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Where Have All the Mosquitoes Gone?


September 2013

by Connie Leinbach

For the first time since he began managing the Beachcomber Camp­ground on Ocracoke, Sean Death has had to ask his em­ployees to dust the bug spray bottles on the still-full shelves. “Last year at this time I was on my fourth or fifth order of bug spray,” he said, “but this year I’ve only ordered once. My dis­play is still full.”

Not that anyone’s complain­ing, but it’s a curious thing that since the summer began, mos­quitoes on Ocracoke are not swarming as soon as you go outside. Yes, there are some, but dramatically fewer than in recent memory.

“The campers are enjoying our outdoor Friday and Satur­day night concerts here (with­out mosquitoes),” he said.

There even have been dra­matic mosquito reductions on Portsmouth Island, noted Rudy Austin, who takes visi­tors to that island, and on mainland Hyde County.

“I stay in the Ponzer area and there’s nowhere near the numbers of mosquitoes we usually see,” noted Wesley Smith, Hyde County Health Director.

Even the NPS campground on Ocracoke, notorious for lots of mosquitoes, reports a relative lack of the pests. “It’s really not bad,” said Sarah Richardson, a ranger at the campground office. “I’ve had one bite this year. I was here last year and it was much worse last year.” The “no-see-ums,” however, are the main biting pests campers have re­ported. “But campers have been really happy,” she said.

This lack of mosquitoes so far this year is also being no­ticed in Dare County, where mosquito-spraying trucks are making many fewer trips through neighborhoods than in past summers.

A call about this to the en­tomology department at North Carolina State University in Raleigh had Emeritus Profes­sor Charles Apperson scratch­ing his head. “They’re much worse here,” he said about the mosquitoes inland. But, he gave a possible explanation — the mosquito eggs are dor­mant because of lower than normal tides. “My guess is you haven’t had the tide condi­tions for the eggs to hatch,” he said.

He explained that mosqui­toes lay their eggs high in the salt grasses and black needle rushes with the expectation that the rising tide will dip them into the water where the eggs will hatch into larvae then pupae then to adult when they emerge and go on their blood-sucking quests. The eggs are covered with a waxy substance to withstand dry conditions. If the tides don’t rise to envelope the eggs, they can stay in the egg stage for several years.

Beaver Tillett, an islander whose job it has been for the last several years to drive the bug-spraying truck, has only been out four times this year. “Usually by this time I’ve gone 15 times,” he said. “The last time I went was two weeks ago.” He suggests something else as to the relative lack of mosquitoes. He has been put­ting larvacide along the sides of village roads — in the “mos­quito” ditches and other low spots in the marshes around the village and also some of the drainage areas around vil­lage roads. He also spreads an “adulticide” mosquito chemi­cal around. He has been do­ing this for the last three years. Perhaps the island is seeing the result of this work, he said.

Moreover, the island has not had the weather condi­tions certain kinds of mos­quitoes love. We had a cooler-than-normal spring and fewer days in the 90s this summer.

“On average, we’ve only had nine days above 90 de­grees,” he said. He explained that we’re not seeing as many of the saltwater mosquitoes that show up in April and May. The mosquitoes people are fending off now are hatched in standing fresh water.

These are the “summer­time” mosquitoes, he said, not­ing that people should strive to not have standing water in containers around their homes and yards.

“These came to the United States from Japan in recycled tires shipped to Georgia 20 years ago,” Tillett said. “Now they’re from the West Coast to Maine.” These mosquitoes hide in shade during the day and come out at night. He also said the summer is not over, and the island might not enjoy this mosquito respite for much longer.

“They’re gonna get bad here,” he said.

Reprinted from The Island Free Press, http://www.islandfreepress.com.

To Connie and Irene…the mosqui­tos are all in Mesic, NC


Ocracoke still needs to monitor ferry tolling


September 2013  

by Connie Leinbach

While the good news from Ra­leigh recently is that legislators have left the ferry tolls status quo, the word from officials is that Ocracoke islanders will still need to be vigilant about the ferry system.

“The game has changed and the rules have changed,” noted S. Henri McClees, one of a team of two lobbyists hired by Hyde, Beaufort and Pamlico counties to fight fer­ry tolls. Decisions on ferry boats and tolls will be made by a regional planning orga­nization (RPO), which will be allotted money for local transportation needs.

The Budget Bill #402 con­tains a new funding plan for transportation via three pots of money: one for statewide strategic planning (40 per­cent), that is, for interstate highways; one for regional divisions, or the RPOs (30 percent), and the third one (30 percent) divided among different divisions in the transportation department.

