Estuaries: The Pamlico Sound

Their importance to North Carolina

Pamlico Sound is the largest estuary in North Carolina

It is comprised of Albemarle Sound, Currituck Sound, Croaton Sound, Pamlico Sound, Bogue Sound, Core Sound, and Roanoke Sound.

All of these sounds create the Albemarle-Pamlico sound system which is the second largest estuary in the United States. (Chesapeake Bay being the largest)


Since estuaries have a mixture of both salt and freshwater, a variety of wildlife live in these ecosystems. Over 75 species of fish live in estuaries and various marine life, such as, dolphins, sea turtles, and seals. Sharks and whales are also known to visit estuaries, although it is not common since the deepest part in the Pamlico Sound is only 26 feet. Certain fish, like striped bass, shad and herring, use the estuary to swim from the ocean to the rivers in order to lay their eggs.


The most unique feature of estuaries is that it has a combination of both salt and freshwater. The salinity of freshwater is zero and the salinity of salt water is about 35 ppt (parts per thousand). Estuaries can range from very high salinity or very low salinity. It depends on where one is located in the estuary. The highest levels of salinity are where the ocean feeds into the estuary and the lowest are where the rivers feed in.