This site includes the Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge, located on Knotts Island, and privately owned tracts outside of the refuge. The refuge was established in 1960 for migrant and wintering waterfowl, but it provides habitat for many species of marsh birds and wading birds as well. The key feature of the refuge is Great Marsh, which is brackish marsh dominated by cattail (Typha spp.), black needlerush, and giant cordgrass. Managed impoundments provide additional habitat for birds.

Conservation Issues

Nonnative plants, water quality, sea level rise.

The refuge itself has few conservation issues. Water levels in the managed impoundments are maintained at optimum levels for waterfowl and other birds. The marsh is burned periodically to improve habitat for waterfowl. Outside of the refuge, water quality associated with increased turbidity and introduction of salt water is one of the greatest issues. Audubon North Carolina, The Nature Conservancy, and other organizations have formed the Albemarle-Pamlico Conservation and Communities Cooperative to plan for conservation in the region, including planning for sea level rise. The National Wildlife Refuge portion of this Important Bird Area has a comprehensive conservation plan in place. Further studies of water quality in northern Currituck Sound are warranted.


Most of the site is protected and managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.


Brackish marsh, managed impoundments, mixed forest, agricultural lands.

Land Use

Wildlife conservation.

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