‘Immediately alarmed’: Largest North Carolina lake in danger

Lake Mattamuskeet
Lake Mattamuskeet(North Carolina Coastal Federation)
Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 2:19 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 5, 2022 at 3:36 PM EDT
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HYDE COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - A group of Eastern Carolina community members and organizations are coming together to save North Carolina’s largest lake.

Lake Mattamuskeet, which lies on the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula, is “the hub of Hyde County,” J.W. Smith, a Hyde County farmer says.

The lake is located in the middle of the coastal county and is considered the center and heart of the area. “Not just visually from a map, but culturally and historically,” Kris Noble, Hyde County manager says.

The lake is vital to the community that surrounds its shores, yet for years now, Lake Mattamuskeet has been in trouble.

“Several years ago, we realized we had some serious environmental problems at the lake. Our subaquatic vegetation was dying, our grasses were dying, and our water quality was just going down. Of course, we were immediately alarmed,” Noble said.

Alyson Flynn of the North Carolina Coastal Federation recognizes what has led to the worrisome situation.

“A lot of this is due to runoff,” Flynn says. “There’s a lot of agricultural land around the lake and a ton of runoff has created a high-nutrient load being pushed into the lake.”

Still, it’s not just poor water quality affecting the lake. Water levels are a concern for surrounding homes, businesses, and farms that have been facing increasingly serious flooding.

“When the lake levels are so high, the agricultural land can’t drain,” Smith, the area farmer says. “So a lot of people have put in pumps to artificially lift it into the lake. We’ve just got to clean the lake up.”

In 2017, Hyde County, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came together to contract with the North Carolina Coastal Federation to create and implement solutions to restore the lake.

“We’re trying to collectively come together to figure out the best way to manage this water and this runoff so we can try and increase the lake quality and the water quality as well,” Flynn says.

As the groups tried to figure out what was causing the lake to decline, one unexpected answer came from just below the water’s surface.

“We realized one of the biggest polluters that we had was an invasive fish species: carp. So we’ve looked at removing that carp from the lake,” Noble says. “They’re huge polluters, they’re not supposed to be there.”

Removing the carp will take a multipronged approach, like utilizing local fishermen and also introducing another fish.

“They released little baby blue gill fish, and blue gill love carp eggs, so they released the blue gill at the exact time of spawning season,” Noble says.

The work to restore the lake will take time, but stakeholders say they are hopeful because progress is already being made.

Future carp removal efforts are currently being planned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for later this year. Researchers are also monitoring water quality to help further the plans to clean the lake.

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