MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WNCT) — A partnership was announced on Wednesday between the Town of Morehead City and an aquatic restoration specialist to help protect nearby Sugarloaf Island from continual shoreline erosion.

Sea & Shoreline, the North Carolina Coastal Federation and the Town of Morehead City, NC announced a partnership to “increase the resiliency of downtown Morehead City by protecting nearby Sugarloaf Island from continual shoreline erosion.” The project team is working with Quible & Associates and local experts to identify and design the best shoreline stabilization methods for the island that balance shoreline protection, public uses and natural resource conservation, according to a media release.

Officials said one of the methods being considered is a hybrid approach utilizing offshore wave attenuation devices (WADs) to reduce erosion, seagrass plantings to stabilize the sediment and create essential fish habitat and a living shoreline to build salt marsh and upland vegetation. The $2 million project is being funded by the NC state legislature. Construction is expected to begin later this year.

Sugarloaf Island is a vital destination for many local residents, tourists, and wildlife. Currently, the seaward shoreline of the Island is eroding, leaving uprooted trees and vegetation behind. In addition, wave exposure and swift currents are eroding the shoreline, sweeping nutrient-rich sediment into the water column, degrading water quality, and filling in navigational channels.

The restoration techniques will not impede normal vessel traffic because they will be installed in areas too shallow for boats to navigate safely at high speeds. Wave attenuation structures will be staggered so that fishing can occur in and around the structures.

The project is expected to:

  • Stop erosion and increase the shoreline
  • Increase fish habitat and fishing opportunities
  • Enhance the coastal resilience of Morehead City
  • Increase ecotourism opportunities
  • Enhance seagrass and water quality
  • Stop tree loss
  • Stop shorebird habitat loss
  • Increase carbon sequestration

According to Brian Henry, director of Sea & Shoreline’s North and South Carolina offices, “We are excited to partner with not only the Federation and the City on this project, but also other local companies to restore our beloved island.” 

“This is a wonderful opportunity to protect and restore Sugarloaf Island so that it continues to provide important recreation, fish habitat, and storm protection values,” says Todd Miller, executive director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “The Federation supports and appreciates the financial support provided by the North Carolina General Assembly to Morehead City to allow this project to move forward in preventing this island from washing away.”

According to Morehead City Mayor Jerry Jones, “Protecting and restoring our island has been a priority for this City for years and now, thanks to the State Legislature, we finally have the funding to make it happen. We’re looking forward to working closely with the professionals from Sea & Shoreline and the North Carolina Coastal Federation to see this project come to fruition.”

The Federation has contracted with Sea & Shoreline to construct the project. Sea & Shoreline has completed over 150 aquatic restoration projects including offshore breakwaters, living shorelines, and seagrass restorations.