Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve: An Overview

I thought it might be nice to do a little wrtie-up about one of my favorite places for kayaking and photography, the Rachel Caroson Estuarine Reserve. Lets start with a little information about the horses.

There are currently 32 horses living within the boundries of the reserve, 17 females and 15 males. Horses were fist introduced in the 1940’s to the islands that would become the reserve, Originally placed on the island by a local physician the herd was made up of “Core Banks” horses and supplemented with domestic animals purchased at auctions in North Carolina and Virginia. The domestic horses were mostly quarter horses. So while the Rachel Carson herd has some connection to the horses of Shackleford Banks and Corova, they lack the pure linage to colonial time that those animals have. Depending on ones point of view the horses may be considered as ferral horses or wild horses. Many biologists argue that the animals, even those on Shackleford Banks, were introduced to North America as domestice stock and should then be called ferral. Others, while in the minority, suggest that calling them wild is acceptable as the horse originated on the American continent only to disappear here in prehistoric times. From my point of view they live wild and free… and as such are wild horses.

In addition to the horses there are other mammals living in the reserve. These include both red and grey fox, river otter, raccoon, cottontail & marsh rabbit. Several reptiles can be found in the reserve as well. the diamondback terrapin is found in the marshes and the Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle can also be found around the reserve. More than 200 birds species have been observed in the reserve, including year round residents and migratory birds.

The reserve is named for naturalist Rachel Carson who conducted research on the islands making up the reserve during the 1940s. The reserve was created in 1985 and included Town Marsh, Carrot Island, Horse Island and Bird Shoal. In 1989 the Middle Marshes were added. Rachel Carson is one of 10 North Carolina Coatal Reserve & Natural Estuarine Research Reserves. While its primary purpose is for research recreational activities are allowed as long as they don’t interfere with educational or research uses or disturb the environment.

Rules & Tips for Visting the Reserve

  • Trails and boardwalk are open year round.
  • Do not remove or disturb plants of wildlife and do not feed the wildlife or horses.
  • Stay on desginated trails and leave nothing behind except footprints.
  • Camping, fires and littering are prohibited.
  • Leash and clean-up after your pets. Unrestrained dogs are at risk of death or injury from the horses.
  • Keep a safe distance from the horses, at least 50 feet.
  • There are no facilities on the reserve. Plan ahead and be prepared for changing conditions.
  • The reserve is under the jurisdiction of the town of Beaufort. There are city ordinances protecting the horses and you can be ticketed and fined for harassing them.
This entry was posted in Education, Natural History in the Carolinas and tagged , , , .


  1. Chloe Chiavacci April 24, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    I would like to know if I can make a charitable donation to the organization caring for these horses in memory of my dear friend who absolutely adored horses.

    Thank you,

  2. admin May 7, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    I believe there’s an organization called “Friends of the Shackleford Banks Horses” or something similar to that. They might be able to accept donations. You also could contact the reserve manager at the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. I’m not sure if they’re open to private donations or not.

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