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A new five-part series looks at climate change's impact on NC fisheries: Carolina Public Press's Jack Igelman

Mark Darrough
Carolina Public Press
Commercial fisherman Cole Gibbs hauls in an amberjack near the old Diamond Shoals lighthouse, 14 miles east of Cape Hatteras. The spot marks the confluence of tropical water from the Gulf Stream with a countercurrent of chilly sea, transported on the Labrador Current from the North Atlantic.

This week, Carolina Public Press launches a five-part series, looking at the impact of climate change on North Carolina’s fisheries — a project supported in part by the Pulitzer Center. WHQR News Director Ben Schachtman spoke with Jack Igelman about his reporting.

Changing Tides is a five-part series, looking at climate change and the state's vital fishing industry. You can find the series' homepage here.

From Carolina Public Press:

"Warming temperatures due to human-produced carbon emissions are melting the world’s ice, leading to warmer seas, rising water levels, lower salinity, changing currents and more frequent and powerful storm systems that often strike and severely damage coastal areas. These conditions threaten to upset the balance of sea and estuary species on which fisheries depend. All of these factors create challenges for access for many North Carolina coastal residents whose jobs or food supply depend on what they catch. People dependent on the water, government officials and scientists are doing their best to adapt or encourage resilience. But the tides, they are a changing.

Changing Tides is a five-part in-depth series being published serially beginning Sept. 13, 2021. Changing Tides is made possible in part with support from the Pulitzer Center Connected Coastlines initiative."

Mark Darrough
Commercial fisherman Charlie Locke brings in a hooked amberjack in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream near the old Diamond Shoals lighthouse. Scientists have discovered that climate change is altering the speed of the Gulf Stream, and the weakened flow may lead to a change in the distribution of certain species.

Ben Schachtman: All right, my guest now is Jack Igleman, a journalist with Carolina Public Press. We're here to talk about a five-part series, Changing Tides. Jack, thanks so much for being with us.

Jack Igelman: Thanks, Ben, it’s great to be here.

BS: On Monday, the first part on seagrass and fisheries published -- a really great deep dive into, you know, some of the ways climate change is just different in the ocean than it is on land. Tell us a little bit about that piece.

JI: I wanted to start out the series by looking at explaining the science of climate change on these coastal ecosystems. I thought what would be really tangible to readers are the things that they can see like marshes, estuaries -- seagrass actually spends most of its time underwater in very shallow estuarine systems. And it is critical to coastal habitats, many fish spawn and spend time developing in the seagrass. So it's a fascinating part of the science and it's also at great risk from a warmer climate.

BS: One of the interesting parts of his article is kind of breaking down what a unique sort of environment Coastal Carolina is.

JI: Yeah. What was striking to me is just how diverse the biodiversity of the fishery along North Carolina, what makes it unique. And this is a fairly unique system, two currents, the Gulf Stream and the Labrador current meet off of the coast of North Carolina. So there's a warm water current and the cold water current that mix together. And that creates a staggering degree of diversity. And that's sort of what's at stake.

BS: And it's not just, you know, conservationists who were concerned about losing that diversity. In Tuesday's installment, the second of five,you talked to commercial fishers. That's a point of view that we don't often get in reporting on this issue. So what was that like? And what did they tell you?

JI: Yeah, I knew when I started to outline these stories, that one thing I had to do was to get on a commercial fishing boat. Commercial fishing, in terms of the number of fishermen, is dwindling. That being said, people love wild caught seafood. The demand for it is growing. But it's much more difficult to make a living as a commercial fisherman. So getting on a boat, seeing what they do, what their day looks like. And also to hear from them, the challenges that they're facing, which are larger because of a changing climate, and the type of fish that they're catching is changing -- their livelihoods are definitely at risk.

BS: So what else is in store for the rest of this series?

JI: The story today, on Wednesday, it discusses access in coastal communities to fisheries, the quality of water is in part impacted by what's flowing downstream. So climate change is potentially causing more intense and more frequent storms. And with it comes sediment from the runoff and nutrients and other pollutants that are changing the quality of water and what people are catching.

The final two stories look at solutions to dealing with climate change. We've changed the climate that we know is happening. The question is how will you respond to it?

BS: Well, I look forward to that reporting. And we'll have links to that on the page where people can check it out. Jack Igleman, from Carolina public press, some really solid reporting on climate change and the coastal region and some great photography from my former colleague, Mark Darrough. Jack, thanks for being with us.

JI: Thank you, Ben.