Mid-Atlantic
Structural pillars rise up out of the sand at a new construction site in Carova. Photo: Josee Molavi

NC - Construction threatens natural beauty that lured residents

In Currituck County, on the northern Outer Banks, the maritime forests grow thick with southern live oaks. These trees can live up to 300 years, their twisted trunks spiraling out of sandy soil all the way down the Carolina coast. For centuries, they have borne witness to changing communities and landscapes.‍

Second of two-part special series. Read part 1.

On this 11-mile stretch, also known as “Carova” or “the 4×4,” which goes from the North Carolina-Virginia line to the start of the paved road in Corolla, there is a diverse range of ecosystems. The Atlantic Ocean swells, and stiff winds pound the exposed homes on the eastern side of the barrier island. Moving west toward Currituck Sound, the forest grows thicker before transitioning into marshy wetlands alongside a set of man-made canals. At the northern gates to False Cape State Park in Virginia, the forest grows tall enough to make you forget there is a beach nearby.

It was Carova’s natural beauty and quiet serenity that struck both Edna Baden and Elizabeth White, Carova residents since 1994 and 2004, respectively, inspiring them to move permanently.

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This is the second in a two-part special reporting series on climate change along the northern Outer Banks. Read part one here. This series is part of the Pulitzer Center’s nationwide Connected Coastlines reporting initiative.

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Maintaining protected, undisturbed areas also is important for the survival of a 500-year-old herd of wild Colonial Spanish mustangs that are a unique breed roaming 7,544 acres of beach, wetlands and forest that surround the 700 houses dotting the landscape.

Legend has it that today’s herd is composed of the descendants of horses left behind when Spanish settlers arrived on the North Carolina coast in the late 1500s. DNA testing by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, a nonprofit founded in 1989 to protect the horses, supports this theory. Their research confirms that the Corolla wild horses are genetically isolated from other wild horse herds like their northern neighbors, the wild ponies of Chincoteague and Assateague islands.

The herd used to roam freely from the town of Duck up to the Virginia line. But when developers extended the paved road north to Corolla in the 1980s, the fund recorded more than 30 horse fatalities caused by the increased traffic on N.C. Highway 12. The organization decided in 1997 to create a sanctuary in the off-road area to protect the 20 remaining horses. The herd’s population today is roughly 100 horses.

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