Bald Head Island Conservancy

Science & Research

Content Image

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. Research projects led by BHIC scientists or collaborators focus on barrier island sustainability and conservation biology.

For questions about current or past research projects, please contact

Research Projects led by BHIC

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

IMG 0027

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.

Living in coexistence: a novel predator exclusion cage design
Paul Hillbrand | Elizabeth Darrow | Rachael Urbanek | Seanna Jobe | Emily Abernathy

Predator exclusion caged are the most widely used predator management method on North Carolina sea turtle nesting beaches
Elizabeth S. Darrow | Paul Hillbrand

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

IMG 0975

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.

Towards Real-Time Fecal Indicator Bacteria Monitoring in Coastal Waters (BHIC Lead: Beth Darrow, Project Lead: Natalie Nelson, NCSU: 2022 – 2025)

Water quality monitoring is important for safe use of our waterways for shellfishing, fishing, and recreation. Fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) are monitored to determine presence of wastewater inputs to waterways that could lead to human illness. Traditional methods for FIB monitoring take 1-2 days from sample collection to obtain results. The long-term goal of this project is to develop a fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) monitoring platform that issues real-time advisories and increases the precision with which water quality risks in coastal waters are communicated and mitigated. This project will deploy a multiparameter water quality sonde that uses tryptophan-like fluorescence, turbidity, temperature, salinity, chlorophyll-a, and fluorescent dissolved organic matter and develop machine learning models using these data to predict FIB concentrations. Through this project, funded by the US Coastal Research Program, BHI Conservancy has begun near-continuous monitoring of water quality in Bald Head Creek. Water quality data will be publicly available online.

Research Partnerships

The Conservancy is a small organization located on a “remote” barrier Island. Our external collaborations with elite organizations and institutions make it possible for the Conservancy to deliver on its mission of “Discover, Learn, Conserve, and Preserve.”

We currently have a variety of different collaborations with North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina Schools and other institutions. We are always seeking new partners to improve our barrier island conservation and educational efforts. If you would like to explore the various opportunities for research and partnerships with the Conservancy, please contact

Data Requests

If you are interested in using our environmental monitoring data for research or educational purposes, please fill out the following form: Data Use Agreement and Request Form. Our science team will respond with any questions within a few working days.

Visiting Researchers

Are you a professor, graduate student, or other scientist looking to conduct research on Bald Head Island? Looking for a spot for your symposium, workshop, or lab group retreat? Take advantage of the proximity to a variety of barrier island habitats (beach, dunes, salt marsh, maritime forest, freshwater ponds) by using Bald Head Island Conservancy as a field station. The BHI Conservancy has several options available for meeting spaces (year-round) and overnight research trips (September – April). Collaborators with BHIC scientists may qualify for reduced rates. To discuss scientific collaborations, use of BHIC datasets, and/or use of laboratory facilities or sampling support, contact Beth Darrow at

Laboratory Facilities

$25/day per group of up to 4 people for use of our dry lab, wet lab, prep room, and/or scientific equipment. Facilities will be shared with BHIC staff.

  • Lab benches, sinks, drying oven, autoclave, refrigerators, freezers
  • 10 gallon aquaria, pumps, and other aquarium equipment
  • Equipment/supplies in our areas of research can be checked out upon request
  • Long-term stays eligible for a bulk rate
Fieldwork Assistance

We are happy to help you plan your visit and can provide advice on sampling sites and logistics. Sampling support by BHIC staff without a formal collaboration  follows the following fee structure:

  • Jon boat use + captain (suitable for BHI Creek, Cape Creek, no river/ocean sampling)
    • $350/half day (high tide +/- 2 hrs)
  • Sample collection by BHIC staff
    • $85/hour
  • Golf cart and kayak use for researchers: availability and pricing upon request 
Conservancy Bunkhouse

$35 per person, per night
Maximum Capacity: 14 people

  • Guests bring their own linens, towels, pillows, and other necessities
  • Bunkhouse includes use of fully-equipped, shared kitchen, restrooms,  and living spaces
  • Option to sign up for a wide array of educational program led by BHI Conservancy staff
  • Short 5-minute walk to South Beach
    **Golf carts not included and must be rented separately from Cary Cart Company (cars are prohibited on Bald Head Island)
Classrooms & Multimedia Center

$3/day per person for overnight guests
$150/half day for single day group use
$250/day for single day group use

Indirect Cost Policy for BHIC-Sponsored Grants

The Bald Head Island Conservancy 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. 

