Village of BHI Projects
Together with the Village of Bald Head Island, the Conservancy performs scientific assessments of the island throughout the year. You can read about these projects below.
Freshwater Aquifer Study
The objective of the Freshwater Aquifer Study is to examine how Bald Head Island’s (BHI) aquifer responds to changes in island water usage and environmental conditions (e.g., drought, storm events, outside contaminant inputs) by analyzing the volume and water quality of the island’s subterranean water supply. BHI’s aquifer is comprised of two distinct layers, upper (unconfined surficial) and lower (semi-confined), separated by a semi-permeable layer of clay that allows for infiltration from the upper layer to the lower. The upper aquifer is the main source of recharge for the lower aquifer, while the lower aquifer is used for freshwater production on BHI.
The aquifer project began in 2009 to provide Village leadership with data required to protect Bald Head Island’s potable water supply. A specific focus of this work is identifying potential saltwater intrusions into the drinking water supply or below the maritime forest in response to overproduction or weather/climate conditions. Since the program’s inception, the Bald Head Island Conservancy has conducted monthly depth-to-water measurements (proxy for aquifer freshwater volume) at 35 well sites and quarterly water quality assessments at 21 well sites across both Bald Head and Middle Islands.
Bald Head Woods Well Monitoring
In 2017, the Bald Head Island Conservancy began continuous depth-to-water (DTW) measurements in 16 wells associated with Bald Head Woods (BHW) via deployment of Eno Scientific Well Watch 670 probes. BHI Conservancy scientists verify the accuracy and precision of deployed Eno devices monthly, followed by quarterly data downloads. Results are then presented at quarterly meetings of the BHW Monitoring Advisory Group who is charged with 1) assessing hydrologic conditions within BHW 2) analyzing the potential effects of water withdrawals from the aquifer below BHW and 3) making recommendations about management actions to prevent or mitigate those effects. The focus of the partnership between BHI Conservancy scientists and the BHW Monitoring Advisory Group is to secure the ecological functioning of BHW, including all of the flora and fauna that comprise the forest.
Bald Head Creek (BHC) is a tidally dominated brackish water complex surrounded by expansive salt marsh habitat. Salt marshes are among the globe’s most productive and important marine ecosystems providing numerous ecosystem services such as water filtration, flood and storm water buffering capacity, fish nursery habitat, and a plethora of recreational activities. The primary objective of the BHC project is to gain a better understanding of BHC water quality through weekly analysis of physical parameters (e.g. temperature, salinity, total dissolved solids (TDS), dissolved oxygen, and pH), bacterial populations, and nutrient dynamics. Physical parameters, including dissolved oxygen and pH, are used to assess biological activity in the tidal creek/salt marsh complex. Yet because these parameters exhibit strong relationships to environmental variables such as sunlight and tidal stage, Conservancy scientists must also conduct periodic 24-hour samplings to assess diel fluctuations in BHC water quality. Additionally, in 2017, a Cape Creek sampling station was added as a control site to better assess the influence of development and Village activity on BHC water quality.
Deer Management Project
The objectives of the BHI Conservancy’s Deer Management Program are to quantify the island’s deer population and to analyze the efficacy of using the immunocontraceptive GonaCon for managing the population (current target = 200). BHI Conservancy scientists conduct annual summer spotlight counts and fall camera indexes to provide estimates of the white-tailed deer population, gender ratios, and adult to fawn ratios. This data is then used to provide recommendations for white-tailed deer population management goals. In turn, sound population management decisions ensure stable and productive island habitats that continue to provide ecosystem services (e.g., storm protection, positive elevation growth, biodiversity, enhanced tourism, and recreation). Darting season for the immunocontraception aspect of the project runs from January through April.
The objectives of the BHI Conservancy’s Invasives Management Program are (1) find and eradicate existing Beach Vitex to prevent species proliferation and (2) monitor the spread of the Laurel Wilt Disease discovered in Fall 2016.
Beach Vitex, an invasive dune species, rapidly spreads via vegetative growth and seed dispersal, posing a threat to native dune plants and animals on Bald Head Island (BHI). The integrity of the BHI dune system, which is strongly correlated with the prevalence and health of native vegetation, is of utmost importance to combat chronic erosion, storm events, and rising sea levels. Unmanaged, Beach Vitex quickly dominates the dune habitat producing a monoculture that can impede sea turtle nesting and shorebird foraging and exacerbate storm erosion; a multi-year effort due to this plant’s prolific seed production and quick regrowth.
Bald Head Island Conservancy (BHIC) has been contracted since 2005 by the Village of BHI (VBHI) to identify and eradicate the invasive dune species Beach Vitex (Vitex rotundifolia) (VBHI Ord. 2005-014). The BHI Conservancy staff and interns undertake an extensive Beach Vitex survey covering the whole dune ecosystem on the island from beach access 1 up to the Fort Fisher boundary on East Beach during the summer seasons. Treatment, carried out in the fall, involves applying Imazapyr to scrapes made on the individual plants. The BHI Conservancy is looking to partner with university researchers to increase the effectiveness of search efforts and treatment.
Laurel Wilt Disease
Laurel Wilt is a disease that causes the death of Red Bay trees and is spread by the invasive non-native ambrosia beetle. Red Bays comprise approximately 30% of BHI’s maritime forest understory, so this disease represents a significant threat to the maritime forest. Bill Walker, who serves as the Brunswick Country Cape Fear Ranger in the NC Forest Service, initially identified the presence of Laurel Wilt on BHI in August 2016. Dr. Kelly Oten and Wayne Langston from the Forest Health section of the NC Forest Service later confirmed the presence of Laurel Wilt in September 2016. BHI Conservancy scientists is working with the Village and NC Forest Service to design and implement an appropriate survey plan that tracks the spread of this disease.
Bald Head Island possesses diverse, healthy habitats that are home to an abundance of wildlife species. The ecological balance of species is delicate, with tight interdependent relationships between predator and prey populations. BHI supports multiple predator species including the American alligator, coyotes, and red and grey foxes, but little is known about the population dynamics of these predators. The objective of the Predator/Prey Dynamics program is to estimate Bald Head Island’s principal predator populations that include red fox, gray fox, coyote, and alligator.
Nearly every freshwater lagoon on BHI is home to at least one large alligator (>6 feet). Given the number of large alligators, there is the potential for undesirable human interactions. Understanding the population structure and individual movements among lagoons is critical in reducing potentially hazardous human interactions. BHI Conservancy scientists employ nighttime spotlight surveys to determine age class structure and location of alligators across the island.
The coyote population appears to be increasing on BHI based on recent camera surveys. Coyotes pose a threat to several native BHI species including foxes and sea turtles (destroy nests). BHI Conservancy scientists conduct opportunistic searches in high sighting locations to determine if and where coyotes (and foxes) have active dens and/or pups.
Bald Head Island is home to 244 documented bird species, more than half of all species documented in North Carolina. Of these 244 species, nine are listed with special protections at the state or federal level, and shorebird species diversity is intrinsically linked to island biodiversity and ecosystem health. The BHI Conservancy’s Shorebird Monitoring program analyzes avian species abundance and richness from the dune vegetation edge to berm crest along 4800 meters of beach proximate to the terminal groin (approximately from beach access 5 to 13). Shorebird surveys are conducted weekly from April to September and biweekly September through March. The BHI Conservancy also protects shorebird nesting sites by posting and roping off areas during the nesting season (April through August) and contributing data about species presence, abundance and nesting to state and federal agencies. This data is used to ensure that nesting and migratory stopover environments on BHI are maintained for the future.