Weathering Hurricane Dorian

While the storm was tragic for many on the North Carolina coast, our staff and bird habitat made it through unharmed.

Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc for communities across the North Carolina coast. At Audubon, our staff and the sites we protect for birds were fortunate to escape mostly unscathed.

In the days immediately after the storm, our team was already hiking the trails of our Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. Sanctuary at Pine Island and out on boats touring nesting islands near Wilmington.

The preliminary results show far less damage than we saw with Hurricane Florence last year.

As we continue to learn more about the storm damage, we’re relieved that our staff and bird habitat were relatively unharmed, but we feel for the many locals in Hatteras, Ocracoke, and elsewhere who will be coping with far worse damage for a long time to come.

Lea-Hutaff Island

Before the storm, a team of volunteers ventured out to the 4-mile-long barrier island to check on sea turtle nests and remove posted signs that fence off portions of the beach for nesting birds. The team was able to collect all the signs before the hurricane reached the North Carolina coast.

Dorian reached the Cape Fear region Thursday night. By Friday morning, once the storm moved north, Audubon Coastal Biologist Lindsay Addison was already out on a boat puttering to Lea-Hutaff Island to check for damage.

Addison reports the island saw some overwash, but the storm surge was nothing compared to the Hurricane Florence last year.

Overwash occurs when water washes over land and pushes dunes backward. This phenomenon can be destructive to developed beaches, but the inundation can also improve habitat for beach-nesting birds.

That was the case last year, when Florence widened the beaches at Lea-Hutaff, making room for a record-breaking Least Tern colony last spring.

Wrightsville Beach

The Beach Bird Stewards who oversee the nesting area at the south end of Wrightsville Beach report little damage from the storm. All of the chicks from the resident Black Skimmer colony fledged before the storm.

Some birds have already been spotted back at the south end of the beach, including 50 adult skimmers and fledglings.

This same crew of beach steward volunteers rallied before the storm to remove all of the posted signs that protect the nesting colonies.

“I was so impressed with the number of bird stewards that quickly gathered to take down the posting on the south end and do a litter sweep in preparation for the hurricane,” Audubon Coastal Volunteer Coordinator Marlene Eader says.

At all times, and especially in the wake of Dorian, Eader encourages beachgoers to walk around any flocks of birds to avoid disturbing them. As they stop over on their long migrations, coastal birds need to rest and feed. When people cause them to fly, they waste valuable energy.

Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. Sanctuary at Pine Island

Sanctuary Director Robbie Fearn hiked the 2,600-acre property in Corolla on Monday and found only minor damage left in the wake of Dorian. Water levels were raised due to rain flooding, but the sanctuary dock was still above water.

Last year, storm surge from Florence submerged the dock and reached the boathouse.

The storm did wreak some havoc on the sanctuary’s buildings, including the lodge. A skylight window blew out, allowing rain to drench a room and the first-floor hallway.

The historic hunt lodge was built more than a century ago and serves as the main hub of activity for the sanctuary.

Looking Forward

We’re relieved that our staff and bird habitat made it through Dorian mostly unharmed. But these storms remind us of just how important resilience planning is for our coastal communities. Read about the lessons we learned last year in the wake of Florence.

How you can help, right now