Masonboro Island is a low-lying, undeveloped barrier island 13 km (8 miles) long, located between Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach. It is one of the few remaining undeveloped and relatively undisturbed barrier islands along North Carolina?s coast. The barrier island and associated tidal marshes, creeks, and bays provide a diverse array of habitats for many species of birds throughout the year. A jetty built to maintain a navigable channel in Masonboro Inlet is one of the few places in North Carolina with wintering Purple Sandpipers and often a Great Cormorant or two. At the same time, the jetty causes accelerated erosion on the beachfront, which must receive dredged sand periodically to replace sand lost to erosion. Masonboro Island is a popular destination for recreational pursuits throughout the year.

Ornithological Summary

Masonboro Island is one of the few undeveloped and relatively undisturbed barrier islands remaining in North Carolina and supports the suite of bird species typically associated with barrier island habitats (criteria 3). American Oystercatchers and Willets are abundant and nest throughout the site, but no formal surveys have been conducted. Terns and skimmers nest on the beachfront. A great variety of shorebirds, wading birds and marshbirds are abundant during migration and winter months.

Conservation Issues

Disturbance to birds, recreational overuse, introduced and overabundant mammalian predators.

Disturbance to nesting birds is a critical concern. The island has heavy recreational use during the warmer months, especially on the northern and southern ends. This use has displaced nesting birds. In recent years, recreational use and unleashed pets appear to be increasing in the more remote areas of the island. This presents a significant problem for beach-nesting birds that have already abandoned the more heavily used areas of the island. Abundant raccoons and red foxes threaten nesting shorebirds and waterbirds. Most nesting shorebirds and waterbirds are not successful at fledging chicks.


The site is protected and managed by the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve program.


Of the 5,097 acres that comprise the island, approximately 87% are marsh/estuary while the remaining 13% is uplands. Habitats present include: subtidal softbottoms, tidal creeks, intertidal mud and sand flats, salt marshes, an artificial rock jetty, maritime shrub thickets, dredge material areas, dunes and ocean beaches. The effects of three recent hurricanes (i.e. Bertha, Fran and Bonnie) during 1996-98 demonstrate the dynamic nature of barrier islands: substantial westward island migration (100+ ft. in some areas) and dramatic alteration of dune and shrub thicket communities, particularly within the southern half of the island. Dominate plants communities include: dunes (primary and secondary), maritime shrub thicket, salt marsh (intertidal and supratidal) and dredge material areas.

Land Use

Conservation, recreation, wildlife conservation, dredged-material deposition. ?

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