Facing concerns from N.C. Wildlife, wheelchair-accessible beach mat in Carolina Beach won’t be back for the rest of this season

Erosion, tides, and concerns from the state are all cited as reasons why Ocean Cure won't be putting the wheelchair accessible mat back down this season
The wheelchair accessible beach mat in Carolina Beach won't be going back up this season.
The wheelchair accessible beach mat in Carolina Beach won't be going back up this season.(WECT)
Updated: Aug. 17, 2020 at 11:19 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Three years ago the nonprofit group Ocean Cure rolled out a wheelchair accessible mat in Carolina Beach, giving those who struggled to access the sand a chance to do so. Now, following Hurricane Isaias, founder of Ocean Cure Kevin Murphy said the mat is unlikely to go back down this year, in part, due to beach erosion --- and in part due to concerns coming from the N.C. Wildlife Commission.

“The beach mat is unlikely to go back down this year. We have run into a lot of obstacles already. Due to hurricane Isaias we lost a lot of sand on the beach strand. We have been monitoring high tides and we have had very little space left on the beach. The ocean has also been extremely flat so if we did have any swell at all it would most likely cause us to pull it back up,” Murphy said.

Essentially, the average high tide is coming up to the mats, which is a problem; another issue the group is facing is the amount of time needed to maintain the beach mats.

Murphy, along with others who help maintain the beach mats including their installation and removal during storms and other high-tide events, are teachers who have just returned to school.

“The majority of the people including myself that maintain it are all school teachers and as you know we are back in school. The mats require a couple of hours of sweeping, adjusting etc. each day,” he said.

While tides and time are a hurdle, another big problem the group is facing is coming from the North Carolina Wildlife Commission.

The current mat sits in front of the Carolina Beach Boardwalk and consists of 3,000-square-feet, but according to Murphy, all the state wants to allow is a six-foot long, by six-foot wide mat. That’s because the Wildlife Commission says the mats could pose a threat to nesting sea birds as well as nesting sea turtles.

“One of the biggest factors we are battling right now is N.C. Fish and Wildlife. We have been told the beach mat is not in compliance and can only be six feet wide and six feet long which doesn’t even make it past the safety lane. We are using this time to go as high up politically in NC to hopefully have State regulations changed for the future and allow us to put it back down the way it has always been and should be. We will fight this throughout the winter and hopefully continue to make our beach as accessible as possible for all,” Murphy said.

The group has known about the concerns the state had, Murphy said, but until now, the Wildlife Commission has only voiced disapproval for the mats, recently, things have gotten a bit more serious which is part of the reason he made the decision to not put the mats back down this season.

Murphy has already met with State Senator Harper Peterson and he said he is working with him to hopefully get the rules changed for all of North Carolina in order to make the beaches accessible for all.

“The whole point of the mat and the way we placed it was to allow a wheelchair user in their own chair the ability to get on to the beach by themselves and get back off of it without every feeling in the way. We wanted to grant as much independence as possible. We had the mat as close to the high tide line as possible so they would also be as close to the water as possible all in a safe manner,” he said.

When it comes to sea turtles, Murphy said the group took the animals into consideration when they installed the mats.

The surface itself is at sand level and turtles would be able to traverse them, he said. The placement of the mats at the most popular beach location in the town, the boardwalk, also was planned since that is the least likely location for turtles to nest due to the lights and number of people present there.

The fate of the mats is still unknown but Murphy is hopeful they will be back in time for Memorial Day 2021.

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