BHIC Research Publications

Examples of peer-reviewed studies that 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 to request copies.

* Indicates BHIC author

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.

Shamblott, KM, JL Reneker*, SJ Kamel. 2021. The thermal impacts of beach nourishment across a regionally important loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) rookery. Ecosphere 12(3):e03396.

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. 

Halls, JN, AL Randall. 2018. Nesting Patterns of Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta): Development of a Multiple Regression Model Tested in North Carolina, USA. International Journal of Geo-Information 7(9):10.3390/ijgi7090348 

Renaker, JL*, SJ Kamel. 2016. Climate change increases the production of female hatchlings at a northern sea turtle rookery. Ecology

Renaker, JL*, SJ Kamel. 2016. The Maternal Legacy: Female Identity Predicts Offspring Sex Ratio in the Loggerhead Sea Turtle. Scientific Reports 6:29237

DeGregorio, BA*, A Southwood-Williard. 2011. Incubation temperatures and metabolic heating of relocated and in situ loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) nests at a northern rookery. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 10 (1): 54–61

Hawkes, LA*, MJ Witt, AC Broderick, JW Coker, MS Coyne, M Dodd, MG Frick, MH Godfrey, DB Griffin, SR Murphy, TM Murphy, KL Williams, BJ Godley. 2011. Home on the range: spatial ecology of loggerhead turtles in Atlantic waters of the USA. Biodiversity Research 17(4):624-640.

Kurz, DJ, KM Straley, BA DeGregorio*. 2011. Out-foxing the red fox: how best to protect the nests of the Endangered loggerhead marine turtle Caretta caretta from mammalian predation? Oryx 46(2):223-228

Monk, MH, J Berkson, P Rivalan. 2010. Estimating demographic parameters for loggerhead sea turtles using mark–recapture data and a multistate model. Population Ecology 53:65-174.

Hawkes, LA*, AC Broderick, MH Godfrey, BJ Godley. 2007. Investigating the potential impacts of climate change on a marine turtle population. Global Change Biology

Hawkes, LA*, AC Broderick, MS Coyne, MH Godfrey, BJ Godley. 2007. Only some like it hot – quantifying the environmental niche of the loggerhead sea turtle. Diversity and Distributions 13:447-457.

Hawkes, LA*, AC Broderick, MH Godfrey, BJ Godley. 2005. Status of nesting loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta at Bald Head Island (North Carolina, USA) after 24 years of intensive monitoring and conservation. Oryx 39(1):65-72.

Webster, WD, KA Cook. 2001. Intraseasonal Nesting Activity of Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) in Southeastern North Carolina. The American Midland Naturalist, 145(1):66-73.[0066:INAOLS]2.0.CO;2

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.

Rushing, CS, AM Van Tatenhove, A Sharp, V Ruiz-Gutierrez, MC Freeman, PW Skyes Jr, AM Given, TS Sillett. 2021. Integrating tracking and resight data enables unbiased inferences about migratory connectivity and winter range survival from archival tags. Ornithological Applications 123(2):duab010

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.

Yirka, LM, JA. Collazo, SG Williams, DT Cobb. 2018. Persistence-based area prioritization for conservation: Applying occupancy and habitat threats and risks analyses. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management (2018) 9 (2): 554–564.

Sherrill, BL, AG Snider, S Kennedy-Stoskopf, CS DePerno. 2012. Survey of Zoonotic pathogens in white-tailed deer on Bald Head Island, North Carolina. Southeastern Naturalist 11(3), 529-533.

DeGregorio, BA*, EJ Nordberg, KE Stepanoff, JE Hill. 2010. Patterns of snake road mortality on an isolated barrier island. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 5(3):441–448.

Taggart, J, Z Long. 2015. Effects of White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) on the Maritime Forest of Bald Head Island, North Carolina. The American Midland Naturalist 173(2), 283-293.

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.

Guillette, TC, TW Jackson, M Guillette, J McCord, SM Belcher. 2022. Blood concentrations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are associated with autoimmune-like effects in American alligators from Wilmington, North Carolina. Frontiers in Toxicology 4: 1010185 10.3389/ftox.2022.1010185

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.

Skip to content