Environmental Services


Environmental Services

Together with the Village of Bald Head Island, the Conservancy performs scientific assessments of the island throughout the year. You can read about these projects below.

The most distinguishing characteristic of Bald Head Island among North Carolina barrier islands is its vibrant maritime forest. Thus, it is critical to protect the forest by evaluating the primary threats that could alter its basic ecological functioning such as overpopulation of deer, invasive species, storms, and saltwater intrusion into the island’s freshwater aquifer.

The largest tract of intact maritime forest on BHI is the Bald Head Woods Coastal Reserve, which is managed by the North Carolina Coastal Reserve, part of the Department of Environmental Quality. BHIC acts as a partner and member of the Local Advisory Committee of the Reserve.

In the past few years, BHIC has worked with collaborators to re-evaluate the health of the maritime forest after baseline vegetation data was collected. Forest plots were established in the early 2000s and fenced exclosures were set up to evaluate impacts of deer on forest vegetation but were damaged by a series of hurricanes (Florence, Dorian, Isaias) and no longer exclude deer. BHIC staff continues to repair and maintain exclosures as needed as well as evaluate species diversity, forest structure, and disease.

In 2017, BHIC began continuous depth-to-water (DTW) measurements in 16 wells associated with Bald Head Woods (BHW). Existing devices are maintained by Applied Resources Management. BHIC scientists verify the accuracy and precision of deployed devices monthly. Results are presented to the BHW Monitoring Advisory Group, whose partnership with BHIC is to secure the ecological functioning of BHW, including all of the flora and fauna that comprise the forest.

BHIC aims to quantify the island’s deer population and to analyze the efficacy of using the immunocontraceptive GonaCon for managing the population. Population control tools have been used to maintain the population at or below 200 individuals, as previous research indicated that this will maintain a healthy forest ecosystem. BHIC scientists conduct an annual summer spotlight count and fall camera index to provide estimates of the white-tailed deer population, sex ratios, and adult to fawn ratios. This data is then used to provide recommendations for white-tailed deer population management.
More information on the Deer ImmunocontraceptionProgram

Bald Head Creek (BHC) is a tidally dominated brackish water complex surrounded by expansive salt marsh habitats. Salt marshes are among the globe’s most productive and important marine ecosystems providing numerous ecosystem services such as water filtration, flood, and stormwater buffering capacity, fish nursery habitat, and a plethora of recreational activities.

The primary objective of the BHC project is to gain a better understanding of BHC water quality through weekly analysis of physical parameters (e.g., temperature, salinity, total dissolved solids (TDS), dissolved oxygen, and pH), bacterial densities, and nutrient dynamics. Because these parameters exhibit strong relationships to environmental variables such as sunlight and tidal stage, BHIC scientists also conduct periodic 24-hour samplings to assess diel fluctuations in BHC water quality. In 2017, a Cape Creek sampling station was added as a control site to better assess the influence of development and Village activity on BHC water quality.

The objective of the Freshwater Aquifer Study is to examine how Bald Head Island’s aquifer responds to changes in island water usage and environmental conditions (e.g., drought, storm events, outside contaminant inputs) by analyzing the volume and water quality of the island’s finite subterranean water supply. Over-production, contaminant impacts, and salt-water intrusion are among the largest of concerns for current island health, as well as future island growth. Since 2009, BHIC has conducted monthly depth-to-water measurements and quarterly water quality assessments at over forty well and pond locations.

Beach Vitex (Vitex rotundifolia), an invasive dune plant species, rapidly spreads via vegetative growth and seed dispersal, posing a threat to native dune plants and animals on Bald Head Island. The integrity of the BHI dune system, which is strongly correlated with the prevalence and health of native vegetation, is of utmost importance to combat chronic erosion, storm events, and rising sea levels. Unmanaged, Beach Vitex quickly dominates the dune habitat producing a monoculture that can impede sea turtle nesting and shorebird foraging and exacerbate storm erosion.

BHIC has been contracted since 2005 by the Village of BHI to identify and eradicate Beach Vitex (VBHI Ord. 2005-014); a multi-year effort due to this plant’s prolific seed production and quick regrowth. Staff and interns undertake an extensive Beach Vitex survey covering the whole dune ecosystem on the island from the beachfront to the primary dune ridge, including private property. We also periodically conduct aerial surveys using UAVs (drones). Treatment, carried out in the fall-winter, involves applying the herbicide Imazapyr to individual plants.

Bald Head Island possesses diverse, healthy habitats that are home to an abundance of wildlife species.  The ecological balance of species is delicate, with tight interdependent relationships between predator and prey populations. The objective of the Predator/Prey Dynamics program is to estimate Bald Head Island’s principal predator populations that include alligators and canids (red fox, gray fox, and coyote).

Nearly every freshwater lagoon on BHI is home to at least one large alligator (>6 feet). Given the number of large alligators, there is the potential for undesirable interactions with humans. Understanding the population structure and individual movements among lagoons is critical in reducing potentially hazardous human interactions. BHIC scientists employ nighttime spotlight surveys to determine age-class structure and location of alligators across the island. As the population continues to change, accurate counts are essential to exploring management options.

The Conservancy quantifies wild canids during summer deer spotlight surveys. Fox populations have fluctuated through time but the coyote population appears to be increasing on BHI. Coyotes pose a threat to several native BHI species including foxes and sea turtles (destroying nests).  BHI Conservancy scientists conduct opportunistic searches in high-sighting locations to determine if and where coyotes and foxes have active dens and/or pups. We have an active research program investigating non-lethal coyote management methods to protect sea turtle nests and are considering non-invasive sampling methods to gain a better understanding of BHI’s coyote population size and dynamics.

Bald Head Island is designated by Audubon as an Important Bird Area (IBA), and the Conservancy focuses on understanding and protecting resident and migratory bird species. Shorebird monitoring has two different components. One is monitoring the beaches for beach-nesting species during the breeding season. Wilson’s Plover and Least Terns are two North Carolina species of special concern that are present on the island. BHIC protects shorebird nesting sites by posting and roping off areas during the nesting season (April through August) and contributes data about the species presence, abundance, and nesting to state and federal agencies. The other component is conducting monthly bird surveys to monitor species’ presence on the island throughout the year.

Eastern diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) are listed
as a species of special concern in North Carolina. Terrapins are unique for their ability to live in brackish water and can be found swimming in the salt marsh creeks of BHI. They are medium-sized turtles, with the larger females ranging from 6-9 inches and the smaller males ranging from 4-5.5 inches.
Terrapins often get caught in crab pots as by-catch and drown
because they aren’t able to get out. Terrapin Excluder Devices (TEDs, also known as Bycatch Reduction Devices) are required in all crab pots in Diamondback Terrapin Management Areas including Bald Head Island from March 1 – Oct 31 (details here).
Contact conservation@bhic.org to obtain Terrapin Excluder Devices for your crab pots. For more information on TEDs, see our factsheet.

We are site coordinators for the Terrapin Tally, a citizen science project conducted in partnership with the NC Coastal Reserve and NC Wildlife Resources Commission to measure the status of diamondback terrapin populations. Volunteers work in pairs to conduct headcount surveys on specific kayak routes to document diamondback terrapin sightings. Counts are conducted in spring, and all volunteers must attend a training session. If you are interested in participating in Terrapin Tallies on Bald Head Island, please contact conservation@bhic.org.

If you encounter a stranded diamondback terrapin (dead or alive), please contact our Wildlife Response Hotline. We are tracking locations and taking measurements and data from terrapins on BHI.

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