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Tar-Pamlico kayak team returns with highlights and concerns

Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 5:44 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON, N.C. (WITN) - A duo of kayakers with the Sound Rivers organization made their way through 70 miles of the Tar-Pamlico river this week to get a first-hand look at waterway concerns that have been recently reported.

“This river that I’m charged with protecting... I feel like I should know it pretty well,” said riverkeeper Jill Howell.

Howell found the best way to learn about the water is from the water itself.

“When you’re paddling and you don’t have much else on your plate except to paddle and be there and look around and see what everything is like, that’s a really important thing and a great way to see everything.”

Jill Howell, Tar-Pamlico riverkeeper

What Howell found most alarming were tens of thousands of dead menhaden fish.

“You can really see how something like that disrupts people wanting to get out on the river,” Howell said. “Whether it’s paddling, boating or fishing, nobody wants to be around a bunch of dead fish.”

Sound Rivers says mass fish deaths, fish kills, are caused primarily by nutrient pollution, algal blooms, and salt wedges about six feet below the surface of the water. They prevent the river from maintaining a steady mix of freshwater through the depths of the water.

Also on the list of concerns to address are waterway accessibilities for the public.

“It’s known that a lot of people out on the river, especially in the Pamlico portion, look like me,” said environmental projects coordinator Clay Barber. “And it gets to the point that the only people enjoying the water are the people that can pay to be there, which leaves out a huge group of people that have every right to use the water.”

He says the waterway is a beautiful resource, but it has its own special challenges that need addressing.

Barber plans to address what he saw in the hopes of improving state recreational opportunities along stretches of water, like the Pungo River area.

“To follow up on that, I’m really curious. I want to find any of those plans that are in existence and inquire with the state,” said Barber.

For now, the team will tackle these larger issues by starting locally. They will use waterfront property owners as their students to better educate about conservative management practices.

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