Coastal Islands Sanctuary Program

For more than 25 years, Audubon’s Coastal Island Sanctuary Program has been a model for conservation along the Atlantic Flyway.

Audubon’s Coastal Sanctuary Program is a model for conservation along the Atlantic Flyway. The program maintains a diverse network of nesting habitats where researchers can study waterbird ecology, and new management tools are developed. While these islands are a boon for science, its most important purpose is to serve as a respite for coastal waterbirds where they can have a haven from predators and human disturbance while they safely raise the next generation of birds in North Carolina. 

In 1989, Audubon established the North Carolina Coastal Islands Sanctuary Program to protect and restore vital nesting habitat sites for nesting waterbirds. The program began with just two islands in the lower Cape Fear River and has grown to more than 20 locations that support over a third of the waterbirds that nest in North Carolina.  

Today, the program has expanded to protect 19 islands and two beach sites that support thousands of nesting pairs of pelicans, herons, egrets, ibises, gulls, terns, black skimmers and other bird species. 

Audubon staff work to maintain and monitor specialized habitats that are vital to the success of birds. By working with a wide range of conservation partners, the team is able to manage individual habitats through conservation best practices to support the specific species of birds that come to the sanctuaries.  

All these efforts lead to conservation success stories for birds. Success that have major impact on the species. Before the Sanctuary Program, fewer than 100 Brown Pelican nested along the coast of North Carolina. Today, there are more than 4,500 pairs.

The birds are flocking to our sanctuaries because they can find exactly what they need to survive and thrive. During spring and summer months, birds are able to nest and raise their chicks without commons threats from predators or human disturbance, resulting in years of nesting success. 

Because it supports such a large proportion of nesting waterbirds, the Coastal Sanctuary Program is essential to maintaining healthy populations of waterbirds both in the state and in the region. Without these protected habitats, coastal waterbirds wouldn’t return to nest year after year. And with nowhere else to go, we would lose the iconic species we know and love.

By following Audubon NC, our supporters can learn more about these special places that support our birds. 

Coastal sanctuaries managed by Audubon North Carolina:

  • Battery Island
  • Wainwright Island
  • Striking Island
  • Ferry Slip Island
  • North Pelican Island 
  • North of North Pelican Island (No Name Island)
  • South Pelican Island
  • Lea Island
  • Hutaff Island
  • Hunting Island
  • Crab Point
  • Big Hill Island
  • Harbor Island
  • Shell Island
  • Chainshot Island
  • Beacon Island
  • North Rock Island
  • Shell Castle Island
  • South Wrightsville Beach 

Learn more about our Sanctuary Program:

We are always looking for volunteers to help us support nesting waterbirds and their habitats. Contact us to find out how you can help!