“The RPOs need to be the focus now,” said Rep. Paul Tine of Kitty Hawk, who helped retain the ferry tolling status quo, along with Representatives John Torbett, and Charles Jeter, both of the Charlotte area, who traveled to Ocracoke in April for a first-hand look at the island.

Tine said this new bill takes the ferry tolling ques­tion out of the Legislature’s hands and into the hands of the people who care rather than with representatives from the western part of the state who don’t care about the ferry system.

According to this new protocol, the local RPO could decide to raise or lower ferry tolls and/or seek advertising revenues as income.

“If they did either of these, that revenue would go to offset replacing ferry boats,” Tine said. “Raising ferry tolls (to pay for new ferries) will be in the hands of the RPO.”

Which is why locals still must be vigilant so that the RPO plans for the replace­ment of new ferries by find­ing new revenue and saving it, McClees said.

“Local people need to be on top of this process,” she continued. “Citizens and commissioners will have to take a fresh and vigorous look at these RPOs and the people who are on them. Hyde County is going to have to speak up to get at­tention.”

Hyde County is part of the Albemarle Commis­sion, a nonprofit based in Elizabeth City. Within this organization is the RPO that handles the transportation planning for the 10 coun­ties in the region (including Dare), said Bert Banks, ex­ecutive director. The current Hyde representatives on this commission, which meets quarterly, are County Man­ager Bill Rich and County Commissioner Anson Byrd from the Lake Landing Dis­trict. The next meeting will be Sept. 11 at a location to be determined.

The next several months will see a transition pe­riod, Banks said, between the old way and the new way of funding transporta­tion projects, which is fairly complicated. This group will make transportation priority recommendations based on what is needed locally.

“Funding for the ferries will probably be a local issue for the RPOs,” Banks contin­ue. “We can only make rec­ommendations in our Trans­portation Improvement Plan (TIP). The DOT will have the ultimate authority.”

Timothy Haas, a spokes­man for the NC Ferry Di­vision, confirmed that any changes in ferry tolling will come from the RPO, which would make such a rec­ommendation to the state Transportation Board. Af­ter that, it would go through a process before, or if, any tolls are enacted.

“This legislation is a month old and we’re still figuring out how it works,” he said, adding that finding money to replace ferries will be a key challenge.

But Banks and McClees encouraged citizens to let their RPO representatives what they want.

“I don’t want people to think we don’t ever have to do anything again about the ferries,” McClees said. “Hyde County has a lot of competi­tion in your RPO. We need some high-energy people involved who will speak up.”

 Local Fishermen Honored for Commitment to Preserving the Coast


September 2013

by Connie Leinbach


You can’t really go wrong with helping build oyster habitat, said Gene Bal­lance about his and James Barrie Gaskill’s work building oyster shell reefs along Springer’s Point and on Beacon Island in the Oc­racoke Inlet.

“Oysters are good for several things,” Ballance continued. They create fish and crab habitat, they filter the water, and–the biggest plus of all–they’re tasty eating.

Local fishermen Ballance and Gaskill were among 13 people, groups and businesses across North Carolina who recently re­ceived Pelican Awards from the North Carolina Coastal Federa­tion, a nonprofit environmental organization, for “extraordi­nary commitment to protecting and preserving our coast.”

That commitment is shown in the pair’s work obtaining tons of oyster shells from all over the East Coast where they are dumped at Gaskill’s home along a canal in (aptly named) Oys­ter Creek. There, the two have put the shells into thousands of mesh bags for placement along Springer’s Point and Beacon Is­land, in the Pamlico Sound near Portsmouth.

Now the pair is concentrat­ing on creating what are called “patch reefs” at Beacon Island, which is one of only nine remain­ing nesting sites in North Caro­lina for brown pelicans. These reefs are rows of loose shells off this island that does not have any beach.

“The shells give it a buffer from the waves,” Ballance said. “A reef takes the energy out of the waves coming in so that the water doesn’t beat against the shoreline and destroy it.”

Tractor trailers bring the shells to Ocracoke, and every other day, the two fill up 100 plastic bins and transport the shells to the island on a barge.

“We’re on our third tractor trailer load,” Gaskill said.

What’s great about oyster shells vs. cement blocks is that their uneven surface is better for creating more habitat. Ballance pointed this out as he guided his Carolina Skiff close to the edge of Springer’s Point Nature Pre­serve where they two installed 5,000 mesh bags of shells. From the sound side, one can get an up-close look at the jetty-like construction.

“These make a habitat for crabs and little fish,” Ballance said, “but they also protect the grass behind them.” This reef will also protect the trees along Springer’s by preventing the waves from carving out a cliff and the shoreline from collaps­ing into the sound.

