BATTLE FOR NORTH CAROLINA'S COASTS: EVOLUTIONARY PAST, PRESENT CRISIS, AND VISION FOR THE FUTURE
NC is dominated by three general types of coastal shorelines (complex-barrier islands, simple-barrier islands, and headland strandplains) and associated estuaries (drowned-river, open-embayed, and strip estuaries with their sediment bank, marsh, and swamp forest shorelines). Each system is characterized by its own set of variables and processes, of which sediment supply, paleotopography, storm dynamics, and the human component are the most important. These variables dictate how the shorelines and associated geomorphic systems will evolve in response to rising sea level.
There will always be a coastal system with ocean and estuarine shorelines, but shorelines will migrate and ecosystems will evolve. Trying to maintain the status quo through engineering fixed structures and ignoring natural limits to growth will ultimately cause the collapse of both the coastal economy and the natural resources on which it is based. How do we adapt to a moving coastal system? Our vision for the future of NC’s barrier island-estuarine system is one of adaptation and based upon understanding the dynamics of its origin and evolution. The vision is divided into three components: the NE and SE barrier islands (N and S of Cape Lookout, respectively) and the back-barrier coastal system including the estuaries, rivers, and adjacent upland shorelines. These components are named the "String of Pearls," "Islands of Opportunity," and "Land of Water," respectively.