Pine Island: A Glimpse of the Future

Please welcome guest-blogger and Audubon North Carolina’s Center Director at Pine Island Robbie Fearn. Robbie will oversee the restoration and revitalization efforts for the Pine Island Sanctuary and Currituck Sound. Here, he gives a glimpse of future plans.

The long light of late afternoon paints the waterfowl impoundment at Pine Island Sanctuary on the Currituck Sound in stark and silvery tones. As afternoon passes to evening, the sky above bursts into a watercolor masterpiece, pinks and purples bathe the clouds and yellow-golds sear the near horizon. Add to this, a symphony of waterfowl announcing their arrival as they settle in for the evening, the honks of geese, the whistle of swan and a sky speckled with small flocks of pintail, black ducks, gadwall, grebe and coot, each with its own low songs and murmurs. The effect is dazzling. But it reminds me of seeing Leonardo’s Last Supper as a child. In 1968, its restoration work had yet to begin, the genius of the work and the strokes of the artist were evident, but the boldness of his colors had been muted by time, by the candle smoke and other human activities in the hall whose wall it graces.

The Currituck Sound is a masterpiece of life, but it too has been degraded by human activity, and now we seek to restore it. Once the skies over the sound were not speckled with small flocks, but literally darkened by as many as 300,000 waterfowl during a winter. Many things have contributed to this reduction, but recent research suggests that the quality of the sound’s water is still fair to good; the possibility of seeing a resurgence of the sound is not only real, but also attainable.

The Donal C. O’Brien Audubon Sanctuary and Center at Pine Island seeks to be the catalyst for ensuring a healthy greater Currituck Sound ecosystem with diverse habitats sufficient for the long-term sustainability of birds, other wildlife and people. Here we will bring together all the stakeholders in the eco-region to ensure that this masterpiece is restored. We must start with a shared vision of the value it brings to all our lives, and from here move on to restoration work. Reestablishing submerged aquatic vegetation that not only feed dabbling waterfowl, but serve as nursery areas for sea life and help clear the turbid water, protecting and restoring marshes that are impacted by high levels of erosion and assisting these marshes in their response to rapid sea level rise.

We must remove the brush strokes added by others; the invasive species and the non-point source pollution flowing off the land. We must create and maintain buffers to the water and ensure the environmental health of communities and working lands that provide habitat for many terrestrial species. And we must document our progress by engaging in long-term monitoring to ensure our gains remain.

Audubon cannot and will not do this alone. It was innumerable small acts that contributed to the degradation of the ecosystem, and it will be innumerable small acts that restore it. Our partners will include citizens and scientists who come to Pine Island to study and restore the sound, students and teachers engaged in discovery, regulators, government agencies, other nonprofits, universities, farmers, hunters, watermen, tourists; in short, every segment of the community. Our partners will also include natural forces as well– as turbidity reduces, submerged vegetation will flourish, and as submerged vegetation flourishes turbidity will reduce. This creates a positive feedback cycle that will lead to more blue crabs, more ducks and more egrets.

There is a rosy future for the Currituck sound eco-region, and Audubon will be there to help restore the masterpiece, but positive change results from collective will. As the steely light of a late fall day illuminates the wonder around us, may it also affirm our will to the task at hand. What work could be more meaningful and more worthy of our collective will than the restoration of these shores, which the early colonists described as “the most bounteous under the cope of heaven”?

Robbie Fearn, Center Director at Pine Island