About the Refuge

Monomoy lighthouse in the distance - USFWS.

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1944 to provide habitat for migratory birds. Sand stretches for eight miles off the elbow of Cape Cod, forming the barrier islands of North and South Monomoy, along with numerous islets and shoals. Refuge Headquarters is located on a 40-acre unit on Morris Island, and consists of a visitor center, beach, and trail system.

The total size of the refuge is 7,604 acres with varied habitats of oceans, salt and freshwater marshes, dunes, and freshwater ponds, of which 3,244 acres are designated Wilderness. The refuge is bounded by mean low water (an average of low tide levels) to the east and by a fixed boundary that was set when the refuge was established. Click here to learn more about the refuge boundary. 

The refuge provides important resting, nesting and feeding habitat for migratory birds, including the federally protected piping plover, roseate tern, and red knot. At least 25 species of seabird, shorebird, waterfowl, and colonial waterbird nest on three offshore islands. The refuge also supports the largest nesting colony of common terns on the Atlantic seaboard, exceeding 13,000 pairs.

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge’s mission is to protect the habitats critical to migratory birds, spawning horseshoe crabs, and other wildlife while affording the public an opportunity to experience this unique wilderness refuge. Following are some highlights about the refuge:


  • Five species are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA): the piping plover, roseate tern, red knot, northeastern beach tiger beetle, and seabeach amaranth.
  • An additional 35 species are listed under the Massachusetts ESA.
  • The beaches of Monomoy and Chatham have the highest concentration of nesting piping plovers in New England.
  • The Refuge has among the highest concentrations of spawning horseshoe crabs in the state, whose eggs are a vital food resource for thousands of shorebirds.
  • South Monomoy Island contains the largest gray seal haul-out site on the U.S. Atlantic Coast.
  • Monomoy Wilderness is the only federally designated Wilderness Area in Southern New England.
  • The Refuge is part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) and is a Globally Important Bird Area (IBA).
  • Monomoy Point Light Station and keeper’s house, located on South Monomoy Island, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Monomoy is one of over 560 National Wildlife Refuges. With over 850 million acres of land and water, the National Wildlife Refuge System is the largest network of conservation lands in the world!


 Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge Brochure (pdf)

 The Magic of Morris Island Digital Tour of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge

 Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge Trail Map

 Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex brochure (pdf)