Sea oats help rebuild NC ocean dunes destroyed by Hurricane Matthew

Coastal Transplants has been growing thousands of sea oats plants since 1998 to help combat the potential impact of erosion caused by tropical weather systems. (Source: WECT)
Coastal Transplants has been growing thousands of sea oats plants since 1998 to help combat the potential impact of erosion caused by tropical weather systems. (Source: WECT)

BOLIVIA, N.C. (WECT) – Hurricane Matthew brought heavy flooding to inland North Carolina when it moved up the east coast, but most of the coastal communities fared much better with only a minimum amount of damage.

Many of our coastal governments have been working with Coastal Transplants in Bolivia to make the ocean dunes as strong as possible in an effort to help withstand the high wind and storm surge tropical weather systems produce.

Coastal Transplants has been growing thousands of sea oats plants since 1998 to help combat the potential impact of erosion caused by tropical weather systems.

“Worth Mercer and his son Steve Mercer, who still owns and works the company now, switched over from growing flowers to growing sea oats,” said Joe Gaughan, of Coastal Transplants.”Everything they grow out of the facility here are seeds that been harvested from the local beaches within 50 miles.”

That gives the sea oat plants a better chance of survival when they are transplanted to the beach, because they have been taken from local donor plants.

Even though the business has expanded to serve customers from Virginia to Texas, the method of growing sea oats remains pretty much the same.

With permission, thousands of sea oats are harvested off existing plants in the fall and brought back to the greenhouses where they are shelled and treated.

In the winter, a few seeds are planted with a potting media into containers that float on water.

In early spring, the plants are at the stage where they can be transferred to the dunes, and again, within a 50 mile radius of where the seeds were collected.

In addition to planting the sea oats, the company also installs sand fencing, which will help trap wind-blown sand and builds dune strength and longevity.

Coastal Transplants works with towns and municipalities, but also with coastal residents, to help protect their investment along the coast.

Even though some Oak Island residents said the dunes washed into their yards during Hurricane Matthew, nearby Holden Beach had very little damage to report.

Gaughan says it was because of the ten years of work the town had invested in, getting ready for a storm like the one that skirted North Carolina two weeks ago.

“If they had not used that ten years to build their dune areas up, then the water would have gone into the main streets and into the houses a lot more than it did there,” Gaughan said. “So by taking that ten year approach and building on it each year, it was really more cost effective than wait for an episode like we just had or a hurricane like Floyd, and then you have to restart from the beginning.”

The harvesting of sea oats is just about over for this year and the growing period will begin soon, producing plants that hopefully will be able to help protect coastal towns and communities when the next tropical system affects North Carolina.

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