From Lea-Hutaff Island to the south end of Wrightsville Beach, birds are returning to nest at our inlets and beaches. Brown pelicans are already patrolling the waves and marshes to feed their young. Black skimmers and least terns are raising chicks right on the sand, to the delight of beachgoers and vacationers.
Birds have safe places to rear their young on our coast thanks to years of teamwork by conservation organizations, volunteers, state agencies, and local governments. A new bipartisan bill in Congress offers an opportunity to build on this work by protecting our beach towns and important coastal habitats at the same time.
The Shoreline Health Oversight, Restoration, Resilience, and Enhancement Act, or SHORRE Act — which is backed by Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate — would preserve coastal habitat while providing affordable, alternative sand sources used for beach nourishment projects. Under the bill, local governments would be able to seek federal support for any added costs of dredging and sourcing sand outside of sensitive coastal areas. It’s a win-win: Communities get sand for beach renourishment projects while protecting the habitats that birds and people depend on.
For decades, pristine beaches, marshes, and inlets up and down North Carolina’s coast have been protected from development by the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA). Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1982, the program prohibits development and federal infrastructure spending in certain designated areas.
The result has been a generation of conservation that continues to make our coast a top-tier destination, from world-class fishing to open stretches of untouched beach to the abundant wildlife we all enjoy. The new bill would build on CBRA to support beach towns and ensure habitats are conserved.
That means enduring protections for the places that serve as nurseries for marine life, including important commercial and recreational fish species. In North Carolina, the commercial saltwater fishing industry brings in $78 million per year.
It also means enduring protections for rare bird habitat, from undeveloped stretches of open sand home to vulnerable beach-nesting birds like least terns, to inlets that provide safe places for plovers, skimmers, and oystercatchers to raise their young. Sand mining in inlets and other nearshore areas can harm habitats that are vital to shorebirds and waterbirds, with damage to the food chain persisting for months to several years.
Undeveloped inlets, islands, beaches and wetlands in the CBRA program also help protect upland communities from storms and erosion. A 2021 federal report found that sand mining in inlets, like those protected by the CBRA system, can harm downdrift communities, increasing their erosion and exposing them to greater storm hazards.
Closer to home, this compromise bill will help ensure CBRA areas like Masonboro Island remain a beloved destination for families and wildlife for years to come.
The SHORRE Act is a strong example of how we can continue the work of protecting the environment and supporting coastal communities at the same time. Audubon North Carolina supports the balance that it presents, and urges North Carolina’s Congressional delegation to vote in favor of it.
To stimulate discussion and debate, Coastal Review welcomes differing viewpoints on topical coastal issues. See our guidelines for submitting guest columns. Opinions expressed by the authors are not necessarily those of Coastal Review or the North Carolina Coastal Federation.