Projects and Research

A number of scientific research projects occur on Pea Island NWR, including:

Highway Vulnerability and Coastal Monitoring:

This project is part of an ongoing collaborative effort with NC Department of Transportation, Eastern Carolina University, and North Carolina State University examining coastal geomorphology and shoreline change. The research aims to look at how changes to beaches from beach nourishment, such as differences in grain size and mineralogical composition, impact microinvertebrate populations and seabird foraging success.  

DUNEX Coastal Resiliency and Overwash Study

The DUring Nearshore Event eXperiment (DUNEX) is an aggregation of multiple scientific organizations collaborating to increase understanding of nearshore processes on barrier islands.  The U.S. Geological Survey is investigating and characterizing the magnitude and timing of changes to coastal morphology (i.e., dunes, shorelines), bathymetry, and landcover after a storm on a natural, or low human impacted coastline. Measurements will include times series photography capturing sediment movement, offshore acoustic instrumentation measuring waves and currents, and topographic and bathymetric surveys of the beach and intertidal zone. The data acquired will contribute to creating models to predict future impacts from coastal storms. 

Motus Wildlife Tracking Tower

The Motus wildlife tracking system is a collaborative research network using coordinated, automated radio telemetry arrays to study movements of small animals. Receivers in Motus towers automatically record the radio signals from radio-tagged wildlife present nearby. Thousands of researchers use the network of 1,250+ Motus towers to study species from bats to albatrosses. Pea Island NWR hosts a Motus tower at the Visitors Center, which will record signals from any and all Motus-tagged wildlife nearby, contributing to hundreds of ongoing research projects. More information can be found at

 Other projects on the refuge include: 

  • Shorebirds and colonial waterbird surveys and nesting success (in partnership with Virginia Tech, Audubon) 
  • Impacts of beach nourishment (in partnership with ECU) 
  • Saltwater tolerance of tree frogs (in partnership with ECU) 
  • Sea turtle habitat use and nesting success (in partnership with NCWRC, NEST) 
  • Black duck nesting success (in partnership with NCWRC, U of Delaware) 
  • Scavenger community composition surveys & carbon processing (in partnership with UNC)