Supplied photo courtesy of Hope Sutton
Twelve signs have been installed on Masonboro Island to inform visitors about the North Carolina Coastal Reserve program, some basic ecological and biological information and the history of how Masonboro came to be protected.
Visitors to Masonboro Island may notice new permanent manmade structures on the island. In the past few weeks, Hope Sutton, southern sites manager for the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), has installed 12 signs in high-traffic areas along the northern half of the island. Three more signs will be installed in the southern half during the next few weeks.
“It was a lengthy process to get to this point,” Sutton said. “I originally applied for the permitting in 2008 or 2009.”
The signs include information about the North Carolina Coastal Reserve program, some basic ecological and biological information such as primary habitats on the island and common plants and animals, and the history of how Masonboro came to be protected.
Masonboro is the largest undisturbed barrier island in the southern half of North Carolina. It is 8.4 miles long and contains approximately 5,000 acres. Today, it is home to approximately one dozen listed species of concern, and came under federal protection in 1991.
“The community really came together so that Masonboro could be protected,” Sutton said.
The signs came partially in response to a visitor survey conducted in 2007, which showed more than half of the people who set foot on Masonboro Island didn’t know what it was or what program it was part of.
“Part of what our program is designed to do is give the public information about our sites,” Sutton said. “Hopefully now they’ll have a little more of an idea of where they are and the purpose of the reserve.”
Masonboro is protected as a nature preserve and as part of the NERR, a network of 28 protected estuarine environments around the country used for research. These areas are protected for research on water quality monitoring, long-term research, and education and coastal stewardship.
“The primary purpose is for Masonboro to serve as an outdoor laboratory and an outdoor classroom,” Sutton said. “That’s really what the National Estuarine Research Reserve sites were protected for. So that intact coastal ecosystems can be studied and be taught about.”
The signs also include information about how to enjoy Masonboro safely. Some of the tips include remembering to apply sunscreen, drinking lots of water and paying attention to the tides before anchoring a boat.
“So much of the southern half of the island is really tide limited,” Sutton said. “You only have a few hours or you’re waiting [for the tide to rise again].”
The biggest chunk of funding for the signs came from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, but other contributors included the Coastal Land Trust, Andrew Consulting Engineers, Surfrider Foundation and the NCCR’s friend group, Friends of the Reserve.
“It was a big collaborative effort,” Sutton said.