South end nature hikes offer close-up learning



Ever wonder what keeps the dunes stabilized? What marine life occupies a particular shell? Interpretative hikes around the south end of Wrightsville Beach, organized by the N.C. Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve, can provide the answers.

Marie Davis, an environmental educator with the reserve who leads the hikes, said the programs were designed to teach people about life on barrier islands like Masonboro Island and Wrightsville Beach through visual and tactile experience.

The reserve offers similar programs at Masonboro Island, but Davis said the programs at Wrightsville Beach allow people who can’t make it to Masonboro for events access to the same information.

“It’s a great opportunity because we don’t have transportation to bring people over to the reserve. It was a way to still be able to talk about the same things, similar to what I talk about when I do programs at the reserve, but to reach more people who would be limited because they don’t have a boat or can’t afford the water taxi out there,” Davis said.

The hikes began in late June and continue on Tuesdays through Aug. 19, with three themes rotating weekly.

The plant and animal life found on barrier islands are identified and explained during the Residents of the Reserve hike, while the Invertebrate Investigation hike focuses on spineless creatures like jellyfish, horseshoe crabs and oysters.

The Plastics in Paradise hike explores the impact of litter on marine life, outlining what people can do to properly store debris — even debris that seems as harmless as fishing line thrown off the pier, which recently got wrapped around a nesting bird’s leg and inhibited the bird from caring for her nest.

Davis said people respond positively to the message even though it can be discouraging to learn about the impacts.

“It’s great to see an ah-ha moment of, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do that anymore.’ It’s kind of a depressing topic so it’s something that creates a great dialogue and personal ways that they connect with it,” Davis said.

Davis incorporates the south end bird sanctuary into each hike, drawing connections between the theme and the birds.

“They gain knowledge about beach nesting shorebirds and how they can protect them, especially because they nest on the open sand in a scrape with camouflaged eggs and camouflaged chicks,” Davis said.

The size of each group of hikers varies from two to 25 people, with a mix of visitors and residents attending. Davis said she accommodates as many people as necessary.

“It’s nice to reach out to visitors so they understand how important it is, but we live here. We’re living it every day so we see all the time what’s going on but it’s nice to make those connections,” Davis said.

The program is free. Reservations by emailing are preferred but all are welcome.

The Residents of the Reserve program is planned for Aug. 5, Plastic in Paradise Aug. 12 and the Invertebrate Investigation Aug. 19.

The groups meet at the gazebo near Public Beach Access No. 43 at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.



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