The tip of Springer’s Point already has a small jetty from some large hunks of cement (what locals call “rip rap”) having been placed there years ago. But the oyster shells create an undu­lating surface—more like a natu­ral reef, Ballance said. The beach on the other side of the rip rap— a popular spot for both visitors and locals–has some evidence of erosion, he said.

“The oyster shell reef might help retain that beach,” he said as his skiff pushed away from the Point.

In about three years, Ballance said there should be new growth of oysters. “If nothing destroys (the oyster bags), the oysters build on the last generation,” he said. Not all oysters around the world do that. Only Eastern Oys­ters—the kind found all over the East Coast and the Gulf of Mex­ico. “These are the native ones,” he said.

Ballance knows whereof he speaks since he has been working with oysters since 1998 when he got a North Carolina Sea Grant to map the crab sanctuaries from Oregon Inlet to Ocracoke. He also re-mapped the historic oyster beds originally done in 1886 by Francis Winslow II.

“Those maps are our Bible,” said Erin Fleckenstein, a coast­al scientist in the Federation’s Northeast office. “Gene’s map­ping of those historic oyster beds in the Pamlico Sound has been hugely helpful in guiding our planning process for these proj­ects.” Fleckenstein said scientists believe that oyster shells emit a cue to oyster larvae floating in the water to settle on them thus producing more oysters.

Shoring up Springer’s Point be­gan in March 2012, which started with Ballance and Gaskill plac­ing the shell bags followed by the planting of several hundred grass plants on the shore side of the oyster-bag reef. This work helped prevent further erosion of the shoreline from recent hurricanes, Fleckenstein said, and Gaskill and Ballance took extra time to keep the bags in place.

“They went above and be­yond the project they’re working on,” she said.



Editorial September 2013


While riding my bike early this morning,enjoying a light breeze and the quiet, I could feel the sharp edges of my annoyance with deadlines, projects, work to be done
and daily chores begin to melt. I am the type of person that sets my mind on a goal and then I want to get there with concentration and focus. I don’t want to dodge obstacles, make detours or be stalled by interruptions. Ask any business owner how they feel mid-August and you will hear some variation of this story.  Maybe it is my age and it is not as easy to get back on track again as it used to be.  Some days it is a challenge to just remember what I started out to do.  Can you relate?  I am not a good multi-tasker and that just gets worse as the summer progresses!
I am looking forward to fall, the shortening days and cooler temperatures. The flavor of fall is appealing.  I think of pumpkins and apples, ripened figs, the browning of the sea oats and the return of the dolphins.  Migrating birds begin to appear later on and the pace of living slows down.  Kids are back in school and our visitors tend to be less hurried.
I hope you enjoy this fall issue of the Ocracoke Observer. I want to especially thank our guest contributor this month, William S. Jackson, a former newspaper owner and writer from Hershey, PA, for his wonderful story,  “The Office Cat. ” Until next month, smooth sailing,

Ruth Fordon,

Pat Garber

Pat Garber. Photo: P. Vankevich

Pat Garber’s goal as a young girl was to grow up with lots of stories to tell, and she has done just that. A native of Short Pump, Virginia (not far from Richmond), Pat was raised on a farm with horses and a myriad array of other animals.

She has degrees in Native American Studies and in Environmental Anthropology, and is a licensed teacher for the state of Virginia. She has been a  federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator and by North Carolina’s Sea Turtle Stranding Network to rescue and handle sea turtles.

She has done just about every kind of job there is, from pushing a hot dog cart in San Francisco to milking cows on a dairy farm in western Washington; serving pizzas in Bend, Oregon, to crewing on sailboats in the Bahamas; from teaching inner-city Head Start classes in Buffalo, New York to working as an archaeologist in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula; from being a wilderness trip leader at a rehab center for juvenile delinquents in Flagstaff, Arizona to serving as executive director of the Ocracoke Preservation Society and Museum in Ocracoke. She taught for three years on the Havasupai Indian Reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and served as project manager and script writer, in conjunction with Northern Arizona University and the Havasupai Tribe, for a video-documentary on Havasupai agriculture.  She worked for the Environmental Protection Agency researching and writing a new policy for the Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances to use on Indian lands.

Pat has been writing for newspapers and magazines in North Carolina, Arizona and Colorado since 1990, including history features and an award-winning nature column called “From Sea to Sound.”

She is the author of Ocracoke Wild and Ocracoke Odyssey, which are collections of nature essays she wrote for the Island Breeze; Little Sea Horse and the Story of the Ocracoke Ponies, a children’s book; and Ocracoke Island: Your Questions Answered. In 2013, her book Heart Like a River, the story of her great-grandfather’s experiences as a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, was published, and her first novel, Paws and Tales, has been published. All of her books are available in several island shops.

