North Carolina Coastal Federation is an advocate for the state’s coastal waters.

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Some of the crab pots collected by NCCF volunteers were used to build oyster reefs at three locations around Roanoke Island.

Ladd Bayliss grew up in Manns Harbor and as far back as she can remember she can recall being in, on or by the water.

“My father built a career on the water, so the water was just built into my brother and I and it’s what I think drives me to want to ensure that the water around us remains as healthy as it can,” Bayliss says of her position as coastal advocate with the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

“Sometimes we forget how important it is in everything we do, whether we wait tables or are working on a boat. No matter what we do professionally, we are all tied to the water and we need to be responsible in the way we think about it and care for it.”

For more than three decades, that’s exactly what the N.C. Coastal Federation has been working to ensure, serving as an influential advocate for the state’s coastal waters while taking measures to see it remains clean and vibrant for coastal communities to live, work and play around. At the same time, it works to empower communities to advocate for themselves.

“Maintaining a healthy coast often takes on a lot of different forms,” Bayliss says.

The organization, she says, is a grassroots organization in the truest sense of the word. A nonprofit organization that relies entirely on membership dues and grants, the federation focuses its efforts in three major forms: advocacy, restoration and education.

Bayliss is one of six staff members at the northeast office, which will officially open its doors in its new location at the Wanchese Marine Industrial Park on August 15. Bayliss says the move from Manteo to Wanchese will prove to help staff and the federation to be better connected to the needs of those living off the water. The new office will include an indoor classroom and meeting space, an outdoor area for federation activities and onsite exhibits on water quality and coastal habitat.

Bayliss has been with the federation for five years. She has seen the federation grow and take on new programs from implementing living shorelines to oyster restoration projects to educating farmers on how they can play a role in improving water quality.

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The federation’s education program connects students and teachers with local water-quality projects. (Pictured Mary Ann Hodges and Manteo Middle School students)

The Dare County–based office has grown from three staff members to its current staff of six. During 2015 the office educated more than 3,000 local students and adults, organized 40 volunteer events and worked with more than 200 community volunteers.

The northeast office is one of three along the coast, with the federation’s headquarters in Newport and a southeast office in Wrightsville Beach. All of the offices address their individual communities’ needs while working for the ultimate goal of statewide water quality. Staff works with a number of groups invested in local waters including fishermen, business owners, government leaders and local community members.

The federation’s story began in 1982 when a group under the direction of Executive Director Todd Miller brought interest groups together to fight against a proposal to strip mine more than 100,000 acres of peat bogs in the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. Its work gained national attention.

Through the years it has worked to establish improved wetland water quality standards. “One of our priorities is to really teach people and help them to understand how to work as their own advocates for this place they call home,” Bayliss says. The federation has worked extensively with Hyde County farmers to improve water quality and institute new water-management techniques to restore wetlands. The organization has also led the way in restoring oyster habitat in eastern North Carolina and exploring various restoration techniques.

Most recently, the federation was recommended by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to receive $1.2 million for oyster restoration in the Pamlico Sound.

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The federation is a host site for AmeriCorps, a national service program. Erica Connery is currently serving in this role and assists with education and outreach programs.

The grant could potentially provide an additional $1.5 million during each of the following two years.

Coastal Education Coordinator Sara Hallas, along with going into classrooms of Tyrell, Hyde, Dare and Pasquotank counties, works closely with students working on their G.E.D. in Youth Build, part of the River City Community Development Corporation. The federation helps students get out in the field to work on restoration projects during the course of their studies.

The federation has played a large role in fighting against offshore oil drilling off the coast of North Carolina, working with a number of influential groups to show a united front against the initiative.

The northeast office has also employed 60 commercial fishermen during the off-season to retrieve lost crab pots and other fishing gear from coastal waters. The program has removed more than 2,000 crab pots. Some of these have been recycled, and Bayliss says the group hopes to continue to expand the program to other parts of the state.

The federation has 12,000 members, with 3,000 of those being active members. To become a member, donate or volunteer, visit nccoast.org. To sponsor office necessities at the Wanchese location, visit nccoast.org/newoffice for more information.

NCCF will hold an open house at its new location on September 8 from 2 to 4 p.m. and its annual Fish Fry and Shrimp Boil on September 30. See nccoast.org for information.

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