A Reflection on Traveling, Inspired by What We Couldn’t Do at Lake Mattamuskeet

We were a little bummed that we couldn’t put the kayaks in the water. We drove two hours to Lake Mattamuskeet, with kayaks on top of our cars. Since a month ago, we had been looking forward to kayaking in North Carolina’s largest lake. Its average depth is 2-3 feet. The area is known for having hundreds of swans, cranes, and waterfowls. But that’s not what we saw.

The lake was beautiful, but quiet.

There were no vibrant colors or activities. Everything looked petrified. 😔 Since 2012, there has been a sheer decline in the water quality. The presence of cyanobacteria harmful algal blooms (HABs) have been documented in the lake. Two toxins – cylindrospermopsin and anabaena – have been detected.

What does that mean? No swimming. No kayaking. No water activities. But even worse… Habitat for fish is disappearing. Waterfowls no longer come by. The lake has lost all submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) by 2017.

What could have caused the algal bloom? Some say – Nearby farmlands and impoundments produce nutrient-rich water that drains into the Mattamuskeet, accelerating growth of algae blocking light from reaching the lake floor, and killing SAV. As SAV holds together sediments at the bottom of the lake, the lack of SAV makes the sediments loose and too easy to stir up by wind or even carps. This further prevents sunlight from reaching the lake bed, makes it even harder for SAV to grow, and hence starts a positive feedback cycle that’s not “positive” at all.

This is not to say, however, that nearby farmlands are at wrong. The history of farming can be traced back to centuries ago. It is not a black-and-white matter, but an unfortunate outcome affecting everyone living in / visiting the area.

What was supposed to be a unique kayaking experience turned into an awe of the serenity mixed with some sadness.

Travelers – we, more than most, get to experience the good-and-bad of places first handedly. Sometimes you meet interesting people and hear interesting stories. Other times, you get inspired and education. That’s probably why Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”.

If you would like to learn more of Lake Mattamuskeet, I found this Story Map informative 🌎 https://arcg.is/0fXPLv

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