Lumina News file photo
Joe Abbate with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours discusses the characteristics of the seaside elder plant on Masonboro Island with fifth graders from Wrightsville Beach School on Oct. 22, 2013, as part of the barrier island ecology pilot program sponsored by Masonboro.org.
Having a better understanding of how and when commercial businesses use the uninhabited Masonboro Island is part of a new initiative for all N.C. Coastal Reserve sites.
Hope Sutton, stewardship coordinator and Southern sites manager for the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve, said her organization started a dialogue with local businesses that regularly use the island.
The types of businesses participating in the dialogue include kayak and standup paddleboard companies, photographers and other businesses primarily focused on ecotourism.
During a meeting on Wednesday, March 19, Sutton said the dialogue is for all of the coastal reserve sites with a goal of better understanding commercial uses of the reserve’s inventory, including Masonboro Island.
N.C. Coastal Reserve program manager Rebecca Ellin said the language outlining allowable commercial activities on Masonboro is brief, only stipulating the use must not be detrimental to the site.
Chris Helms, Carolina Beach State Park superintendent, asked if the end result of the discussions would be to implement a permit fee structure for the different commercial uses, but Sutton said that was not the main goal of the initiative.
“We have had internal discussions over the years about what a permit structure may look like so we could have more control over what commercial uses are over there,” Sutton said. “But there has not ever been a great time to make that change.”
Changes will be coming to the way Masonboro Island is used as an educational tool this spring. Sutton said the Masonboro.org-funded public school field trips to the island will begin sometime between mid April and early May. The curriculum for the program has been finalized with two schools possibly participating in the first trip.
Sutton said Gregory Elementary is definitely on board for the program and Sunset Park Elementary School is trying to secure its place as well.
The program for fifth-grade classes will focus on barrier island ecology and specifically the dynamic ecosystem at Masonboro Island.
Ellin said securing K-12 education outreach funding continues to be a high priority for the Masonboro Island Coastal Reserve, in addition to species of concern monitoring and a new water quality monitoring system.
The reserve’s budget for the next two fiscal years has grown with an additional $40,000 budgeted through the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
However, Ellin said the budgetary news was not all positive as President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget includes language that would shut down the state’s NOAA lab in Beaufort.
“Closure of that facility would really impact that county because of the number of people it employs,” Ellin said. “There is a lot of speculation surrounding that language at this time though.”
In an update about the red fox removal plan for Masonboro Island, Sutton said one fox has been removed so far in 2014.