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What is Masonboro Island?

Judy Royal

Masonboro Island is among the most treasured attractions of the Cape Fear Coast, if you can get there. It’s the largest undisturbed barrier island along the southern part of the North Carolina coast and is located about 5 miles southeast of Wilmington. The Masonboro site is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to the west, Masonboro Inlet to the north and Carolina Beach Inlet to the south.

The Masonboro Island component is the largest site within the N.C.  National Estuarine Research Reserve system and was designated in 1991. The 8.4-mile-long island encompasses approximately 5,046 acres, 87 percent of which are covered with marsh and tidal flats. The remaining 619 acres are composed of beach uplands and dredge material islands. Masonboro Island is an essentially pristine barrier island and estuarine system.

Masonboro Island can only be reached by boat. There are public and private boat ramps in and near Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach. There are also private fee ferry services to the island, including the Wrightsville Beach Water Taxi.

Boats usually land on the beaches along the north and south sound side of the island and visitors walk across the dunes to the beach. Visitors may also walk down the undisturbed ocean beach for miles. There are no restroom facilities or trash receptacles, so visitors have to adapt to the primitive conditions and take everything they use with them. You may also want to bring along a beach umbrella or shade tent as the island is largely treeless, so there’s no escape from the relentless summer sun.

Masonboro Island is a popular destination for boaters, fishermen, tent campers and dog owners. On most summer days you can find groups congregating on the ends of the island cooking out, sunbathing and swimming. If you have kids or you’re just not into the party scene, you should steer clear of the island’s north end during Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. During these holidays, college students and other 20-somethings come out of the woodwork to gather en masse with coolers full of alcohol, and the party sometimes gets out of hand. Also, Masonboro Channel, the waterway on the sound side near the north end of the island, is often packed full of boats full of boisterous revelers, making the channel tough to navigate, or sometimes nearly impassable.

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