devoting a series of stories, videos and podcasts where we get a perspective on those different parts of life in ENC and how things have changed. This is the final story in our series.

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MOREHEAD CITY, N.C (WNCT) — Some of us re-discovered the outdoors when COVID-19 shutdowns started. While it gave us a place to escape, it also highlighted what could be lost.

“North Carolina is really the jewel on the East coast in terms of its coastal environment,” said Todd Miller, the Director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “We’ve removed about 400 tons of marine debris in the past year.”  

The non-profit has 16,000 supporters and reaches 300,000 people per year, an estimate on the rise since the pandemic.  

“That’s a two-edge sword, you can get more people to care about the system but everybody puts pressure on the system when we’re using it and living here,” Miller said.

Miller said more people went to the coast as an escape from lockdown, but, he said, that puts pressure on an already strained system. Fishing patterns, rising sea levels and soil erosion are the end results from that strained system, all caused by global warming. 

“Some of the projections, if they come true, are going to be dramatic in terms of land use on our coast. We’ll see, if we get a meter rise in sea level by 2100, it’s going to be a whole different system,” said Miller.  

“I think definitely we want people to take care when they’re out and not treat it like a disposable good.”

He wants people to know their actions can have an economic impact as well. Miller said one way you can help out is by ordering shellfish next time you’re at a restaurant. 

“The oysters filter water and actually make the water cleaner. It’s one of those economic activities that are good for the pocketbook and good for the environment,” said Miller.   

Adult oysters can clean up to fifty gallons a day, and clams can clean about half that amount.   

“The growth of that industry along the coast, because we have clean water, has a lot of promise. Actually, the goal is to grow it to about a 100-million-dollar industry by 2030 from about eight million dollars now,” Miller said.  

He also said people should be careful of items they might have stored at home or in their backyard while on lockdown.

“A lot of our water quality problems actually come from polluted storm water runoff,” said Miller.

Overall, Miller sees how the pandemic has made people more appreciative of the area they live in. 

“It’s become more special to them, and when things become more special people take better care of it,” Miller said.

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Follow Victoria Holmes on Facebook at Facebook.com/VictoriaHolmesTV and on Twitter @VicAntHol

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