Erosion of North Carolina's shoreline is a growing problem, as development, boating traffic and extreme weather deplete the natural protections of estuaries and marine habitat. But the newest technology in artificial reefs is set to change that, and it's already being used in parts of the state.
Reefmaker is a trademarked product made of natural limestone recently used in the Bonner Bridge mitigation on Pamlico Sound near Cape Hatteras. Darrell Westmoreland, owner of Atlantic Reefmaker, said the invention fills a big gap in shoreline protection.
"All of our sounds, all of our estuaries are being heavily impacted due to sea-level rise. The other is more boating traffic, more fishing pressure," Westmoreland said. "There's just not the cover that's there, so the Reefmaker systems create shoreline protection."
Westmoreland and his company are beginning a project in Brunswick to protect Fort Anderson.
More than 40,000 Reefmakers have been installed around the country, but these are the first two systems in North Carolina. The nonprofit Resource Institute - an organization that connects public dollars with private enterprise - is in the process of finding additional public funds to finance future projects.
Other versions of artificial reefs are placed on the sea floor, but they can damage the habitat for the animals that live there. Reefmakers are suspended at varying heights to work best with the local ecosystem.
Westmoreland said in addition to providing shield for marine life, there are other benefits for the shoreline and the community.
"We can get these installed on our inlets for inlet protection, protect marinas to break up the wind and wake action that hits our marinas where our commercial and recreational boaters keep their boats," he explained. "So there's an endless amount of things that we can do with the system. "
There are 3,300 miles of tidal shoreline in North Carolina. The north-south pattern of sand and sediment created by the position in the Atlantic Ocean creates extra wear and tear on the shoreline, and the Outer and Core Banks take extra erosion with their exposure to high winds.