While you may know Wrightsville Beach as a great place for relaxing on the beach, sea-to-table dining and outdoor adventures, the island is also home to a diverse and rich ecosystem filled with plants and animals that depend on the area for their livelihood. Several organizations on the island work to preserve and maintain these natural habitats, and there are plenty of ways visitors can get involved too.
Masonboro Island Reserve is southern North Carolina’s longest undisturbed barrier island and home to loggerhead and green sea turtles, as well as many other threatened native species of plants and animals. Take a guided eco-tour of the island designed to increase conservation awareness and spot wildlife with a knowledgeable guide from Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours, or join the Blockade Runner Surf to Sound Adventures' Masonboro Island Hopper Cruise. Respectful visitors can also rent kayaks or canoes from the Blockade Runner and paddle out to observe the island on a solo expedition.
With a mission to protect public access, promote responsible use and preserve traditions of the island like surfing, camping and fishing, Masonboro.org is completely run by volunteers and hosts clean-up events throughout the year. Their most popular event is the Independence Day Clean-Up Day, where volunteers clear thousands of pieces of trash from the beach each year. Additional clean-up events offer more opportunities for the community and visitors to get involved. Since 2009, more than 700 volunteers have helped remove trash from the island. Learn more about getting involved on the website.
Coastal Education Center
The Fred and Alice Stanback Coastal Education Center is a great place for visitors of all ages to learn more about the natural habitats of the North Carolina coast. The Coastal Education Center serves as a “living classroom” with native plants, rain gardens and low-impact landscaping for guests to explore. The Center has a strong educational program for both students and visitors, offering lessons on water quality, decreasing polluted runoff, restoring coastal habitats, oyster education and more. It also features a coastal adventure series that teaches about living shorelines and salt marshes, as well as Touch Tank Tuesdays, where guests can touch hermit crabs, sea stars and more while learning about how to maintain healthy coastal ecosystems on Tuesdays from June 7 to July 26.
Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project
The Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project was founded in 1994 to help protect sea turtle populations and habitats. Volunteers work with the project to look for signs of nesting and rope them off as federally protected areas, perform nest excavations after hatchings to safely let any unhatched turtles out and act as ambassadors for sea turtles. The project promotes environmentally friendly practices such as reducing the use of single-use plastics and straws, turning beach house lights off after dark, and not leaving trash or holes on the beach.
Learn more about how to identify turtle tracks and safely navigate nesting spots during the project’s summer “Turtle Talks.” You can even attend nesting excavations to see turtles hatch. The Sea Turtle Project also helps rescue sick and injured sea turtles found on the beach and sends them to the sea turtle hospital to be rehabilitated and released back into the ocean. Beachgoers can contact the Turtle Hotline if they come across an injured turtle to ensure it gets proper care. The Sea Turtle Project participates in Wrightsville Beach’s Earth Day Festival and NC Holiday Flotilla Festival, and visitors can get involved with its projects here.
Locally Sourced Dishes
Wrightsville Beach is ideally located to enjoy access to locally sourced ingredients including produce, fresh seafood and more. Many island restaurants take advantage of this island's abundance to lessen their carbon footprint. EAST Oceanfront Dining’s award-winning fare makes use of local seafood, produce from its own garden and other ingredients harvested from local purveyors. Shark Bar & Kitchen, a casual lunch and dinner spot located near Johnnie Mercers Pier, highlights locally and sustainably sourced seafoods, meats and produce. Menus change seasonally to feature fresh findings, and oysters and fresh catch of the day vary daily depending on what the boats bring in.
Certified as an Ocean-Friendly Restaurant by the Plastic Ocean Project, Oceanic Restaurant is dedicated to protecting the coastal environment. Oceanic sources local seafood whenever possible and relies on a multitude of North Carolina farmers for produce, poultry and pork. The restaurant also pledged to reduce plastic waste by not offering straws unless specifically requested and is working towards reducing its footprint in other ways by evaluating its paper, plastic, glass and aluminum usage.
Wrightsville Beach Brewery's delicious seafood is also caught fresh and local, and the brewpub donates 11% of its profits to a different non-profit each month, many of which are organizations with a focus on protecting the environment.
Since opening more than three years ago, Adapt Kitchen + Juice Bar has been committed to sustainability. These efforts include composting all restaurant waste and only sourcing eco-friendly and sustainable packaging for all products.
Accommodations with a Cause
Blockade Runner Beach Resort was recognized as an Ocean-Friendly Establishment in 2016 by the Plastic Ocean Project, and the North Carolina Green Travel Initiative recognized the property with its highest honor, Three Dogwood Blossoms, for efforts to reduce waste, conserve energy and provide community outreach. Guests are invited to book the All Blue Package, a 3-night stay in an oceanfront room with dinner at EAST Oceanfront Dining and breakfast in bed every morning, as well as tours, special events and exhibits from local partners highlighting their sustainable efforts.
Wrightsville Beach is full of sustainable initiatives striving to preserve and protect the island’s diverse ecosystems. Plan your visit now to learn about sustainability on the island and get involved with hands-on opportunities.