A Wetland Gem is Saved

by | Dec 15, 2022 | Nature, Pender County

N.C. Coastal Land preserves a globally significant property of wet marl forest in Pender County.

North Carolina Coastal Land Trust (NCCLT) is pleased to announce the purchase of 32.16 acres in Pender County, a portion of the very unique Rocky Point Marl Forest.

Though small, the conservation values of this property are huge. This special property is considered an “exceptionally significant site” by the N.C. Natural Heritage Program.

The wet marl forest natural community at Rocky Point occurs nowhere else in the world. The biodiversity of the area occurs where a high-water table overlies flat-lying deposits of limestone, which is very rare, and allows for unusual plant and animal species to thrive there.

Rocky Point Wet Lands Protection NC

Mike Schafale, an ecologist with the N.C. Natural Heritage Program, says, “The wet marl forest natural community at Rocky Point occurs nowhere else in the world.

Of the highest priority, irreplaceable sites that were known when I started my career in the early 1980s, almost all have seen some substantial amount of protection over the years. Rocky Point is one of the last to see any protection success. HOORAY!”

Eric Bolen, professor emeritus of biology and marine biology at UNC Wilmington, included this site in his recently published 2022 book (with James Parnell), An Abundance of Curiosities: The Natural History of North Carolina’s Coastal Plain (University of Georgia Press). According to Bolen, the wet marl forest community highlights the region’s biodiversity and occurs where a high water table overlies flat-lying deposits of limestone — an exceedingly rare occurrence. This natural community features nutmeg hickory (the northernmost range of occurrence for this species, which has a primary range in the lower Mississippi River valley), roughleaf dogwood (at one of the two sites in which it is found in North Carolina) and a thick cover of dwarf palmetto. It also home to and provides habitat for a relict population of eastern wood rats.

Coastal Land Trust Wetlands Pender NC

Diane Toothman and her son, Byron, worked with NCCLT to conserve this little wetland gem.

“We are incredibly thankful that the Coastal Land Trust was willing to take on the conservation of this precious habitat,” says Byron Toothman. “Rapid changes to the landscape, invasive species, logging and mining have steadily chipped away at the already limited range of this unique community. It is difficult to overstate the importance of its preservation. There are no better hands in which to leave the stewardship of this parcel than the Coastal Land Trust. In addition to its protection, our hope is that the conservation of this land may also help seed the restoration of adjacent lands where wet marl forest once existed.”

Janice Allen, NCCLT director of land protection, says the property was near the top of the trust’s Top 40 list due to its biological uniqueness. They secured funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant program to conserve it.

Can you help N.C. Coastal Land Trust?
With more special lands ready and waiting to be conserved in 2023, N.C. Coastal Land Trust hopes everyone who is able will help them out by making a donation today, if you haven’t already.

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Topsail Magazine Contributor

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