How We Work

Albemarle Sound

When a drop of rain lands in southeastern Virginia, nature endeavors to transport it to the Albemarle Sound.

If that rain falls near the watershed’s western limits, where rolling hills give way to the coastal plain, it will traverse 6 million acres of wetlands and rivers, coastal pine forests, and farms before reaching the sound and lapping against North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Forests cover more than 60 percent of this area, providing wildlife habitat and filtering rivers that supply high-quality drinking water to nearly 800,000 Virginians. These waterways also feed fresh water to Albemarle Sound, which in turn helps feed the nation, generating hundreds of millions of dollars annually from ecotourism and fishing.

History pervades these lands and waters. George Washington famously failed to tame the Great Dismal Swamp for farming, and the swamp would later offer refuge to people seeking freedom from slavery along the Underground Railroad. Farther inland along the Blackwater River, thousand-year-old bald cypress trees helped scientists unravel key parts of the mystery surrounding the demise of Jamestown.

The fates of both primeval wilderness and modern cities within the Albemarle Sound watershed are inextricably linked. Quality of life in Hampton Roads depends on clean water and air, food, wood products, and other natural resources. If we are to galvanize the support needed to fully conserve the lands and waters that provide these benefits, Virginians must understand and appreciate their value.

The Challenges
  • Potential surburban and energy development threaten forest habitat that produces drinking water for 2 million people.
  • Degraded wetlands and droughts spawn longer and more severe wildfires, which impair air quality and threaten public health in downwind communities.
  • The area ranks among the nation's most vulnerable to rising seas.
The Opportunities
  • Protecting and restoring large forested wetlands and freshwater systems will help maintain a healthy Albemarle Sound.
  • Restoring nearly a half-million acres of degraded peatland forests will provide critical habitat, while reducing the threat of severe wildfires.
Our Solutions

The Nature Conservancy has been working in the Albemarle Sound since the 1970s when we facilitated the first major corporate gift for conservation at the Great Dismal Swamp. We remain invested in this system's health, working in partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to restore degraded wetlands.

Forest Conservation

  • We seek to purchase and protect an additional 1,000 acres of pine forest to expand our Piney Grove Preserve/Big Woods conservation area.
  • We work with partners to restore longleaf pine savannas and the rich diversity of life this globally rare habitat supports.
  • We demonstrate better ways to manage forests for the benefit of people and nature.
  • We serve as "nature's plumber" and "nature's lightning rod" by restoring forested wetlands and reducing wildfire risks.
What Sets Us Apart
  • The Nature Conservancy offers a multi-state, collaborative, non-confrontational approach a rare combination to address complex challenges.
  • We work at a scale that makes a difference in whole natural systems.
  • We apply sound science to our work and share it with partners, guiding them toward more informed and strategic decisions that will balance the needs of people and wildlife.
Urgent Needs


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