Bald Head Island Conservancy

Looking Back on the 40th Year of Bald Head Island Conservancy

Content Image

By Morgan Greene, Chris Shank, and Carrie Barnette

It’s been an exciting year of Discovering, Learning, Conserving, and Preserving for the Bald Head Island Conservancy, especially as 2023 marks its 40th year of service to Bald Head Island. 


Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, over 15,000 guests visited BHIC’s Fleming Environmental Education Center. The Center allows visitors to meet the Conservancy’s ambassador animals and learn about BHI wildlife and ecosystems. Nearly 4,000 people attended BHIC programs this year, including classroom explorations and dissections, family crabbing and fishing, guided birding and kayaking tours, and beach patrols with our Sea Turtle Protection Team (STPT). 

wSUpR5UB6xECEMgY7dUJ9iqEPveJlJvUFIfAud4Ndg3inMNCdeJxizytuo9brDGIC r4TRTwzZaqkK7rvIoADlr6 GWPgEb E3bNuomXrr6fnfydE0BEUgXFP3HB0kU0HQvMtp9THWNXceHjoN0BEAAlso this summer, 150 students attended week-long BHIC camps, where they engaged in nature exploration, made crafts, met live animals, and more. More than 1,000 guests joined the Conservancy’s popular “Turtle Walks,” hoping for a glimpse of sea turtles laying their nests or hatchlings heading for the ocean.

BHIC hosted 34 group and school field trips in 2023, most notably the Barrier Island Botanists (BIB) program for all 1,100 sixth graders in Brunswick County public schools. BIB students visit three different ecosystems—the beach, the saltmarsh, and the maritime forest—to learn about the unique plants and animals that live in and support these habitats.

The Conservancy also hosted students from Young Scientist Academy (YSA) for a two-day outdoor science camp, CAPES (Coastal Adventures Providing Experiences in Science). YSA gives students from underserved communities in the Cape Fear region opportunities to learn about the natural world through hands-on science activities.

“Every year we welcome more groups to BHI,” says Senior Educator Jennifer Wiggen. “We love discovering and learning about the unique ecosystems of the island with them. Helping these groups connect with nature and share our work in conservation and preservation is so rewarding.”

HeC3EFkzcMgTMj4GwJGwRtp8oz3PmTU8zNQH6RcuRlgeD osKH KaB19 h H0td NM8d m2qX3PMT ZCRV 7NgrnP4RpmA7rPzcO5cPIiA Z1n 4qWRMalnmhUP289stiI96i JOPS60h60pmQmXo8k2023 not only marked 40 years of BHIC, but also 40 years of the Thad Wester Fishing School. 

“Dr. Wester started Fishing School as a way of celebrating all things BHI,” Executive Director Chris Shank says, “and his spirit still drives our celebrations each year.” 

Though fish were scarce at the start of the weekend, fishing school students caught plenty of bluefish, spot, and whiting for their annual Saturday night fish fry. The highlight of the weekend was kid angler Davis Blackwell reeling in a 26.5 inch red drum Sunday morning.

BHIC also coordinated education experiences with partners from the Boy Scouts of America, North Carolina Coastal Reserve, culinary groups and garden clubs, and several universities, including NC State and UNCW. Each program was developed to meet the needs of the attendees, from earning merit badges to research-based programs aligned with university coursework.


In April, BHIC hosted the second Annual Johnston Coastal Sustainability Symposium. BHI homeowners and guests learned from experts about ongoing research regarding coastal sustainability. Attendees were also able to ask questions about local matters, such as dredging and deepening of the Cape Fear River and efforts to protect BHI’s maritime forest. 

Dr. Craig Landry (University of Georgia) gave the Symposium’s plenary dinner lecture at the BHI Club and described how natural causes and human activities impact the economies of inhabited barrier islands. Also during the Symposium, the first ever Johnston Graduate Fellowship in Coastal Sustainability was awarded to Kimmy Hansen, a student in the Masters of City and Regional Planning program at UNC Chapel Hill.

Fb IXn0mGrHqUHn9rOGsNTQCJUlejkZ9o EUBBdvVPvPuTiK9WYm7Cc3oQHGlghN9DYaJjXSrjy4ulOvjdkexj6V3zDsjVPQsnSHiLh327 2ZsjwpSn66QRKTI6vNEf5wlDmoCjLbt glECMcQFwrkABHIC’s conservation team conducted formalized wildlife surveys for diamondback terrapins, birds, calling amphibians, white-tailed deer, foxes, and coyotes in 2023. The team also created a new citizen science project on iNaturalist to track and catalog moths and butterflies on the island, and an intern project ran surveys on animals living in oyster reefs.

