The mission of stewardship for the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve is to maintain, protect, and preserve the designated components for the National Estuarine Research Reserve System purposes of long-term estuarine research, education, and interpretation, while providing public access and allowing compatible traditional uses consistent with primary Reserve objectives. Implementation of the stewardship plan maintains the NCNERR as a scientific and educational resource and information base, designated to foster more informed management of estuaries.
The goal of stewardship in the North Carolina Reserve, therefore, is to protect or restore the natural integrity of each site and ensure a suitable environment for coastal research and education. This is accomplished through a coordination and partnership with multiple federal, state and independent agencies and organization. Resource protection efforts are supported by stewardship policies regarding recreation, off-road vehicle access, fishing and hunting, disposal of dredge material, habitat restoration, feral horses, and surveillance, enforcement and maintenance.
Each Reserve component is a platform for coastal and estuarine research. In order to support a range of research in areas such as shoreline dynamics, coastal dynamics, wetland restoration, invasive species, and benthic restoration, stewardship staff must protect reserve components in as natural a state as possible and coordinate with the research staff to undertake monitoring of various habitats and organisms. These efforts include mapping of upland and emergent wetlands within North Carolina Reserve boundaries, collecting data for baseline habitat maps, identifying and mapping submerged aquatic vegetation, identifying and restoring benthic and wetland habitats, reviewing and updating use policies as needed to ensure protection of resources, coordinating with law enforcement and other agencies as appropriate, and monitoring the components on a regular basis.
Managing Visitor Use
Using a science-based approach and data obtained from Reserve staff monitoring and external researchers, stewardship staff manage public access to North Carolina Reserve sites. Traditional visitor uses of the Reserve are directed to areas that do not interfere in the Reserve’s research and education activities and protect critical habitats. As excessive visitor use can have a detrimental effect on Reserve ecosystems, particularly those that are fragile, barriers, boardwalks and trails are used to guide visitor activities to those areas best able to withstand heavy use. This effort seeks to find balance between visitor needs and North Carolina Reserve habitat and program needs. Use of signs is critical to guide visitor use. Signs serve to: provide guidance to visitors regarding the rules of and appropriate use of the sites; explain visitor impacts to the resources of the Reserve; identify the North Carolina Reserve and its mission; and provide site-specific information regarding protected habitats and species. As site and seasonally appropriate, signs are used to designate critical habitats, including bird and turtle nesting areas and special plant areas will be posted. Site managers also identify heavy visitor use impact areas, conduct monitoring as needed to quantify impacts and identify a use/impact threshold, and institute policies to reduce impacts to or below these thresholds.
Invasive Species Monitoring and Removal
The North Carolina Reserve is host to both invasive plants and animals. Some of these may have the ability to affect ecological functions in the Reserve. To address these possible changes, invasive plant identification and removal efforts are continuous. Invasive plants are identified within the habitat mapping effort and areas needing restoration are prioritized. Problems with invasive and feral animals vary by scale. Nutria, feral hogs and non-native red foxes constitute regional problems. Feral horses are a site problem. Each of these species presents management challenges at one or more of the Reserve components. Ongoing efforts focus on minimizing impacts to the sites by these animals, including developing and implementing management plans for the invasive and feral animal species at each component.