The Pamlico Sound

Estuary of the Year

Location, Wildlife, and Contributing Waterways


Placed along the eastern shore of North Carolina, U.S. The largest sound on the East Coast, 2nd largest estuary in the U.S., it is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the Outer Banks. Stretching from the borders of Manteo and the Dare County Mainland all the way to Portsmouth Island and the Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Wildlife Includes

-Anadromous fish, fish that live in the oceans but migrate up freshwater rivers to spawn, use the estuarine system as a habitat for spawning. These fish include striped bass, shad and herring. The Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary is among the few places where Atlantic sturgeon continue to produce young on an annual basis.

-The West Indian Manatee is seen occasionally in NC estuaries from June to October.

-the red wolf (Canis lupus rufus) was reintroduced. It is the only place in the world where red wolves can be seen in the wild.

-Endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers are found in all basins

-Has the largest population of carnivorous plants of any National Forest.

-contains a grove of Bald Cypress trees that are 800 years old.

Contributing Waterways

Six river basins flow in to the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary: Chowan, Roanoke, Tar-Pamlico, Neuse, and Pasquotank and White Oak. They discharge freshwater largely into the western side of the sounds. Tar-Pamlico and Neuse empty directly into Pamlico Sound. Rivers of the White Oak basin flow to the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary's southern sounds.

Estuaries are among the earth's most productive habitats

Why Important? Threats?

The Albemarle-Pamlico is the second largest estuary in the United States. The region's watershed is approximately 30,000 square miles. The Albemarle-Pamlico Sound encompasses over 9,000 miles of freshwater rivers and streams and over 1.5 million acres of brackish, estuarine waters. The critical importance of sustaining the estuarine system was reflected in its Congressional designation as an estuary of national significance in 1987.

Pamlico Sound supports a variety of habitats including wetlands, rivers, and creeks. In these habitats, there lives a diversity of organisms. There are nursery areas located in the creeks of the estuarine system that are important to over 75 species of fish and shellfish. Ninety percent of the fish and shellfish caught by commercial fishermen rely on the estuary as a nursery habitat.

The estuarine system is economically important to the region. Commercial fishing, tourism, recreation, and resort development are activities within the Sound that are economically important to the region. Both the lands and waters of the estuarine system support rich natural resources that are intertwined with regional industries. The Intracoastal Waterway is critical for shipping products across state lines. The ICW traverses the Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds for 214 miles.

-Estuaries are among the earth's most productive habitats, but are increasingly affected by impacts of human population growth on our coasts.

-Over fishing and water pollution are common threats.

-A recent study found 897 obstacles to fish migration. Dams prevent fish from swimming upstream to mating areas, but restoration efforts can help

-There has been a decline in shellfish beds as a result of physical disturbance.

-Non-native Phragmites australis, an invasive grass, is a problematic and aggressive species in the region.