“We are good at counting animals!” says Dr. Beth Darrow. 

BHI Conservancy hosts 20 interns annually, each of whom takes on a research project to gain experience in their field of study. While some intern projects are completed in a single season, such as bird and insect diversity studies, others support BHIC’s ongoing research. Such projects include monitoring the island’s deer population, studying and restoring oyster reefs, water quality management, and sea turtle protection. Each intern project affords well-informed and scientifically sound decisions regarding the management of BHI’s natural resources. 

ftiVsdtuhpJ6937ZOwlYJdVAAoX69EAVwAKaXThe BHIC conservation team’s deer population analysis estimated approximately 150 deer living on BHI. The team, including its 2023 interns, has also continued BHIC’s oyster reef reclamation project, analyzing the success of 2022 oyster reefs, identifying new oysters that have been attracted to the reefs, and quantifying new oyster habitat being established naturally around the reefs. Another important project is the continued monitoring of the quantity and quality of BHI’s freshwater aquifer, which provides freshwater for islanders and the maritime forest.

 In 2023, 59 different sea turtle moms visited our beaches, making for an eventful nesting season with 122 nests laid and 221 false crawls. The STPT equipped four nesting females—KKD855, KKX238, Sandy, and Scarlett—with satellite tags that allow the team to follow the turtles’ migrations in real time. Tracking these turtles will help the Conservancy learn more about their post-nesting foraging behavior along the east coast, as well as how they utilize offshore areas that could become the sites of wind farms in the future.


BHIC’s Turtle Trots experienced more than 1,400 runners in 2023, with an all-time record of 194 trotters at the Fourth of July week race!

wMLIyyFmCDbaN 6NZybCuUf85ZLM8G83Ke8iw VZUuvv3VQZevIXiYLkyhD5PpvJeAW9JkacgASnY9X80a3fEQkrXQfr qBoGTE4U9ypa1sCOA0u 2epkbdjcrLoZ9EJopnyAl09zsZTnKOcftXW7CYOver Memorial Day weekend, Turtle Central introduced the Hatchling Hut to the BHI marina. Located on the porch of Intracoastal Realty, the Hatchling Hut is an information and merchandise kiosk serving as the Conservancy’s first point of contact with incoming visitors to the island. Operated by interns in 2023, the Conservancy is actively looking for Hatchling Hut Ambassadors for 2024 who will sell merchandise and greet visitors to the island. Please contact BHIC if you are interested in being an Ambassador.

In honor of its 40 year anniversary, the Conservancy hosted a variety of summer events to celebrate with the BHI community and garner support for ongoing conservation work including World Sea Turtle Day, the Fourth of July Silent Auction and Golf Cart Raffle, and the 40th Anniversary Cocktail Party. In October, the Low Down Throw Down Shrimp Boil brought more than 130 members and friends to the BHIC campus for games, music, and food. Throughout the year, Turtle Central released special 40th anniversary merchandise, including hats, shirts, plushies, and a commemorative 40th Anniversary ornament. 

FcCQ3jZDgMfUIIl86QeP6KuuZV19Y5nAeonzS ECGW72MJji4KZco8lS5STMopzbLZHRJwrjpq1FzSd5zhT7ZdTuHY7KDa3RRJh9vK5QWXGxEMKamIwEoybqq Fj1eFl4oUyU iNi6c7IgZo4kccClgMost recently, BHIC staff invited the community to join them in giving back during the annual Giving Tuesday Island Clean-up Event. According to Director of Development Carrie Barnette, “Celebrating the 40th has been an exciting way to promote the work of the Conservancy and offer opportunities for the Conservancy to serve our community. Together, we continue to do the important work while enjoying this beautiful island we call home.”

As the year draws to a close, BHIC is winding down its Annual Fund campaign, asking the community to support the BHIC mission through a financial gift that allows educational programs and research at the Conservancy to continue. Ongoing support from members and friends is critical to helping BHIC protect and sustain the island’s unique ecosystems as we continue to Discover, Learn, Conserve, and Preserve in 2024.


Previous Post
2023 Christmas...


Next Post
2023 Executive...

Skip to content