Studies: Floyd, other major hurricanes of '99 caused significant changes in nation's largest lagoonal estuary

ist said. "Those windy periods were kind of a blessing."

But because much of the load of nitrogen and other nutrients washed into the sound remains, insufficient oxygen could become a problem this summer if winds are minimal and stagnation occurs, he said. Over-abundant algae and other microorganisms that thrive in nitrogen-rich waters can produce low-oxygen conditions that suffocate finfish and shellfish.

Co-authors of the new paper are Dr. Jerad D. Bales of the U.S. Geological Survey in Raleigh; Dr. Larry W. Ausley of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources; Dr. Christopher P. Buzzelli, a postdoctoral fellow at UNC; Dr. Larry B. Crowder, professor of marine sciences at Duke University; Lisa A. Eby, a graduate student of Crowder's; UNC graduate students John M. Fear and Benjamin L. Peierls; Dr. Tammi L. Richardson, formerly of UNC and now at Texas A&M University, and Dr. Joseph S. Ramus, professor of marine biology at Duke.

"This was a team of hard-working, multi-talented investigators who just jumped in and got important early data on storm effects on the system," Paerl said. "They include hydrologists, marine biologists and water quality specialists."

One surprise of the pooled research was how sensitive the Pamlico Sound system was to nutrient fertilization, he said. Another surprise was that the researchers found no devastating negative impact on fish in the system, just significant localized impacts.

Floodwaters affected the state's blue crab fishery most strongly, researchers found. Neuse River fishermen reported reduced catches beginning last May. Sampling last summer in the Neuse River estuary showed blue crabs down by at least 90 percent from the same periods in 1997, 1998 and 1999. Fishermen also reported smaller oyster and clam catches in affected areas.

Catches of many species, such as croaker, spot, bay anchovy and shrimp, dropped by 50 percent or more in the estuary over the previous year, Paerl said. In the western

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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