Pat spends much of her time in her little cottage, Marsh Haven, on Ocracoke Island, with her cat and dogs, but she also makes long treks to other out-of-the-way places to the West and North.



Henry’s Kitchen: Fresh Tuna


August 2013
By Henry Schliff

For many years tuna has been second only to shrimp as America’s favorite seafood but most people bought it in a can to make tuna salads and casseroles. That has all dramatically changed now and fresh tuna is wildly popular, so much so, that Ocracoke Seafood is having a hard time keeping it in stock this summer. Almost to prove this point, just a few days ago when tuna was out of stock, a woman rejected the wide array of choices in the case (pristine fish along with shrimp, scallops, and oysters) and walked out saying “I guess I’m just a tuna girl.”

I too have come to love fresh tuna. I like it marinated and grilled, seared or blackened, wrapped in a sushi roll, or made into fresh tuna burgers. When cooked rare to medium-rare it rivals the best filet mignon for tenderness and taste and is well suited for the most delicate of French sauces. When grilled it can be marinated in assertive Asian flavorings and is delicious served with pickled ginger and Japanese horseradish (wasabi). On a toasted roll it makes a burger that rivals the best that ground beef can offer.

 Tuna Facts:

  • Tuna inhabit the upper and middle layers of ocean water but can be found at a depth of 1,600 feet or more depending on size and species. Tuna are found in all of the oceans of the world (except in the Artic) and roam continuously over long distances north – south and across oceans.
  • Tuna has a unique circulatory and respiratory system that gives them an internal  temperature that is higher than the surrounding water. This higher internal temperature combined with their oxygen-rich blood (which results from the continuous movement of water over their gills) permits tuna to swim at high rates of speed (yellow-fin tuna can swim up to 50 mph for short distances).
  • Tuna feed indiscriminately on a large variety of crustaceans (shrimp, lobster, crabs), cephalopods (octopus and squid), and fish. They use their keen eyesight and swift swimming ability to compete with other large predators.
  • Yellow-fin tuna (called Ahi in Hawaii) is the most common species of tuna found in North Carolina waters. Yellow-fins grow rapidly upwards to 6 feet in length, can weigh up to 400 pounds or more, and live for up to 8 years.
  • A 3 oz. serving around of yellow-fin tuna has only 110 calories, 24 to 25 grams of protein and very little fat. It provides beneficial amounts of choline, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, thiamin, Vitamin B6 and niacin along with several beneficial minerals (magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, and iron).

Purchasing and Cooking Fresh Tuna


Always buy fresh tuna from a market that you know you can trust (preferably sushi-grade and domestic) and never pre-wrapped in a supermarket. The flesh of fresh tuna should always be very moist, have a shiny deep red color, and a fresh salty aroma (never a pungent smell). Tuna is more prone than other fish to bacterial development because of its high internal temperature and should always be kept on ice until it is cooked, preferably on the same day it is purchased. It can also be tightly wrapped and frozen immediately and used within a month but should always be defrosted slowly under refrigeration and cooked immediately.

Since tuna has very little fat it can get dry and chewy if overcooked and should always be cooked either rare, medium rare or at least pink inside. If you prefer your fish well done I recommend that you buy another fish that has a higher fat content or one that is served with a sauce that has a high fat content (butter or cream).


Tuna Burgers in Paradise

 1 lb. fresh tuna

4 Tbs. olive oil

1/3 cup minced sweet onion

2 medium-size cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced

1 jalapeno, seeds and veins removed, finely minced

½ cup fresh breadcrumbs

2 tsp. low salt, naturally brewed, soy sauce

¼ tsp. black pepper

¼ tsp. thyme 

Cut the tuna into small pieces and coarsely chop it in a food processor or finely chop the tuna by hand using a sharp knife. Place the tuna in a bowl. In a small skillet cook the onion in olive oil until it becomes soft and translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook briefly until it softens. Add the onion and garlic to the tuna along with the remaining ingredients. Form the tuna into 4 patties, place on a plate, and refrigerate until cooking. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet and add the tuna burgers leaving enough space in between them for turning. For rare tuna burgers cook over high heat until seared underneath (firm and lightly browned – about 2-3 minutes). Turn and sear the burgers on the second side. Remove the burgers from the skillet and place them on a serving dish (for burgers that are more well done adjust the cooking time accordingly).

 Serving the Tuna Burgers 

4 toasted rolls or 8 toasted slices of French or Italian bread

Ginger-wasabi mayonnaise (see recipe below)

1-2 fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced

½ large sweet onion, thinly sliced

½ bunch romaine lettuce leaves, washed and dried

Sriracha hot chili Sauce (available at Thai Moon) 

Spread an ample amount of the ginger-wasabi mayonnaise on the bottom half each roll or on 4 of the bread slices. Place the burgers on top of the mayonnaise and then layer with slices of tomato, sweet onion, and lettuce leaves. Cover with the tops of the rolls or the 4 remaining bread slices. Serve with Sriracha sauce (or your favorite hot sauce) to be used as desired. 

