Cape Lookout National Seashore is located in the central coastal area of North Carolina between Beaufort and Ocracoke Inlets. Barden Inlet and New Drum Inlet divide the park into three barrier islands. The northernmost island, North Core Banks, is approximately 39 km (24 miles) long, extending from Ocracoke Inlet to New Drum Inlet. South Core Banks extends southward from New Drum Inlet 40 km (25 miles) to the Cape Lookout Bight area. Both islands have a northeast-to-southwest orientation, exhibit a low-profile landscape and are made up of low dunes, shrub zone, and saltmarsh. The third island, Shackleford Banks, is 14 km (9 miles) long and has an east-west orientation with a higher dune system, isolated freshwater marshes, and approximately 36 ha (89 acres) of maritime forest.

Ornithological Summary

Two-thirds of the nesting pairs of Piping Plovers in NC nest within Cape Lookout National Seashore. The Park is also an important wintering and migratory site for Piping Plovers. Portsmouth flats, a 3 mile by 1.5 mile expanse of sand and mud flats provides a migratory stop for thousands of shorebirds (Criteria 3). The beaches have a long history of use by nesting colonial waterbirds and other beach-nesting birds such as Willets and American Oystercatchers.

Conservation Issues

Off-road vehicles, recreational overuse, disturbance to birds, introduced animals, predators.

The number of people using the Cape Lookout National Seashore is a key concern. Off-road vehicle traffic, unleashed pets, and human disturbance of nesting, foraging, and resting birds are primary issues. These disturbances can have a significant impact on populations of waterbirds and shorebirds. Further strict measures to protect nesting waterbirds and shorebirds from human disturbances are needed. Migrating and wintering shorebirds face chronic threats from unregulated vehicle use and human disturbance. Sea level rise has resulted in erosion and loss of habitat and how the National Park Service responds to this threat in the future will influence the quantity and quality of remaining habitat.


The site is managed and protected by the National Park Service.


barrier beach/dune, saltmarsh, sandflat/mudflat, maritime forest

Land Use

Conservation, recreation and tourism, fishing, hunting.

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