Coastal Islands Sanctuary Program

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.

Santuary Blog Series

Management

Habitat Management for the Cape Fear River Dredge Islands
Coast

Habitat Management for the Cape Fear River Dredge Islands

Coastal habitat management aims to protect Cape Fear River terns

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Vegetation Management on the Cape Fear River Pays Off
Eco-Friendly Habitat Management

Vegetation Management on the Cape Fear River Pays Off

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.

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Research & Monitoring

Sites

Lea Island and Hutaff Island
Important Bird Areas

Lea Island and Hutaff Island

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.

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White Pelican Visits Rich Inlet
Coast

White Pelican Visits Rich Inlet

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.

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Field Seasons

Posting Sites for the 2017 Coastal Nesting Season
Coast

Posting Sites for the 2017 Coastal Nesting Season

Working to protect nesting birds at coastal posting sites from human disturbance

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2017 Summer Biological Technicians
Coast

2017 Summer Biological Technicians

These biological technicians are instrumental in preserving the delicate, waning habitat on the beaches, marshes, and sanctuary islands on the North Carolina coast.

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2017 Waterbird Nesting Season Recap
Coast

2017 Waterbird Nesting Season Recap

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.

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Audubon and Coalition Announce Conservation Plan for Currituck Marshes
Coast

Audubon and Coalition Announce Conservation Plan for Currituck Marshes

— Marsh migration and restoration will be key as Currituck region adapts to rapid coastal change.
National Grant will Fund Audubon’s Marsh Restoration Project in Currituck Sound
Media Releases

National Grant will Fund Audubon’s Marsh Restoration Project in Currituck Sound

— New funding will support innovative approaches to preserving and recovering a threatened ecosystem.
Coastal Nesting Recap: Terns Persevere and Bird Populations Hold Strong
Coast

Coastal Nesting Recap: Terns Persevere and Bird Populations Hold Strong

Take a look back at how coastal birds fared this nesting season.

A Fall Guide to Coastal Migration
Coast

A Fall Guide to Coastal Migration

While this fall brings bird migration departures, many new arrivals are starting to appear along our coast.

Tracking the Next Generation of Baby "Beach Toucans"
Coast

Tracking the Next Generation of Baby "Beach Toucans"

A new banding partnership at Cape Lookout National Seashore will help answer questions about North Carolina's skimmer population.

Introducing the Secretive Marsh Birds of Pine Island
Coast

Introducing the Secretive Marsh Birds of Pine Island

These hard-to-find birds thrive in extensive, healthy marsh habitat, but their reclusive nature makes them difficult to find and study.

Revealing the Hidden Life of Secretive Marsh Birds
Coast

Revealing the Hidden Life of Secretive Marsh Birds

By surveying for rails, bitterns, and other rare marsh birds, we’ll better understand the health of the marsh and what it means for birds and people.

Coastal Nesting Update: Skimmers Return and Terns Face a Unique Predator
News

Coastal Nesting Update: Skimmers Return and Terns Face a Unique Predator

Audubon biologists and volunteers report robust coastal bird colonies halfway through summer.

Prying Open the Secret Lives of Oystercatchers
Coast

Prying Open the Secret Lives of Oystercatchers

New research using light-weight GPS technology will help us better protect an iconic shorebird in a changing world.

Back in Action: Audubon Biologists, Volunteers Ready for Busy Bird Nesting Season
Media Releases

Back in Action: Audubon Biologists, Volunteers Ready for Busy Bird Nesting Season

— As coastal nesting season heats up, new study shows importance of bird sanctuary stewardship.