AquaDebris: Site Restoration and Habitat Recovery Assessment of Shellfish Aquaculture in North Carolina
Five volunteers stand in a boat loaded with debris.
Project participants collected aquaculture debris. (Photo Credit: James Morris, NOAA)
A project participant stands near a pile of debris while securing a bag of collected debris.
A project participant bagged up collected debris near Harkers Island, NC. (Photo Credit: Rachel Bisesi, NCCF)
Project participants standing in a marsh alongside bags of collected debris.
Project participants posed next to collected debris near Harkers Island, NC. (Photo Credit: Ken Riley, NOAA)
Aquaculture gear such as nets visibly laying within marsh grasses.
Aquaculture gear is visible on the shore of a marsh near Harkers Island, NC. (Photo Credit: Ken Riley, NOAA)
Four project participants stand on a dock next to bags of collected debris.
Project participants posed near bags of collected debris. (Photo Credit: James Morris, NOAA)

The North Carolina Coastal Federation teamed up with the NOAA Marine Debris Program which removed derelict aquaculture fishing gear from approximately 30 acres of oyster reef, submerged aquatic vegetation, and coastal wetlands adjacent to Harkers Island, NC, and worked with shellfish growers and other interested stakeholders which developed best management practices for disposal and prevention of marine debris that could be generated by aquaculture operations.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: Southeast

Project Dates: August 2017 - July 2018

Who is involved?
The North Carolina Coastal Federation, supported by a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal grant and in collaboration with Duke University Marine Lab and the NOAA Coastal Aquaculture Siting and Sustainability Program, restored habitat and monitored the recovery of a former abandoned shellfish aquaculture site off Harkers Island, NC. The North Carolina Coastal Federation also developed best management practices in conjunction with shellfish growers and North Carolina Sea Grant.

What is the project and why is it important?
Shellfish aquaculture has become one of the fastest-growing U.S. industries in the coastal zone. The development of aquaculture is a national priority in order to meet growing seafood demands, address U.S. food insecurity, and revitalize water-dependent coastal economies. However, with this booming industry, derelict aquaculture gear and debris is an increasing concern. Gear can be lost during coastal storms, as a result of material defects, due to improper farming, or from site abandonment. The debris left behind can lead to wildlife injuries, degrade sensitive marine habitats, create safety and navigation hazards, and cause unsightly litter along shorelines.

The North Carolina Coastal Federation worked to remove derelict aquaculture gear from 30 acres of coastal waters off Harkers Island, North Carolina. To assist, Duke University Marine Lab used unmanned aerial systems which mapped the impacted area before and after removal operations, and monitored the recovery of marsh, seagrass, and oyster habitats. Additionally, while removal of this debris is important, the North Carolina Coastal Federation also worked with aquaculture growers to prevent debris issues in the future by developing and disseminating Best Management Practices. These Best Management Practices focused on prevention, removal, and disposal of aquaculture marine debris and shared with all current leaseholders in North Carolina. A presentation on marine debris and shellfish aquaculture was also developed and used during an annual required training class for new aquaculture leaseholders conducted by North Carolina Sea Grant.

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A project participant stands near a pile of debris while securing a bag of collected debris.
A project participant bagged up collected debris near Harkers Island, NC. (Photo Credit: Rachel Bisesi, NCCF)
Project participants standing in a marsh alongside bags of collected debris.
Project participants posed next to collected debris near Harkers Island, NC. (Photo Credit: Ken Riley, NOAA)
Aquaculture gear such as nets visibly laying within marsh grasses.
Aquaculture gear is visible on the shore of a marsh near Harkers Island, NC. (Photo Credit: Ken Riley, NOAA)
Four project participants stand on a dock next to bags of collected debris.
Project participants posed near bags of collected debris. (Photo Credit: James Morris, NOAA)