Stewardship Responsibilities

Monitoring and Management

The Reserve stewardship staff engages in a wide variety of monitoring and management activities that help to protect natural resources, ensure a suitable environment for research and education, and provide useful information to coastal managers. Monitoring activities are primarily focused on visitor use, condition of natural resources, protected species, and invasive species. Results of monitoring efforts may indicate the need for a management action, such as posting signs to reduce visitor impacts, controlling an invasive species, or protecting critical habitats. The following is a list of select monitoring and management projects that are currently carried out at Reserve sites.

  • Feral horse population control (Rachel Carson)
    To protect both the environment and horses from the detriments of overpopulation, an immunocontraceptive agent (birth control) is administered to select mares on an annual basis.
  • French Tamarisk monitoring (Rachel Carson)
    The tamarisk tree is native to Eurasia and Africa and is considered an invasive species at the Rachel Carson site. Although its specific impacts have not been well studied in the eastern United States, it is an inherent threat to native plant species and habitats. Since 2001, tamarisk has been monitored and mapped to better understand its ability to spread.
  • Sea turtle monitoring (Masonboro Island)
    As part of the northern range of the Northwest Atlantic population of the threatened loggerhead sea turtle, Masonboro Island is monitored near daily throughout the sea turtle nesting season. Nests are located, protected and monitored for hatching success. Data is submitted to the international database that helps to support recovery of this species.
  • Beach vitex treatment (Masonboro Island)
    The non-native, invasive plant, beach vitex (Vitex rotundifolia), has been problematic in the region for several decades, outcompeting native vegetation and changing habitat of coastal organisms. At Masonboro Island, annual surveys and treatment efforts have prevented this plant from causing permanent ecological damage.
  • Shorebird monitoring (Zeke’s Island, Masonboro Island, Rachel Carson)
    Monitoring of shorebird activity is an ongoing activity. By participating in regional and national surveys, the Reserve contributes to the understanding of migration patterns and population dynamics of numerous bird species, including listed species such as the piping plover. Reserve staff also monitor or coordinate with partner agencies and organizations to complete monitoring of nesting success of shorebirds such as American oystercatchers, least terns and Wilson’s plovers.
  • Alligatorweed control (Emily and Richardson Preyer Buckridge)
    Alligatorweed can lead to flooding, impede navigation and recreational use of waterways, and cause a health hazard from harboring mosquitoes. In areas with significant standing water like Buckridge, it could carpet the entire understory of the swamp forest, eliminating native plant communities and hampering restoration and forest regeneration projects. Maintenance spraying reduces both the damage caused by weeds and long-term control costs.

Public Access

The sites of the NC Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve are publicly owned and available to the public for a variety of purposes, including hunting, fishing and recreation. The stewardship staff provides for public access by directing access to areas that are most appropriate for and less vulnerable to human activities. Recreational activities that are resource-dependent, passive, and low impact are incorporated into planning for public access. In order to provide for safe public access, while protecting resources and ensuring an environment acceptable for research and education activities, the stewardship staff may designate trails, install access and guidance structures, or occasionally limit access to certain areas within a reserve site. Informational and interpretive signage may also be installed as part of providing for public access to ensure that visitors understand the importance and purpose of the sites and can take appropriate action to minimize their impacts while visiting. Visit the Reserve Sites page to learn more about visiting each of the ten Reserve sites. 

  • Informational signage (Currituck Banks, Rachel Carson, Masonboro Island, Zeke’s Island)
    With funds from NOAA, Friends of the Reserve, and local partners, informational signage was installed at the four sites of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve in 2012. The digital high pressure laminate signs with powder coated aluminum legs and frames purchased for this project are designed to endure many years in the high exposure conditions found at these sites.
  • Boardwalks/raised walkways (Currituck Banks, Rachel Carson)
    Funds from NOAA and the North Carolina Public Beach and Waterfront Access Grant Program have been used to build access facilities to improve visitor access and the visitor experience at sites of the Coastal Reserve. A raised walkway at the Currituck Banks Reserve allows visitors to travel through beautiful areas of the maritime forest and wetlands without damaging soils and vegetation. At the Rachel Carson Reserve, a boardwalk provides views of the surrounding marsh and islands while providing easy access for local boaters.


Since Coastal Reserve properties have been set aside for research, education and compatible recreational uses, restoration of damaged portions of Reserve sites is vital to maintain the integrity of the Reserve over time. Damage may have occurred prior to state ownership or through inappropriate use of the Reserve. Using the best available science and management practices, staff work to return habitats to healthy functioning and equilibrium. Restoration projects operate on multiple scales, affecting thousands of acres or only a few, and may require continual effort or have a discrete end. Examples of past restoration work include:

  • Hydrologic Restoration (Buckridge)
    Canals used by prior landowners can have damaging effects on Atlantic White Cedar habitats at the Reserve. Canals drained freshwater away from wetlands and introduced saline water to the Reserve’s interior. Water control structures were installed to restore natural hydrologic function, add resilience to the ecosystem, and protect the water quality of neighboring properties.
  • Permuda Island Causeway Demolition and Oyster Restoration Project (Permuda Island)
    Around 1970, a private bridge and causeway were constructed between Topsail and Permuda Islands. When the property was acquired by the Coastal Reserve in 1987, remnants of the bridge remained. The bridge debris prevented the natural re-establishment of salt marsh along the shoreline and posed a navigation hazard. In 2011, the North Carolina Coastal Federation, in partnership with the Reserve, removed the causeway debris and restored the shoreline with plantings of oyster shell and native grasses. These newly created habitats will provide valuable habitat for fish and shellfish, buffer the shoreline from waves and boat wakes, and help to improve water quality by filtering sediment from the water.

Community Involvement and Outreach

The N.C. Coastal Reserve works to engage the public about estuarine ecosystems, provide opportunities for environmental stewardship, and encourage responsible use of the Reserves. Learn how you can get involved!