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Pelican Award Winners Announced

The recipients of the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s annual Pelican Awards have shown exceptional effort in keeping the state’s coast healthy and productive. Photo: Justin Webb

OCEAN – Since 2003, the North Carolina Coastal Federation has recognized exceptional efforts to restore, preserve and protect the state’s coast with its annual Pelican Awards.

This year, 10 have been chosen to receive the honor, which will be accepted during a ceremony set for Saturday evening at the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City. The award ceremony will close with remarks from Gov. Roy Cooper, followed by a champagne “Toast to the Coast” to kick off the 35th anniversary Soundside Soiree.

Dick Bierly, federation president, said that from the federation’s inception 35 years ago, the theme has been to protect the coast.

“Many volunteers at all the regional offices work hand-in-glove with staff on local projects,” he said. “Recipients of the Pelican Awards are chosen by the staff for their outstanding devotion and unselfish work.”

Meet some of the 2017 Pelican Award recipients.

For Enduring Commitment to Preserving the Spectacular Natural Heritage of Our Coast

John Fussell

Morehead City resident John Fussell III is an avid birder, native habitat specialist and wildlife enthusiast who has helped lead educational and conservation efforts on the central coast for many years.

The first project Fussell worked on with the federation was an effort to protect what is now Hoop Pole Creek Preserve area in Atlantic Beach from a massive development project in the mid-1980s – condominiums, large marina and introduction of a mile-long channel through shallow tidal waters, he explained.

“That effort turned out to be ultimately successful and it was a major milestone in the development of the Coastal Federation as an important factor in addressing environmental issues.  I found out that sometimes you can make a difference.”

Fussell said that for many years now he has focused on environmental issues for which his involvement is disproportionately important, “i.e., Issues that I know a lot about but which are mostly ignored by the general environmental community,” he explained. “I have mostly focused on protecting rare plants and habitats in a major reserve of native biodiversity in our backyard, the Croatan National Forest.”

He said he’s spent countless hours documenting the occurrence and numbers of rare plants in the Croatan, and sometimes their disappearance, and then getting that information on the radar screen by providing it to the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program and the U.S. Forest Service. He said he spends much time monitoring projects, often at several stages, to make sure the above information does not get ignored or forgotten.

“I find it rewarding to find that if you persevere, sometimes you can make a difference,” Fussell said.

For Dedication and Leadership in Coastal Environmental Education

Kathleen Lester

Kathleen Lester is a first-grade teacher at Swansboro Elementary School and has been instrumental in creating two rain gardens and a stormwater education program there. In 2009, she reached out to the Coastal Federation and asked for help to reduce polluted stormwater runoff on the school’s property. She was awarded a grant two rain gardens to be built in 2010.

“After seeing the parking lots at Swansboro Elementary School flood with water, I wanted to try to find a solution. I started researching rain gardens and figured that this would be a great way to make sure that we can prevent any runoff from our school. I also wanted a place for my students to learn about different types of plants and animals in this ‘outside classroom,’” Lester explained. “I wanted them to have the opportunity to get their hands dirty planting various plants in the rain garden so that they would feel like they have some ownership of these beautiful gardens. I also love that they are learning that they are a big part of helping keep our environment clean and also safe for animals, bugs and any other living organisms.”

Lester said that federation staff has also taught her students about monarch butterflies and oysters as well.

“This year, our first-graders got to actually see a monarch butterfly. (Federation staff) Rachel Bisesi and Sam Bland brought butterflies and showed them how they are tagged and released,” she said. “My wish is for Swansboro Elementary School to become a monarch way station and for us to be able to help with increasing the monarch population.”

“This project has become so much more than I ever dreamed it would be. The rain gardens are beautiful and take in a lot of the rain at our school. But, I never thought that the Coastal Federation would become such a fantastic resource for so much more than just rain gardens,” she said. “My first graders get opportunities that many others do not, thanks in huge part to the staff of the Coastal Federation.  … They are learning that what they do has an impact on our environment.”