Ginger-Wasabi Mayonnaise

 ½ cup mayonnaise

2 packed teaspoons of peeled and grated fresh ginger

2 tsp. wasabi powder (available at Ocracoke Seafood and Zillie’s Island Pantry)


Place the mayonnaise into a small bowl and whisk in the ginger and wasabi.


Note: to make fresh breadcrumbs: Place slices of fresh bread into the bowl of a food processor and chop them into coarse crumbs. If no processor is available cut thick slices of crusty French or Italian bread (soft bread doesn’t work) and grate it by hand using the large holes of a hand grater.

 Henry Schliff has been the chef of a French, Italian, and Mexican restaurant and was most recently the owner of the Orange Blossom Bakery in Buxton. He is the author of two cookbooks.
















Spotted on Ocracoke: Peanuts! and the Blue Jay



Blue Jay Peanuts PS Ocracoke 096
photo by P. Vankevich

August 2013
Text and Photo by Peter Vankevich

This month’s feature bird is a familiar but somewhat notori­ous Ocracoke resident. The Blue Jay (Cyanocitta crista­ta) is perhaps not on a top five favorite list of either birdfeeder observers or its peers, i.e. other birds. Do they deserve such a bad rap? Let’s take a look.

A member of the corvidae family that includes crows, Blue Jays are unmistak­able and easily identified. Large, up to 12 inches from bill to tail, they have a dis­tinctive crest along with various shades of blue on the upperparts that are mixed with black and white streaks. The belly area is whitish as is the face which is surrounded by a distinc­tive black collar.

Even if you do not see a Blue Jay, you may still know that one is in the area as they have a very distinctive loud high-pitched pierc­ing call described as a long drawn out jeer and a short­er “jay” sound. They also have a melodious two-note call that is difficult to de­scribe in print but a reason­able description as tull-ull or twirl-erl. They are also pretty good mimics and can reproduce the calls of Red-tailed and Red-shouldered hawks in a convincing man­ner. My neighbor in Wid­geon Woods has observed that they are quiet during nesting season and I tend to agree with him.

Blue Jays are present in all of the states east of the Great Plains, preferring forest edges, parks with oak trees and urban/suburban areas, especially those that host birdfeeders. Begin­ning in the 1940s they have been expanding their range into the northwest and are now breeding all of the 10 Canadian provinces. In the western states they are re­placed by the related Stel­lar’s Jay. Blue Jays are nei­ther your typical migratory nor your year-round resi­dent bird. Some birds, par­ticularly young ones and those in the most northern range, will migrate vary­ing distances south or west in the fall and winter and the numbers of individuals will vary greatly from year to year. Other individuals will remain in their breed­ing area. This past winter, I did not notice any Blue Jays on Ocracoke in January and February then many ap­peared in March and are here in good numbers this summer. This irregular mi­gration may be more due to whether there are adequate food supplies rather than frigid temperatures.

Last summer after a couple of surgeries, I found myself settled in on my screened porch for a good part of my convalescence. For diver­tissement, I placed some peanuts on my porch rail and it didn’t take long be­fore a Blue Jay showed up to snatch one and fly off. I continued placing pea­nuts out which attracted not only several jays but other species including Northern Cardinals, Com­mon Grackles and even an occasional Fish Crow and Laughing Gull. I’ve dis­covered that my porch is a pretty good place to work using my laptop for much of the year, especially the early morning so I contin­ued to feed them. Some time ago, I started making a long slurring whistle as I placed the peanuts on the rail and within moments, the Blue Jays if present in the neighborhood would show up. Whereas the oth­er bird species will take one peanut and fly-off, the jays will take several. The most I counted was seven pea­nuts.

So why is the Blue Jay not so well liked? Observ­ers of birds at feeders will quickly tell you that when they show up, other birds leave. Larger than most of the others, they are consid­ered by some to be bullies who quickly move in and take over. They also have a reputation for eating young hatchlings and eggs from other birds’ nests. Research has shown however that this activity is far less com­mon than formerly thought.

One of the great Ameri­can ornithologists, Arthur Cleveland Bent, has been known to wax a bit anthro­pomorphic on occasion in his extensive writings con­tained in the twenty-one volume series entitled Life Histories of North Ameri­can Birds. Perhaps siding with this bird’s detractors, he described the Blue Jay as follows: “He gives us the impression of being inde­pendent, lawless, haughty, even impudent, with a dis­regard for his neighbors’ rights and wishes–like Hotspur, as we meet him in Henry IV, part 1.” Wow! In my Bohemian college days had I read that I might have remarked: Time for a visit to the Boar’s Head Tavern.

