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​Among the myriad of estuaries found along the eastern US seaboard, the Albemarle Sound in northeast North Carolina and southeast Virginia stands alone as the coast’s largest freshwater estuarine system.  The Conservancy’s Albemarle Sound Whole System spans over 6 million acres of the Sound’s watershed, encompassing extensive upland forests that provide important protection of freshwater flows and water quality.  Winding through the landscape are magnificent riparian forests, most notably the lower Roanoke River floodplains, which provide a cascade of benefits for wildlife and public recreation.  The Whole System’s forest blocks, mantling some of the most extensive beds of carbon-rich peat-based soils in the country, are among the largest contiguous forested areas in eastern U.S. and are showcased in places such as  the iconic Great Dismal Swamp.

The Nature Conservancy and state and federal partners have helped protect over 850,000 acres across the Albemarle Sound’s watersheds including the largest network of National Wildlife refuges on the East Coast.   These investments as well as privately-owned forestlands are increasingly at-risk due to various large-scale threats including climate change, altered flow regimes and unsustainable forestry practices.  With over 735,000 acres situated at less than one meter above sea level, much of it forested, the region is one of the most highly vulnerable areas to sea level rise in the country.  Other effects of climate change, particularly warmer temperatures and more frequent drought events, threaten the resilience of Albemarle Sound’s peatland forests by rendering these systems – already impacted by extensive ditching and draining – even more susceptible to drying and severe wildfire.  Altered flows on the lower Roanoke River due to flood control and hydroelectric power generation represent a significant threat to river’s aquatic habitats and extensive riparian forests.  Without a shift in dam management operations, regeneration of key bottomland hardwood species will fail and in the process diminish the forest’s capacity to adapt to future environmental disturbances.  Globalization of the Albemarle Sound’s timber products has led to increased scrutiny of forestry practices across the region, particularly in forested wetlands on private lands.  A better understanding of harvesting impacts on floodplain and aquatic systems is needed to more fully engage the timber industry in sustainable forest management. 
The Conservancy is working with our partners to address these key threats with the common goal of sustainably protecting and managing a connected network of forest, freshwater and estuarine habitats.  These investments are critical to maintaining and improving the Albemarle Sound’s health for the benefit of future generations.

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