For Enthusiastic Student Engagement in Coastal Environmental Stewardship

Mary Ann Hodges

Mary Ann Hodges of Manteo is a longtime education partner of the Coastal Federation’s Wanchese office and helped establish the outreach program.

“Living on the coast, I became aware that the students did not truly appreciate what was in their backyard,” Hodges said about why she became engaged in preservation and coastal issues. “I feel it is important that the students realize how they impact their environment and ways they can improve it.”

Hodges said what she finds most rewarding is when her students gain an appreciation for the coastal ecosystem.

For Leadership in Advancing Oyster Restoration as a Sound Economic and Environmental Initiative in North Carolina

Tom Looney of Cary said he has been passionate in bringing to light the economic potential of our coast while preserving and protecting our coastal assets.

Tom Looney

“Having grown up on the coast of Long Island enjoying swimming, fishing and clamming, I value and respect North Carolina’s coastal resources,” Looney explained. “I recognize the contributions our coast makes to our quality of life and the potential economic impact it can have on our state. It is part of our brand and why people and companies move here.  It is much less expensive to protect and preserve these natural resources then to restore them once they have been taken for granted and abused as we have witnessed in many other states.”

Looney added that at the core of this is building a $100 million shellfish mariculture industry in North Carolina that will rival Virginia’s success.

“This is the ultimate in clean tech. It will create needed jobs in our coastal communities, drive investment and enhance our valuable coastal assets by creating habitat, providing living shorelines and improving water quality. It doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.

Looney’s 42 years in the information technology business has allowed him to leverage his management skills to develop an end-to-end business plan and strategy, harmonize that plan with the local communities and bring new organizations to the table.

“I am energized by the passion and enthusiasm we have created at the local, state and federal level, politically and with the business community. This is clearly a team effort with everyone rowing in the same direction. This bipartisan collaborative effort will ensure that North Carolina is no longer playing second fiddle to Virginia when it comes to building a robust shellfish industry and creating needed jobs along our coast,” Looney said.

For Open and Candid Assistance with Coastal Review Online Reporting

Eulis Willis

Navassa Mayor Eulis Willis offered valuable assistance during 2016 in Coastal Review Online’s special reporting series on the century of industrial pollution his townsfolk has endured.

Willis wrote the book on Navassa’s history, which began in the late 1860s with the establishment of the Navassa Guano Co. The fertilizer operation opened the door for dirty industry in town, which, as Willis has acknowledged, offered residents economic benefits in addition to a legacy of pollution.

“We had to survive at that time and environmental issues weren’t on the forefront, not just in my community but other communities,” said Willis.

Willis has introduced CRO reporters to former workers at the creosote wood-treatment operation that left the ongoing environmental mess in town, an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site. He pointed out landmarks and explained the health problems residents have experienced. He said the resulting coverage explained to a wider audience the breadth and scope of the town’s problems.

“I think our story is unique and to put it out there and get recognized for telling it like it is may encourage other people in similar situations to not shy away,” Willis said. “It was such a thorough explanation of what goes on here and I use it even now when people ask about Navassa. It’s important that folks know and understand.”

About the Event

During the Saturday ceremony and Soundside Soiree, Kinston’s Mother Earth Brewery is providing beer and food will be prepared by regional restaurants including Chef & the Farmer, Catch Restaurant, Coastal Provisions Oyster Bar & Wine Bar Café, Black Sheep in Beaufort, Parrott’s on Eleventh, Southern Salt Seafood Co., Full Circle Café, Floyds 1921 Restaurant and Catering, La Perla Restaurant & Bar, The Cedars Inn & Restaurant, Icehouse Waterfront Restaurant, Red Fish Grill, Blue Ocean Market and Beaufort Grocery Co. There will be live music by 4EverAll and a silent auction. Details on the sold-out event can be found here.


About the Author

Staff Report

The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.