Island Explorer program continues provides environmental conservation experiences to all public school fifth graders in New Hanover County through an Island Explorer program. Trained coastal educators transport students by ferry boat to Masonboro Island, an uninhabited barrier island located in southeastern North Carolina. As a natural habitat and bird refuge, this offers the perfect location to provide educational and experiential programs to foster conservation values and promote all-inclusive ownership of public areas.

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In addition to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization also had to acquire a different boat during 2020-2021. They eventually located both a catamaran ferry boat and new captain. The Island Explorer program resumed in the fall of 2021 with trips expected to continue in the spring of 2022. Approximately 2,000 students participate during the school year.

Each Island Explorer expedition involves transporting approximately 50 to 100 fifth-grade students, teachers, and volunteers from the Carolina Beach boat basin along the Intracoastal Waterway to Masonboro Island. Volunteers escort the students and introduce them to the characteristics of the 8.4-mile-long island. Students learn about the estuary system, plants and wildlife, and the importance of protecting not only Masonboro Island, but all coastal areas for future generations.


“ partners with Carolina Ocean Studies, the Coastal Reserve, and 5th grade teachers to continually improve the Island Explorer program curriculum. Over the past seven years we have seen the program expand and become loved by students, teachers, and our community. Duke Energy Foundation support and funding has been integral to these trips and our mission statement of empowering 5th graders to better understand their lifetime role in environmental stewardship” said Tom Hackler. Hackler, Control Room Supervisor at Brunswick Nuclear Station, has been a board member of for the past ten years and is currently the Board president.

The program began in 2013 and is supported by local volunteers including several from Duke Energy. has been recognized for several years with support from the Duke Energy Foundation. To learn more about the program read this article, or visit:

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