Carolina Bays: A Unique Ecosystem


This aerial image shows many elliptical depressions in Bladen County, NC. Some are filled with water, while others are not. Map: GFR Forestry Consultants, PLLC ; Aerial Imagery:

Carolina Bays are intriguing geological formations often seen in Eastern North Carolina (as well as other states along the East Coast).  What are Carolina Bays and what makes them so unique?

Carolina Bays are elliptical geological depressions, oriented from Northwest to Southeast, and often occurring in clusters. Sometimes they are filled with freshwater and can vary in depth and size.  The term “bay” doesn’t actually refer to the water inside the depressions, but rather type of trees that grow around them.  Three species of trees: loblolly bay, sweet bay, and red bay, as well as other wetland plants grow in and around the Carolina Bay.

Perhaps the most fascinating characteristic of bays is that no one knows how they were formed.  Their orientation and frequency along the coastal plain, as well as the important wetland plant species that grow nearby, has led them to become a frequently studied ecosystem. Scientists have come up with plenty of theories for their formation: groundwater upwellings, ocean currents, and even meteor showers are a few of the most compelling arguments.

We may not know what created these interesting geological features, but we are able to appreciate their beauty.  In North Carolina, many parks such as Lake Waccamaw State Park and Jones Lake State Park have been established to educate and preserve the beauty of these bays. GFR even has an office in the town bordering Lake Waccamaw.

For more information, check out this article and video:

UNC-TV Science- Carolina Bays

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