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CoastLine: Disappearing grasslands major threat to biodiversity in coastal plain of SE NC

The New Hanover County Landfill is an example of what a restored grassland can do for an entire ecosystem.

Posted on January 31, 2024

UNCW restoration ecologist Amy Long is rehabilitating local tidal marshes, grasslands, and savannahs.  Strategic restoration can bring back biodiversity that was nearly lost, as evidenced by the New Hanover County Landfill property.

Two dramatic examples: diverse butterfly populations and regular sightings of bald eagles.

“Southern grasslands are nearly extinct and the species that depend on them are fading fast.”

That’s according to the Southeastern Grasslands Institute, which also points out that ecologists consider this loss one of the greatest threats to biodiversity. That’s right. Grasslands.

You already know that the coastal plain of southeastern North Carolina is a biodiversity hotspot. You might not know that we are in the third year of a big decade: The United Nations has dubbed 2021-2030 as the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. World environmental leaders are making big claims about the benefits: if done effectively, they say, restoring ecosystems can combat climate change, eliminate poverty, cut the chances of another pandemic, even prevent a mass extinction.

tidal marsh restoration planting in SE NC

The ecosystems that need help in southeastern North Carolina include freshwater and marine environments as well as grasslands and savannahs. In fact, the New Hanover County landfill sits on more than 700 acres and has, through the stewardship of environmental managers, blossomed into an example of successful restoration. Almost half of the site’s acreage is now protected wetland habitat.

an owl captured on the wildlife cam at the New Hanover County landfill

In this episode, we hear from a restoration ecologist who is working with local leaders to save degraded ecosystems. We find out why grasslands are such a critical part of the picture, how she thinks restoration can work amid the growing human population and resulting development, and what regular folks can do to help.

a residential yard landscaped with native plants

Amy Long is a Senior Lecturer and research scientist in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she specializes in conservation. She is also a Certified North Carolina Environmental Educator.

Links & Resources:  

New Hanover County Arboretum

Fresh Kills Park

Grassland Restoration initiatives & North American Coastal Plain resources:

Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson State Historic Sites


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