Land use regulation


August 2013


With the recent adoption of two new amendments to the Ocracoke Development Ordinance (ODO), one regulating the use of travel trailers as full-time residences and the second regulating outdoor sales, there has been a growing conversa­tion on the island about land use regulations.

People feel strongly about land use laws, and rightfully so, as perhaps no other type of regulation so directly pits individual rights against community ben­efits. Some argue in favor of individual rights, saying, “Any law that limits me in the use of my land is nothing more than the government taking away my rights and the value of my property.” On the other side are those who argue that, “no one should be allowed to do anything that significantly diminishes our quality of life or decreases the value of my property even when they are doing it on their own land.”

In fact, both sides of the argument have been made in courts all across Amer­ica in an array of differing circumstances. And case law upholds both positions, saying, in effect, that land use regulation is legal and appropriate, but it must re­flect a long-term community benefit and it must enjoy the support of most of those subject to the regulation. By allowing land use law, but at the same time restricting it, the courts have created a complicated structure that is often reshaped and reinter­preted.

Unfortunately, Ocracoke has only blunt tools to as­sure that our regulation (the ODO) and its amendments meet these tests. By state law, our regulation must reflect a county land-use plan. Be­cause we are a coastal county, that plan must be prepared in cooperation with, and be approved by the Division of Coastal Management. It is referred to as the CAMA Core Land Use Plan. Our Planning Advisory Board is charged with representing the “pulse” of the community and mak­ing recommendations to the County Commissioners. And it is the Commissioners who ultimately have the power to adopt and amend land use regulations for Ocracoke. The Commissioners’ only require­ment to seek input is to hold a single public hearing before voting on a new regulation or amendment.

I like to think of land use regulation in the context of that old piece of wisdom, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Properly con­structed land use regulation is like a good fence – it clearly delineates boundaries and it protects the properties on both sides. Achieving a good land use regulation for Ocracoke should be a high priority for the County Commissioners. The current ODO is unclear and so full of conflicting language that it is difficult to enforce. In ad­dition, the ODO needs to be regularly updated to adapt to changing circumstances such as the growth of outdoor sales, which was a non-issue when the ODO was drafted in 1986.

Over the past couple of years the Planning Board had set a new precedent in inviting public input into its deliberations. The Board’s meetings were open to public comment through­out the meeting and when there was specific text being considered for an amend­ment, the public was urged to join in and express their feelings with enthusiasm. Sometimes that enthusiasm looked like anger and the Board rightfully listened and kept those concerns in mind throughout the process of drafting language. I hope the Board will continue in that way.

But even more impor­tantly, the Commissioners and the Planning Board and the community at large must begin to see land use regulation as a way to shape Ocracoke’s future. The Planning Board is named because it is meant to plan for the future, not just react to the past. As a commu­nity, we have a responsibil­ity to identify and preserve Ocracoke’s most valuable assets, those things that create our unique character as a historic island fishing village, those things that motivate visitors to drive hundreds of miles to come here as tourists.

Land use regulation should reflect as much community input as possible and when it does, it need not be seen as something to fear and despise. With an open and inclusive process, the creation of a new and better ODO can be an opportunity to combine our wisdom to create a prosperous Ocracoke that we’ll be proud to leave to our children and grandchildren.

Tom Pahl

Former Chairman of the Planning Board

North Carolina’s Underwater Gardens: Submerged aquatic vegetation


August 2013

by Pat Garber

A gusty winter wind tugged at my jacket as I scrambled along the shore of Pamlico Sound, gath­ering up handfuls of dead, grayish seagrass and stuffing them into a brown paper sack. I filled four bags before turn­ing back and heading home, pleased with myself and day-dreaming about a spring gar­den. The eelgrass I carried would soon be tucked around my dormant plants, serving as mulch that would protect them and eventually break down into a nutritious fertilizer. I have been mulching my flow­ers and vegetables with sea­grass, washed up on sound-side beaches, since I moved to Ocracoke years ago. Its value as a garden-enhancer, howev­er, is only a tiny proportion of its immense importance to our coastal environment.

Looking out across the great expanse of Pamlico Sound, one may see buffleheads swim­ming and diving, least terns plummeting into the dark wa­ters, or the head of an occasion­al diamond-back terrapin pop­ping above the water’s surface. There is little indication from above, however, of the wealth of life that may lie below. Only a few feet below the surface, expansive beds of eelgrass and shoal grass form underwater gardens where life flourishes. The estuaries of coastal North Carolina have about 200,000 acres of these aquatic plants. Known as aquatic submerged vegetation (SAV), they play an important role in safeguarding the entire coastal ecosystem.

