I’ve written about it on my old Futch Creek Blog (http://futchcreeknc.blogspot.com/2011/11/lea-island-unspoiled-beauty.html), but it’s worth mentioning again because Lea-Hutaff Island is one of the most spectacular places in our community.
Undeveloped beaches such as Lea-Hutaff are incredibly rare to find. Aside from Bird Island & Masonboro Island, Lea Island (which now also includes Hutaff island after shoaling in the inlet merged the two islands) is the only other undeveloped barrier island in the state of North Carolina.
(The blue dot on the map above represents Creekside Lane)
Lea island is just south of Topsail Island and less than a 5 minute boat ride from the Porter’s Neck Plantation community boatramp. The Audubon Society purchased 35.7 acres (mostly marshlands)of Lea Island for preservation and protection.
The following set of photos represents a 360 degree view of the south end of Lea Island, starting with Rich’s Inlet directly below, leading into Green’s Channel, and then around to the oceanside of Lea Island.
“Over half of Lea Island (Hutaff remains in private ownership) has been protected, and both N.C. Coastal Land Trust and Audubon continue working with remaining owners to protect the lots still in private ownership… During the spring and summer, the island is a haven for nesting shorebirds such as Piping Plover, Wilson’s Plover, and American Oystercatcher, and other nesting birds including Black Skimmer and Least Tern. The island represents the southernmost documented breeding site for Piping Plover, a federally threatened bird named for its melodic call. Clapper Rails nest in great numbers in the marshes bordering the island. Nelson’s Sparrow and Seaside Sparrow are abundant during the fall and winter and the island is recognized as a globally significant site for Saltmarsh Sparrow. At other times of year, numerous migrating and wintering shorebirds flock here, numbering a thousand or more during the peak of migration” (Audubon North Carolina).
(I was a lil slow with my shutter, but you can see the tip of the dolphins dorsal fin)
Aside from providing essential habitat for a myriad of species, Lea Island provides an invaluable landscape for locals and tourists alike to revel and relax. Wrightsville island during its peak season is a prime example of a pristine local beach entirely overcrowded and overdeveloped.
While Lea Island isn’t necessarily threatened by development, there is a significant threat around the corner; Figure Eight Island has used it affluence to persuade our government to change the laws to allow a terminal groin (using now Representative Rick Catlin at the forefront of their push). I’ll write another post soon elaborating on the terminal groins, but its essentially a rock wall built perpendicular to the northern beaches of a barrier island to obstruct natural sand shifting in hopes to avoid erosion.
In this case, Figure Eight Island intends to build a terminal groin directly south of Lea Island, and the small surrounding barrier islands that carve one of the biggest channels (Rich’s Inlet) in our area (not to mention protect us inland during tropical storms).
If you look at aerial photos of Rich’s inlet and Green’s Channel from the past few decades, the waterways and beaches have changed dramatically, as the natural storms and sand shifting have redefined the landscapes.
These pictures below were printed in a Lea Island article from “Wildlife In North Carolina” in 1994.
A research group at ECU (NORTH CAROLINA COASTAL GEOLOGY COOPERATIVE RESEARCH) confirms that “the coastal zone of North Carolina that we know today is not permanent. It has evolved hroughout its history. These changes, which can be both imperceptibly gradual or sudden and violent, continue today and will do so into the future.”
The repercussions of a terminal groin could be catastrophic to Lea island and the surrounding marshlands and small barrier islands. While this impact is uncertain, it is without question that a terminal groin will drastically effect public boater access to this region.
Either way, the Lea-Hutaff Island and its surrounding beaches and waterways are a precious resource to our community! I hope you enjoyed the photos.