During the fall of each year, the Bald Head Island Conservancy holds its annual Barrier Island Botanists (BIB) program, with field trips in coordination with Brunswick County Public Schools. Every year, just under 1,000 sixth graders from the six public middle schools throughout the county visit Bald Head Island. In addition to these students, we were able to accommodate the Accessible Classrooms of multiple schools. This entailed utilizing beach wheelchairs again, and we had the privilege of assisting a blind student by creating an activity booklet in braille for them. The Bald Head Island Conservancy ran BIB in 2018 and 2019 from a Duke Energy grant, paused in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, and brought the program back in 2022. Since the pandemic, BIB has been made possible by a donation from Jim, Devon and Sinclair Brown.
A typical day of BIB consists of around 60 students traveling to Bald Head Island and joining BHIC staff in activities around the island. The field trip focuses on botany to align with North Carolina’s educational environmental science standards for the sixth grade. BIB takes place near the marina with three different stations: the coastal dune station at Access 5, the saltmarsh station at Marina Park, and the maritime forest station near the Old Baldy lighthouse. At each station, students learn about the plants on the island, including their role in maintaining dune structures, how marsh grasses survive in brackish water, and the impact of live oak trees in stabilizing the interior of the island.
This field trip is a unique and special opportunity for these students in many ways. Senior Educator Dr. Jennifer Wiggen shared that for her, the significance of BIB is that “it provides students with an opportunity to engage with the natural world around them through the lens of the conservation works that the Conservancy does. While they are learning about the island, they are also participating in telemetry, which we use to locate white-tail deer, completing observation studies of the flora and fauna that comprise our salt marshes, and measuring the transect of dunes to determine erosional rates. All of these activities are based on conservation work that we do on a regular basis, and it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to do them with the sixth grade students of Brunswick County.”