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North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve
UNCW Center for Marine Science
5600 Marvin K. Moss Ln.
Wilmington, NC

(910) 962-2470

The U.S. Congress created the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) system in 1972 to preserve undisturbed estuarine systems for research into and education about the impact of human activity on barrier beaches, adjacent estuaries and ocean waters. The reserves are outdoor classrooms and laboratories for researchers, students, naturalists and others.

Masonboro Island and Zeke's Island are the southeastern North Carolina components of NCNERR. In the northeast of the state, NCNERR manages the Rachel Carson Reserve near Beaufort and Currituck Banks. A partnership between the University of North Carolina Wilmington and the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, NCNERR has its headquarters at the UNCW Center for Marine Science Center.

The NCNERR program manages four estuarine reserve sites as natural laboratories, coordinating research and education activities at these sites. Nationally threatened loggerhead sea turtles make their nests at Zeke's Island, Rachel Carson and Masonboro Island. Brown pelicans and ospreys are common to all four points. With more than 5,000 protected acres, Masonboro Island is the last and largest undisturbed barrier island remaining on the southern North Carolina coast and one of the most productive estuarine systems along the coast.

The NCNERR sites are also managed as part of the North Carolina Coastal Reserve (NCCR) system. Containing 10 sites in all, the NCCR serves as the state counterpart to the federal NERR system. In our area, two sites are of particular interest. The first of these is Bald Head Woods on Bald Head Island. This site is the best example of an intact maritime forest in the southeastern part of the state. A globally imperiled ecosystem, the maritime forest serves to stabilize barrier islands and provides habitat for coastal species. The other NCCR site of local interest is Bird Island, located just south of Sunset Beach. While many of the barrier islands along the N.C. coast are experiencing beach erosion, Bird Island is one of the few on which the beach is actually growing larger. As such, visitors can observe the stages of succession in coastal ecosystems as the dunes grow and the beach extends seaward. Both sites are free and open to the public during daylight hours.


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