Lea and Hutaff Islands are undeveloped
barrier islands and associated saltmarsh located between Figure 8 Island and Topsail Island. The islands were joined following the closure of Old Topsail Inlet and are characterized by dunes, swales, and overwash fans. The marsh is a tidally flooded saltmarsh and creek system with intertidal mud flats. Lea-Hutaff Island represents one of North Carolina?s best barrier island habitats.

Ornithological Summary

The site is an undeveloped and undisturbed barrier island with associated saltmarsh, beach and adjacent sand flats. The site is an excellent example of a barrier island system and hosts a complete assemblage of species associated with the habitat types found on NC's barrier islands (Criteria 3). Additionally, the site supports thousands of shorebirds during migration and winter, hundreds of beach-nesting seabirds and shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl and marsh birds. Clapper Rail breed and are abundant in marshes; Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow are abundant during fall and winter.

Species Population:
Least Tern (B) - 150-300 pr
Black Skimmer (B, FM) - 50-75 pr, 750
Piping Plover (all) - 2 pr, 4-15
Shorebirds (21 spp) (FM, W, SM) - 1500-3000
Dunlin (FM, W, SM) - 500-1000
Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow (FM, W)
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow (FM, W)
Wilson's Plover (B) - 15 pr
Willet (all) - 10 pr, 25-50
Seaside Sparrow (FM, W)
American Oystercatcher (SM, FM, B) - 5 pr, 10-30
Great Egret (FM, W, SM) - 100-350
White Ibis (W) - 100-300
American Bittern (FM, W)- 5-15
Hooded Merganser (W) - 40-100
Peregrine Falcon (FM) - 1-2
Osprey (FM)- 5-20

Conservation Issues

Human and dog disturbance to nesting, migratory, and wintering birds, residential development, predation.

Both islands have heavy recreational use during the warmer months, especially during breeding season. Audubon posts and patrols the waterbird and shorebird nesting areas.


The Lea Island State Natural Area, established in 2003, includes most of Lea Island. The remaining area of Lea-Hutaff Island is privately owned. The protection of Lea Island is part of a long-standing partnership between Audubon North Carolina, North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, and the State of North Carolina. In 2010, Audubon North Carolina acquired a 35.7-acre tract on Lea Island that nearly doubled the acreage already protected. Audubon North Carolina monitors the site year round.


Typical, undisturbed barrier island. Open bare sandy beach with remnant dunes dominated by Uniola paniculata and Iva imbricata. Extensive overwash fans caused by the hurricanes of 1996-1999 exist over much of the island. Tidally flooded saltmarsh with small, scattered islands and an extensive tidal creek and bay system exist west of the island..

Land Use

Recreation and tourism, wildlife conservation, fishing.

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