Duck's Coastal Environment

The Field Research Facility concentrates on the physical processes that affect the coastline, such as wind, waves, tides, and currents. However, the environment and the well being of certain species are important to us, and we feel that your actions and awareness can contribute to the survival of these amazing creatures! If you are lucky, you might be able to see them in person!


Sea turtles have inhabited North Carolina's waters long before humans occupied this region of the world. Although these ancient reptiles have successfully navigated the oceans for millions of years, today they face a serious threat to their existence largely because of human activities.

In 2002 a loggerhead turtle was spotted laying her eggs (82 of them) at the north end of our property. The Network for Endangered Sea Turtles set up a perimeter around the nest, and it was monitored until the turtles hatched. To learn more about NEST Click Here.

On September 2, the first turtles climbed out of the sand and made their way to the water. Turtles normally hatch in the night during a full moon so that they can follow the lights reflection to the water. These turtles oddly hatched during the day.

On September 9th, the remaining eggs in the nest were excavated to ensure the survival of the turtles. Tropical storm Gustav was to make land fall the following day, and it would destroy the nest if it were left buried. An additional 13 turtles hatched and reached the water because the nest was unburied. A total of 65 turtles hatched from this nest out of the 82 eggs that were laid.

Loggerheads, green turtles, and leatherbacks die every year from careless litter. They may eat plastic bags thinking they are jellyfish. Please pick up your trash!

This juvenile hooded seal came ashore after it became separated from its mother. North Carolina is far below its normal habitable environment. Other seal species however have been known to live in the waters around the pier. They are often found in waters warmer than the hooded seal and can continue to feed in these local waters.

The Naked Sea Butterfly (above) made a rare appearance in the waters around the FRF in the Summer of 2004. It normally spends its time in Atlantic waters from Delaware to the Arctic in schools of millions eating its favorite prey, the Shelled Sea Butterfly. The Naked Sea Butterfly is considered planktonic and is related to jellyfish. It has a soft clear one inch body and has a pair of modified feet that sort of look like wings.

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Created by Clint Baron
North Carolina State University
Summer 2006


Dolphins are mammals, so they must surface to breathe. Bottlenose dolphins (above) are easily spotted because they usually travel in a group sometimes following schools of fish.

Mollusk shells (above) are very common along the Atlantic coast. Some whelk shells are the knobbed whelk, the New England neptune, the lightning whelk, and the Atlantic dogwinkle. The egg sacks of these animals can also be found while beach combing. Open up one of the capsules for a look at tiny whelks, identical to the much larger adults.

The horseshoe crab (above) is actually a relative of spiders, scorpions, and ticks!! They live in the estuary, but their molts (cast-off outer skeletons) are commonly found on the ocean beach.

Skates and rays (above), cartilaginous fishes related to sharks, are sometimes caught by fishermen in the surf. The clearnose skate, cownose ray, and southern sting ray are some species that might be seen along the shore. The clearnose skate's black, leathery egg case, called a mermaid's purse or devil's pocketbook, is a common beach combing find.

Feeling Crabby? Male and female fiddler crabs inhabit soundside beaches, and ghost crabs (above) dig many of the holes you see on open ocean beaches. These nocturnal animals are scavengers, feeding on tiny dead animals and leftover peanut butter sandwiches.

Jellyfish are occasional visitors to the Outer Bank's beaches, and are usually very unpopular! Stinging nettles use their nematocysts, or stinging cells, on their long tentacles to capture food, and unintentionally cause discomfort for swimmers. Cannon ball jellyfish, also called cabbage head, have no tentacles and are considered harmless. They eat phytoplankton and might often be seen swimming next to fish.

There are a wide variety of shore birds that visit or live in the area. Osprey (above), or fish hawks, dive into the oceans to catch their food! The black back gulls, herring gulls, sandpipers, brown pelicans, terns, skimmers, and laughing gulls are often seen flying over and playing with the vacationers!