Coastal wetlands are a valuable resource to North Carolina, USA, representing important habitat for marine organisms and providing flood control areas and buffer zones from marine storms. An analysis of wetland development trends in coastal North Carolina from 1970 to 1984 was conducted using over 3000 files containing 15 years of permitting records. The total amount of coastal wetland area altered due to authorized development under the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA), the Dredge and Fill Law, and Section 404 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act is 1740 ha. This represents nearly 2% of the salt marsh wetlands along the coast of North Carolina. The number of permits issued steadily increased during the 1980s; however, the total amount of wetland loss decreased each year. A few large projects in the early 1970s accounted for nearly 70% of all wetland area developed during the 15-year period. Nearly two-thirds of all projects involving wetland destruction involved impacts on high marsh ecosystems. Bulkheads, canals, and filling activities made up 80% of the projects requiring permits; 62% of the permits were issued to private landowners, but this group accounted for only 16% of the losses of wetland area. Utility companies, which accounted for less than 1% of the permits issued, were responsible for 46% of the permitted wetland loss during the 15-year study period. Future studies should address agriculture and forestry practices which are exempt under CAMA laws and therefore their effects on wetland alteration have not been quantified.