Bald Head Island Conservancy

Science & Research

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Science & Research

The Bald Head Island Conservancy provides environmental stewardship by conserving landscapes, protecting wildlife, and promoting applied research.

The goal of our science and conservation programs is to develop science-based management strategies to live in harmony within barrier island environments. We provide leadership by promoting and communicating applied research, developing collaborations, providing exceptional field and laboratory facilities, and serving as the regional center of practical environmental solutions.

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Research Projects at Bald Head island

Sea Turtle Nesting Cages

Designing a Nest Cage for Coexistence: Living with a Non-Native Predator, Canis latrans (Lead: Paul Hillbrand, 2020 – 2021)

Coyotes have become the main source of loggerhead sea turtle nest depredation on Bald Head Island, despite the use of predator exclusion cages (PEC). While some mammalian predators may be legally trapped and euthanized in North Carolina, this management strategy is not always politically supported.

We engineered a new PEC design using a PVC frame with MasterNet fencing and evaluated its efficacy against mammalian depredation compared to three PEC designs (welded-wire cage, MasterNet screen, and Terragrid mesh cage) used by sea turtle monitoring programs throughout the southeastern United States. We assessed each design’s efficacy and mammalian predator behavior during two 14-day trials conducted with artificial baited nests in November and December of 2020.

The two most effective designs were then installed over live sea turtle nests during the 2021 nesting season on Bald Head Island to assess each design’s efficacy and mammalian predator behavior. Our findings suggest the MasterNet cage is a suitable option for a replacement for the potentially harmful welded wire cage consistently used in sea turtle nest protection.

GonaCon™ Deer Population Control

Efficacy and cost of GonaCon™ for population control in a free-ranging white-tailed deer population (Lead: Micah Walker, 2014-2019)

As white-tailed deer populations increase in developed and urban areas, management is necessary to control population growth. However, concerns about safety and negative attitudes towards lethal control of using firearms near houses have prompted many communities to pursue non-lethal techniques.

In 2014 we initiated a 5-year project to attempt to stabilize the local deer population on BHIC, using the immunocontraceptive GonaCon™. Since 2014, we captured and inoculated 77 female deer with GonaCon™. Two doses of GonaCon™ were necessary to reduce pregnancy rates below 50%. The direct cost of the immunocontraception project averaged $2,078.12/capture with an overall efficacy of 33% for one dose and 86% for two doses of GonaCon™. Conversely, the estimated cost for the local government (i.e., Village of Bald Head Island) to cull 30 deer in 2018 was $538.79/deer.

The estimated population from 2014 was 113 and increased to 198 individuals by 2018. Although two doses of GonaCon™ were effective at reducing pregnancy, administration across the BHI deer population was not successful in reducing the deer population size.

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Research Publications at Bald Head island

Numerous peer-reviewed studies have been conducted on Bald Head Island, with BHIC staff as authors or collaborators. This is not an exhaustive list but is indicative of the types of work being done on BHI. Please contact conservation@bhic.org to request copies.

Research Partnerships

We currently have a variety of different collaborations with North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina Schools, and other institutions. We are always seeking new partners to improve our barrier island conservation and educational efforts. Here is more information about our research partnerships:

Indirect Cost Policy

BHIC funds projects with specific outcomes. The budget for each grant should reflect only “direct costs,” reflecting expenses that are required for and can be tracked directly to the grant project. Indirect costs are not allowable under Bald Head Island Conservancy’s indirect cost policy.

If you would like to explore the various opportunities for research and partnerships with the Conservancy, please contact conservation@bhic.org.

Jones, G, A Snider, S Luo. 2013. Changes in the extent of North Carolina
barrier island maritime forests 1988 –2011: An assessment of past efforts at protection. Journal of Forestry 111(3):186-193.

Sherrill, BL, AG Snider, CS DePerno. 2010. White-tailed deer on a barrier island: Implications for preserving an ecologically important maritime forest. Proceedings of Southeastern Fish and Wildlife Conference 2010:38-43.

Shamblin BM, Dodd MG, Pate SM, Godfrey MH, Pfaller JB, Williams KL, Ondich BL, Steen DA, Darrow ES*, Hillbrand P*, Coyne MS, Nairn CJ. 2021. In search of the “missing majority” of nesting loggerhead turtles: improved recapture rates through subpopulation-scale genetic tagging. Marine Biology 168:16.

Frandsen, HR, CM Purvin, HM Wilson, D Webster, P Hillbrand*, LN Howell, JB McNeill, C Macon, A Krauss, K Heuberger, J Grimes, C Marshall, DJ Shaver. 2020. Caretta caretta (Loggerhead sea turtle) post-nesting recaptures. Herpetological Review 51(4):825-826.

Shamblin, BM, MH Godfrey, SM Pate, WP Thompson, H Sutton, J Altman, K Fair, J McClary, AM Wilson, B Milligan*, EJ Stetzar, CJ Nairn. 2018. Green turtles nesting at their northern range limit in the United States represent a distinct subpopulation. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 17(2):314-319.

Yirka, LM, JA Collazo, BJ O’Shea, JA Gerwin, JA Rotenberg, DT Cobb. 2018. Demographic rates of two southeastern populations of Painted Bunting, 2007 – 2015. The Condor: Ornithological Applications 120:319-329.

Walker, M.J., Shank, G.C., Stoskopf, M.K., Minter, L.J. and DePerno, C.S. (2021), Efficacy and Cost of GonaCon™ for Population Control in a Free-ranging White-tailed Deer Population. Wildl. Soc. Bull., 45: 589-596.

Mitasova, H, TG Drake, D Bernstein, RS Harmon. 2004. Quantifying rapid changes in coastal topography using modern mapping techniques and Geographic Information System. Environmental and Engineering Geoscience 10(1): 1–11.