Restoration underway for Sugarloaf Island

MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WITN) – Restoration is underway for a shrinking island off one Eastern Carolina town’s coast.

Sugarloaf Island provides an invaluable amount of support to Morehead City, town officials say.

“Sugarloaf Island is vital to Morehead City not only for its natural resources but for the storm protection it offers our community and that includes residential and commercial districts down here,” says Anna Smith, public information officer for Morehead City.

The North Carolina Coastal Federation says the island has been getting smaller over the last 25 years due to strong storms, tides and rough boat traffic.

“About 25 years ago, the Coastal Federation worked with the Town of Morehead City to purchase the island, says Dr. Lexia Weaver with the Coastal Federation. “At that time, it had been slated for development- there were some condo plans in the works. Thanks to that purchase the island was able to be protected and conserved and be the natural resource it is for both for the public and the environment as well but since that time the island has eroded significantly as much as a football field.”

The Town of Morehead City, the Coastal Federation and others have been working on a plan to save Sugarloaf Island.

“Morehead City is excited to see this project kick-off, it’s been long anticipated and it will go a long way in protecting not only Sugarloaf Island but the Morehead City waterfront,” Smith says.

This restoration project will be the first time wave attenuation devices will be used in North Carolina, the Coastal Federation says.

“We’re using wave attenuation devices called WADs that are designed to slow down the wave energy and protect the island from further erosion,” Weaver says. “We’re also incorporating Sandbar Oyster Company’s oystercatcher which is a living shoreline approach, it will generate oyster reefs on the island.”

The devices might look a little strange, but the use of them in projects in Florida has had some dramatic results.

“They’ve had great success, and the reason we’re using them here is because of the storm surge the island sees as well as the predominant southwest winds in the summertime and the storms have really eroded the area away so these devices are going to help stop that erosion but also help acquire that sand and sediment back which will be planted and in turn will turn back to what it was,” Weaver says.

Some results could take a few months of a few years to fully show, according to scientists, but some benefits might be seen sooner.

“Immediately we will start seeing habitat impacts of the structures, immediately fish are going to start using the structures, crabs will start using the area and oysters will start to attach and grow over time on the structures,” Weaver says.

According to the Coastal Federation, construction is expected to take several months.

During the restoration project, Sugarloaf Island will still be open for recreational use. Morehead City officials encourage the public to keep up with the project’s progress on the town’s website.