NC - Saving the NC coast: These small, but important islands have been shrinking for decades

The tiny isles date back to the 1920s and they've unexpectedly contributed a positive impact on the area.

A small chain of islands along the Intracoastal Waterway are the lifeline of Bogue Sound in Carteret County.

The tiny isles date back to the 1920s and they've unexpectedly contributed a positive impact on the area – but those small islands are in trouble.

The small islands that run the length of the Intracoastal Waterway in Bogue Sound are hardly noticeable in most areas, but experts say it hasn’t always been that way.

"These islands were formed when they dredged the Intracoastal Waterway back in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and they were originally four to five times the size they are now," said Todd Miller, executive director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

While the islands were simply a product of the army corps of engineers needing to find a place to put all of the excess dirt from dredging the channel, they’ve provided quite a few benefits to the coastal waters. Now that they are shrinking, environmentalists worry about the implications that could have.

"This is like an interstate highway, this federal channel, and it has intense boat traffic creating lots of wakes, and that’s causing shoreline erosion, because these islands are here, they really do set up a buffer for the rest of the sound," said Miller.

Scientists like Dr. Jud Kenworthy say these islands have given sea grasses the chance to grow which has, in turn, created a rich environment for a number of highly sought-after fish.

"They provide the habitat that many other plants and animals utilize in our estuaries and of course that produces the base of our food web for things like shrimp, crabs, and a lot of the recreationally and commercially valuable fish," said Kenworthy.

Sea grasses are considered a foundation species also play a critical role in trapping sediments in the water.

"They filter the water and act like a sort of biological treatment plant by taking nutrients out storing them, putting them in the sediment, and sequestering carbon in the sediment," he said.

The eroding islands have degraded so far in some areas that they are gone completely taking with it the invaluable seagrasses that were behind it. But how do you restore an eroding island in such a heavily trafficked area?

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