More than 150 species of fish and marine invertebrates use SAV as adults or juveniles, thirty of which are important com­mercial fisheries. SAV beds are nurseries for blue crabs, pink shrimp, and spotted sea trout, and provide habitat for juve­nile fish and small species such as mummichogs and pipefish. They form hunting grounds for larger predators such as flounders, red drum, and rays. Post- larval shellfish such as bay scallops attach to the surface of these seagrasses before reach­ing adulthood. Waterfowl such as brant and widgeons depend on eelgrass as an important food source.

Submerged aquatic vegeta­tion also enhances the health of other marine habitats by providing oxygen for coastal waters, reducing turbidity, and lessening the effects of tur­bulence. Their roots provide sediment stabilization and the grasses themselves reduce storm damage to shoreline by lessening wave action. Ac­cording to Joann Burkholder, eelgrass is a “highly efficient biological filter that removes harmful pollutants from the water.” Changes in SAV cover­age can be a sensitive indicator of water quality and overall es­tuary health, and Mark Fonse­ca, of NOAA’s Beaufort marine lab, calls them “the canaries of the estuaries.”

There are at least 50 spe­cies of seagrasses, but here in North Carolina’s estuaries the main ones are Zostera marina , or eelgrass, and to a lesser de­gree Halodule wrightii, or shoal grass. Coastal North Carolina is a unique blend, for it is on the southern-most boundary of the eelgrasses, and the northern-most boundary of shoal grass. Most beds in the state occur in waters less than six feet deep, because of their requirements for light. They are dependent on the clarity of the water column for their survival.

Seagrasses are not true grasses, being more closely re­lated to lilies. They are flower­ing plants. The flowers of eel­grass are enclosed in sheathes at the leaves’ bases, and their fruits are bladder-like and will float. Shoal grass is among the most grass-like of the differ­ent species. Sea Grasses live in a harsh environment, with their roots fixed in a bottom of sulfide-ridden sediments toxic to most plants, forming under­water meadows.

During the 1930s there was a massive die-off of eel­grass in northern Atlantic waters. Ninety percent of the beds were lost to what was called the “wasting disease,” its causes still not fully under­stood. There has been some recovery since then, but sea­grasses are still a matter for concern. Here in North Caro­lina, the more eastern beds of SAV, which have high salinity, seem to be stable (with pos­sible exceptions in southern estuaries). Beds nearer the coast, however, in the western parts of Pamlico, Albemarle, and Currituck Sounds, have been in decline since the 1970s, with losses of fifty percent or more in these low salinity ar­eas. Studies show that SAV is declining on a national and global level.

While the reasons for the decline are not fully under­stood, it is believed that run­off from the mainland, which causes nutrient and sediment overload, excessive amounts of nitrates in the water, and a reduction in light, is a primary cause. Warmer water tem­peratures are also believed to contribute, causing reduced grass shoot density, a decrease in leaf and root development, and alterations in internal carbon and nitrogen composi­tions. Disturbance by channel dredging, filling submerged bottoms, and trawling in ar­eas of grass cause further de­cline, and the effects of climate change and sea level rise are now being assessed.

According to Patricia Smith, Public Information Officer for DMF in Morehead City, the distribution, abundance, and density of SAV varies season­ally and from year to year, making it more difficult to monitor and protect. Mount­ing concern over the health and well-being of SAV beds and the life that depends on them has led to new efforts to protect them. State agencies have been mapping the beds since 1981, and recent map­ping efforts using sophisticat­ed GPS devices have identified at least 139,000 acres of SAV along 75,000 miles of coastal shoreline.

In 2006 a Memorandum of Agreement was signed by 25 state agencies, universities, and conservation groups, cre­ating the NC SAV Partnership, dedicated to promoting con­servation efforts to protect the state’s submerged grass beds.

The North Carolina Habi­tat Protection Plan, which was updated in 2010, identifies the protection of SAV as a prior­ity. It has determined that “the monetary value of the ecosys­tem services provided by SAV, such as waste management, food production, and climate regulation are very high.” The plan contains new information on the ecological understand­ing of eelgrass and shoal grass, including the light and water quality conditions needed for healthy grass beds.

Plans to protect and im­prove SAV habitat include the adoption of coastal storm-wa­ter rules by EMC, a modified SAV definition by MFC, and revised dock rules by the C R C. Certain kinds of fishing gear are prohibited in SAV, includ­ing trawlers, oyster and clam dredges, hand tongs, and clam rakes more than a foot wide. DMF does not permit shellfish leases or the seeding of oyster cultch in SAV, and CRC has rules prohibiting new dredg­ing and filling in areas with grass beds.

