Masonboro Island is the largest undisturbed barrier island along the southern part of the North Carolina coast and is located approximately five miles southeast of Wilmington, in the most populous part of the North Carolina coast. The Masonboro site is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to the west, Masonboro Inlet to the north, and Carolina Beach Inlet to the south.
The Masonboro Island component is the largest site, at 5,653 acres, within the NCNERR system and was designated in 1991. Eighty-seven percent of the 8.4 mile long island is covered with marsh and tidal flats. The remaining portions are composed of beach uplands and dredge material islands. Masonboro Island is an essentially pristine barrier island and estuarine system.
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.
The habitats found within this site include subtidal soft bottoms, tidal flats, hard surfaces, salt marshes, shrub thicket, maritime forest, dredge spoil areas, grasslands, ocean beach, and sand dunes. Loggerhead and green sea turtles nest on the beaches, where seabeach amaranth plants grow on the foredunes.
All of these species are listed as threatened by the Federal Government. Species of concern are the black skimmers, Wilson’s plovers, and least terns that nest on the island. Sound sediments are home to two state watch list species – Hartmans Echiurid and a polycheate worm in the genus Notomastus.
The nutrient rich waters of Masonboro Sound are an important nursery area for spot, mullet, summer flounder, pompano, menhaden, and bluefish.
Island Reserve has more than 5,500 acres of natural barrier island habitat, estuary habitat and dredge spoil islands. Creation of the Reserve Masonboro Island was privately owned throughout most of the 20th century.
Increased development pressure prompted early conservation efforts by local citizens with the creation of the Society of Masonboro Island and involvement of the N.C. Coastal Land Trust during the 1980s.
Designation as the fourth component of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve occurred in 1991. This natural area is one of 10 sites that make up the North Carolina Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Preservation of the Masonboro Island Reserve allows this coastal ecosystem to be available as a natural outdoor laboratory where scientists, students and the general public can learn about coastal processes, functions and influences that shape and sustain the coastal area.
Traditional recreational uses are allowed as long as they do not disturb the environment or organisms or interfere with research and educational activities.
The Masonboro Island Reserve is managed through a federal-state partnership between NOAA and the N.C. Division of Coastal Management to protect the island’s ecosystems for research and education. The support of ongoing stewardship of the site by a community of partner organizations is gratefully acknowledged. This site is also a dedicated state nature preserve.
[The North Carolina Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve is part of the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, a division of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.]