Zeke's Island Reserve

Natural Features

Zeke’s Island is located in the Cape Fear River basin and was one of the three original National Estuarine Research Reserve components dedicated by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the Division of Coastal Management in 1985. This site is also a Dedicated Nature Preserve, authorized by G.S. 143B-135.250. The site is 22 miles south of Wilmington, bounded by Federal Point to the north, Smith Island to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Cape Fear River to the west.

The lagoon-like complex at the Zeke’s Island site is one of the most unusual areas of the North Carolina coast. The entire site is 1,635 acres and includes Zeke’s Island, North Island, No Name Island, a beach barrier spit and extensive fringing marshes and tidal flats.

While shoals and marshes have continued to appear and disappear within the basin, Zeke’s, No Name, and North Islands have remained stable relative to the beach barrier spit, even though their shorelines periodically increase and erode. Zeke’s and No Name Islands have elevations of only a few feet, while North Island has several scattered dune systems, one of which reaches 20 feet above sea level. The unusual characteristics of the site have created a variety of habitats, including tidal flats, salt marshes, shrub thicket, maritime forest, sand dunes, ocean beach, and the hard surface of the rocks. Beach amaranth has been found on the site’s foredune areas. Fish, shrimp, crabs, clams, and oysters use the estuary as a nursery ground. Both the Atlantic loggerhead and green sea turtles, federally protected threatened species, occasionally nest on the site’s open beaches. The expanse of intertidal flats in the Zeke’s Island vicinity is the single most important shorebird habitat in southeastern North Carolina. Dunlin, black-bellied plovers, short-billed dowitchers, white ibis, and great blue herons, as well as black ducks, mallards, and pintails, have been recorded there.

See a checklist of fishes found at Zeke's Island Reserve.

Visiting the site

U.S. 421 from Wilmington, which provides easy access to all of the recreational areas north of the site, ends at Federal Point – adjacent to the Zeke’s Island site. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission maintains a public boat ramp and kayak launching area at the northern shore of the basin. Access within the Reserve is primarily by private boat while the barrier spit is accessible by foot or off-road vehicle. The N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation maintains a pedestrian beach access facility and vehicular dune access at the Fort Fisher Recreation Area. The entrance for these is on U.S. 421, just north of the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. 

The north beach of the basin is the primary educational area of the site. The barrier-spit portion of the Reserve is a popular spot for recreation. Groups should not use No Name Island because it is a marsh area without high ground. North Island is the largest and most ecologically diverse of the three main islands. A walking trail that overlooks the Reserve site is accessible from the parking lot at the Fort Fisher Recreation area and a self-guided nature trail is available on Zeke’s Island. Camping and campfires are not permitted at this site. 

Be a responsible visitor: check out the reserve rules and policies before your visit.  

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