Masonboro Island Reserve
Masonboro Island is the southernmost barrier island of North Carolina’s coastline, and it provides a unique coastal habitat for many migratory birds. It also acts as an important buffer zone against storm surges that come in from the ocean. The Masonboro site is located in the Town of Wilmington, North Carolina, and has a total area of 5653 acres. The island was designated as the largest component within the NCNERR system in 1991 due to its location on coastal barrier islands that are vulnerable to natural hazards such as hurricanes or tropical storms.
The 8.4mile-long Masonboro Island is composed of marsh and tidal flats, beach uplands, material dredge islands that create a habitat for many saltwater species. The various salinity patterns found in the extensive subtidal and intertidal areas along the sound side of the island support a myriad of estuarine species such as flounder or blue crab. The wildlife found within this site includes loggerhead and green sea turtles that nest on the beaches, where seabeach amaranth plants grow. All of these species are listed as threatened by the Federal Government.
Species of concern on Masonboro Island are the American oystercatcher, black skimmers, Wilson’s plovers, and least terns that nest in this area. The island is also home to two watch list species – Hartmans Echiurid and a polychaete worm from genus Notomastus. Nutrient-rich waters attract spot mullet summer flounder pompano menhaden bluefish for a nursery habitat which is important for fish populations.
Getting to the Masonboro Island Reserve can only be done by boat. There are public and private ramps in Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, New Hanover County Trails End Park, as well as a few fee-based ferry services that take passengers there.
Visitors to the island have a lot of options for exploration, including hiking along trails and across undisturbed beaches. The most fragile habitats on this beautiful island are dunes, grassy flats, high and low marsh communities with eelgrass beds. Visitors should avoid changing these areas by not walking through them or otherwise altering their composition in any way so that they can remain preserved as much as possible over time.
If you plan to do some primitive camping on the island, note that areas where others have already camped are best. Camping in dunes and vegetation disturbances is not allowed because it can lead to other damage. You’ll need to pack up everything within 48 hours of arriving so there’s no trace left behind for visitors after this time limit expires at noon.
The mission of Masonboro Island Reserve is to improve the environment and quality of life for all North Carolinians through science-based stewardship.
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