Decades of conservation successes
Photo: Lindsay Addison
Audubon’s Coastal Sanctuary Program is a model for conservation along the Atlantic Flyway. The program maintains a diverse network of nesting habitats where researchers can study waterbird ecology, and new management tools are developed. While these islands are a boon for science, its most important purpose is to serve as a respite for coastal waterbirds where they can have a haven from predators and human disturbance while they safely raise the next generation of birds in North Carolina.
In 1989, Audubon established the North Carolina Coastal Islands Sanctuary Program to protect and restore vital nesting habitat sites for nesting waterbirds. The program began with just two islands in the lower Cape Fear River and has grown to more than 20 locations that support over a third of the waterbirds that nest in North Carolina.
Today, the program has expanded to protect 19 islands and two beach sites that support thousands of nesting pairs of pelicans, herons, egrets, ibises, gulls, terns, black skimmers and other bird species.
Audubon staff work to maintain and monitor specialized habitats that are vital to the success of birds. By working with a wide range of conservation partners, the team is able to manage individual habitats through conservation best practices to support the specific species of birds that come to the sanctuaries.
All these efforts lead to conservation success stories for birds. Success that have major impact on the species. Before the Sanctuary Program, fewer than 100 Brown Pelican nested along the coast of North Carolina. Today, there are more than 4,500 pairs.
The birds are flocking to our sanctuaries because they can find exactly what they need to survive and thrive. During spring and summer months, birds are able to nest and raise their chicks without commons threats from predators or human disturbance, resulting in years of nesting success.
Because it supports such a large proportion of nesting waterbirds, the Coastal Sanctuary Program is essential to maintaining healthy populations of waterbirds both in the state and in the region. Without these protected habitats, coastal waterbirds wouldn’t return to nest year after year. And with nowhere else to go, we would lose the iconic species we know and love.
Coastal habitat management aims to protect Cape Fear River terns
Through tilling and herbicide treatment, Audubon NC was able to transform these jungle-like islands into ideal open sand nesting grounds for oystercatchers and terns.
Located north of Wilmington, between Figure Eight Island and Topsail Island, Lea-Hutaff Island is a 5,641-acre undeveloped barrier island and marsh system that has remained undisturbed by development.
A rare American White Pelican rests at Rich Inlet. This species is not a resident of North Carolina; it is just passing through on its way to its wintering grounds.
Working to protect nesting birds at coastal posting sites from human disturbance
These biological technicians are instrumental in preserving the delicate, waning habitat on the beaches, marshes, and sanctuary islands on the North Carolina coast.
This year the Lower Cape Fear River sites hosted about 20% of the state’s Great Egrets and Brown Pelicans, over 25% of its Royal Terns, and just over 78% of its White Ibis -- one of the largest concentrations of nesting waterbirds in the state.