Estuaries provide critical habitats for a range of wildlife, and the N.C. Coastal Reserve will be honoring them during its celebration of the 25th annual National Estuaries Day on Masonboro Island.
Staff from the N.C. Coastal Reserve will be available just below the second cove at Third Beach to provide participants with hands-on educational activities. Marie Davis, an environmental educator with the reserve, said in a Sept. 20 interview that they will include a beach sweep, where participants will spend time helping to clean the island, working along with the county’s Big Sweep.
“There’s also a little trail where people can go on a self-guided interpretive loop,” Davis added. “I’ve labeled some different plants and have some other information available. There are also some other hands-on activities, including a scope setup for watching birds and other wildlife.”
Estuaries are bodies of water in which freshwater mixes with saltwater from the ocean. Davis explained that the freshwater in the waterways surrounding Masonboro Island Reserve comes from a variety of sources, including Snows Cut, mainland tidal creeks, surface water runoff, precipitation and seepage from groundwater. The N.C. Coastal Reserve reports estuaries provide a vital nursery for young fish, including commercial fish and many endangered species.
Visitors to the island can expect to see a range of flora and fauna this time of year. Sea oats, yucca and salt marsh cord grass are common sights, but Davis recommended keeping a look out for beach peas, which, as their name implies, are currently producing edible beans. She added that the plant has a built-in mechanism for dispersing the seeds: specialized spiral fibers launch the seeds from the pod once it dries enough for the peas to break through.
While hiking through the reserve, participants can also expect to see a range of birds, such as American oystercatchers, great egrets and great blue herons. Periwinkle snails and fiddler crabs will also be around, and Davis added the water is still warm enough that a lucky observer might catch a glimpse of a rare diamondback terrapin.
Beyond acting as critical habitat, Davis also pointed out that humans share the benefits from estuarine islands.
“One of the great things about estuaries is they can be natural barriers and help to prevent erosion from coastal storms,” she said. “We’re right in the middle of hurricane seaon, so they’re very important.”
The event will take place on Saturday, Sept. 28 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Participation is free, but visitors have to provide their own transportation. Meet at the N.C. Coastal Reserve’s white tent to sign up and receive educational materials.