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State Facts

Miles of Coast: 3,375

Coastal Population (2000): 988,911

Lead Coastal Management Agency: Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Coastal Management

Approval Date: 1978

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Ocean and Coastal Management in North Carolina

North Carolina's Coastal State Program

The North Carolina Coastal Management Program was approved by NOAA in 1978. The lead agency is the Division of Coastal Management within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that implements and supervises all the various Coastal Zone Management programs in the state. North Carolina's coastal zone includes 20 coastal counties that in whole or in part are adjacent to, adjoining, intersected or bounded by the Atlantic Ocean or any coastal sound.


In recent years, housing development along North Carolina's coastlines has significantly increased. Through development permits and setback laws, the state tries to ensure that new buildings are out of harms way during storms.

Some of the greatest challenges facing North Carolina's coastal zone are the impacts from population growth and coastal development, including loss of sensitive coastal habitats and increased risks to life and property from coastal hazards. The Coastal Program is designed to address these issues along with others, such as public access to beaches and other shore fronts, conservation and restoration of wetlands, and management of beach erosion.

North Carolina's National Estuarine Research Reserve

The North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve comprises four sites, including Corolla (Currituck Banks), Beaufort (Rachel Carson) and Wilmington (Masonboro Island and Zeke's Island). The estuarine system is the fourth largest in the nation and encompasses about two million acres.

The Reserve provides educational opportunities for students, teachers and the public including field trips, workshops, lectures, newsletters, and North Carolina Estuary Live - a program held twice a year which allows students to explore the Reserve through internet field trips. The Reserve's Coastal Training Program has the goal of promoting informed coastal decisions through science-based training for professionals. The program offers training and information for community, government and private coastal decision-makers; technical bulletins, brochures and other materials for decision-makers; and community news articles. The Reserve's research activities have included such diverse topics as estuarine eutrophication, productivity of benthic microalgae, use of dredge material to renourish salt marshes and effects of feral horses on salt marsh productivity.

Program Achievements

North Carolina Pier Litter Project

Cross Agency Collaboration for Reducing Development Impacts in North Carolina

North Carolina Coastal Habitat Protection Plan


North Carolina Coastal Program — The website provides information on the program's activities, including wetland restoration, public access, and hazards.

North Carolina Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program Plan (2007) — North Carolina has developed a Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Plan that provides an assessment of priority conservation needs and guidance for nominating and selecting land conservation projects to OCRM's Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program competition.

North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve — The website provides information on the Reserve's many research, education, and stewardship activities.

Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology — This program brief describes investments in technology development and research projects for the state of North Carolina.

Marine Protected Areas — Search for marine protected areas in North Carolina.

North Carolina Coastal Nonpoint Program Conditional and Final Approval Documents — The Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program encourages better coordination between state coastal zone managers and water quality experts to reduce polluted runoff in the coastal zone. The state received full approval in 2003.

North Carolina's Coastal Program Evaluation (2011) — The Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management conducts periodic performance reviews of federally approved state coastal management programs.

North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve Evaluation (2010) — The Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management conducts periodic performance review of estuarine research reserves.

North Carolina Coastal Zone Enhancement Program Assessment and Strategy (2011-2016) — Every five years, the Coastal Zone Management Act encourages states and territories to conduct self-evaluations of their coastal management programs to assess significant changes in the state’s coastal resources and management practices, identify critical needs, and prioritize areas for enhancement under the Coastal Zone Enhancement Program.

Contact Information for North Carolina's Programs

North Carolina Division of Coastal Management 
400 Commerce Avenue
Morehead City, NC 28557
1 (888) 4RCOAST

North Carolina Coastal Reserve
North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve
101 Pivers Island Road
Beaufort, NC 28516