Seagrasses are also pro­tected by the U.S. Corps of En­gineers, which in 2012 imple­mented new regulations which forbid the disturbance of SAV beds.

With the current levels of concern and the actions be­ing taken for their protection, it is hoped that North Caro­lina’s underwater gardens of eelgrass and shoal grass will remain stable or increase, thus ensuring the many benefits they  provide.

Health and Wellness: Ways of feeding the ‘good wolf’ within

Tai chi on the Ocracoke beach.

August 2013
By TL Grace West

You may be familiar with one of my favorite stories about a conversation between a Grandfather and his Grandson that goes something like this:

Grandfather: “everyone has a good wolf and a bad wolf living inside of them”

Grandson: “I think it was the bad wolf that influenced me to misbehave”

Grandfather: “Yep, I’d say so”

Grandson: “ what do I need to do to strengthen the good wolf?”

Grandfather: “That’s easy, the wolf that is fed is the strongest”.

Exploring and becoming a teacher of Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Ai Chi are ways I have found to feed the good wolf in me. A quote from Barbara Kingsolver’s new book “Flight Behavior” helped shape my intention for this article. She says “words are just words, describing things a person can see; maybe a person has to know a thing first, to see it.”

I would like to paint a picture of what goes on in classes: Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and Ai Chi, so that you might both see and know more about these words and experiences.

Let’s start with Ai Chi. Imagine entering a warm water therapy pool (about 94 degrees), moving and being moved gently by the water, starting first with a series of arm movements, then moving the whole body. Feel the water support your balance and breathe as your ability to move smoothly and naturally increases. The simplicity of only 16 movements in all helps you remember that the sequence can be done in 10 to 15 minutes and repeated as much as you want.

This is just a snap shot of what you would see in a class but it hints at some of the things that I have learned and know.  I know that I like warm water and as I relax, my range of motion and the tight places in my body let go. I know the buoyancy of water supports my sometimes achy joints and that I feel little or no pain.

I like to learn what others have found helpful, especially when it can be done in a reasonable amount of time. I first saw a video of Ai Chi and later learned it was developed in Japan by a swim coach who adapted what he knew about tai chi and applied it to water. He believed and found it was true that as his swimmers learned better how to relax in the water their efficiency increased. As a teacher of Tai Chi, I also knew I wanted to bring the benefits of tai chi to people whose knees were not up to standing on a floor.

I was drawn to study Tai Chi back in the early 1970’s. I had seen people on TV from China doing these slow graceful movements and I was simply intrigued. I knew I liked meditation (quieting my mind, a kind of prayer) and I learned that Tai Chi is sometimes called ‘moving meditation’. I loved my first Chinese teacher who at 80 years old was as flexible and healthy as a young person! I knew I wanted to grow old like this. I liked how I felt doing the Tai Chi movements and how the feeling of peace, strength and balance lingered after I ended my practice.

While I visited Ocracoke during the 80’s I enjoyed doing Tai Chi by the ocean side and wanting to share my experience, I made the commitment to become a teacher 10 years later when I moved to Ocracoke full time. Since I combine Qi Gong into my Tai Chi classes, let’s turn to what Qi Gong is before I paint a picture of what class is like.

Tai Chi dates back to the 12th Century, while Qi Gong is often said to be its “Grandmother”. Ancient. The focus of Qi Gong on healing as well as harmony attracted me to its multi-faceted movements and sounds that weave together Chinese practices meant to enhance health. Although I’ve learned a lot about Chinese philosophy while studying Qi Gong, it is in the doing of it that resonated with what I know about the benefits of stilling my mind, being present and moving gently and feeds the ‘good wolf’ within.

Imagine walking up the steps at Angie’s Gym and hearing soft Chinese music welcoming you into Tai Chi/Qi Gong class. As you enter into the hour class, you follow me through warm ups noticing your increased ability to relax. Your mind may be interested in the information I slip in about the benefits of specific ways of moving, or you may simply enjoy “monkey see, monkey do,” following along.

As the warm ups and Qi Gong movements flow into doing the sequence of the ‘Park Form’ of Tai Chi I begin telling the story behind this form. The story begins before you are born, continues through your birth, into life’s lessons and ends with the moral of the story: to be grateful for how we are all connected. You may be surprised that only 10 minutes goes by for all three parts of this Tai Chi form.

At the end of class I observe students often smile softly with glowing eyes looking refreshed. I wonder if the “good wolf” is resting happily after such nourishment.

TL Grace West loves to both exercise and relax. After a good workout you can experience her warm water massage therapy. http://www.floatwithgrace.com  (919) 418-5472; (919) 418-5472


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