Coastal Seascapes & Wildlife Photography


A History Of Topsail Island

Where did the Topsail Islandís name come from? Legend has it that many moons ago, pirates used to hang out in the sound between the island and the mainland. When they spied a likely prospect to plunder, theyíd race out and do their pirate thing to the hapless merchant ship. Eventually the merchantmen figured this out, so when they saw the top sails of a ship behind the island, they figured it was a pirate. Whether that helped them to avoid the pirates or not, who knows? But itís a cool legend. By the way, only visitors pronounce the name Top-sail; itís properly Topísl.

These days, very few pirates are lurking behind the island, which makes for considerably less piracy. On the other hand, the island itself has become a much more jolly place, what with civilization and development having made the island a far more pleasant place to live and visit. In fact, Topsail Island, at 26 miles long and 500 to 1,500 feet wide, offers some of the least populated beaches along coastal North Carolina. With its maritime forests and wide beaches with cooling ocean breezes, the island has a charm not often encountered in other areas.

Written Records From The 1500s

Island history dates back to prehistoric times, but the first written records of the island are from the 1500s when early explorers described the abundant seafood beds. Not much was written about the island for some time after that, but according to legend, two prominent pirates, Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet, buried treasure hereabouts, and visitors with metal detectors keep looking for it.

Topsail Island remained relatively uninhabited over the years. The only human contact with the island came from picnickers, fish camps and the occasional mainland farmer driving his cattle over the sand bars at low tide to feed on the grass. There were no bridges to the island.

Space Program Begins

That all changed during World War II and the years after when the U.S. Navy took over the island, and in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University Physics Laboratory, began ďOperation Bumblebee,Ē which was the beginning of the space program in the United States. Roads, a fresh water supply, a bridge and other improvements were made as the military directed research operations from nearby Camp Davis in Holly Ridge on the mainland.

Sea Turtle Hospital


Founder and director, Jean Beasley, who was the 2007 recipient of Animal Planetís Hero of the Year award, hopes that a new $1 million, 16,000 to 18,000-square-foot facility will be built soon. The new facility, to be located on four acres in Surf City, will replace the current 850-square-foot hospital, which can handle only about 20 turtles per year.
Topsail Island is home to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, one of only two in the U.S. The Center cares for and rehabilitates injured loggerhead and other species of turtles and releases them back into the sea or finds other homes for them. Staffed by volunteers, the Center has been invaluable in the help and protection it has provided for sea turtles.

Volunteers protect and watch the many nests sea turtles build on the island each year. They have attached tracking devices to some of their patients who have been returned to the ocean so their movements can be monitored and more can be learned about their habits. 









Learn and practice in-flight and action photography with MJ as we spend 5 full days touring one of the best and most populated wading, shore and sea bird colonies on the East  Coast of North Carolina.  MJ has been teaching action and flight photography for more than a decade and is one of the best and most knowledgeable instructors on the subject. And the locations can not be beat!



Join us as we photograph wild Egrets, Herons, Shore Birds, Sea Birds, Alligators, Nesting Ospreys, Wild Dolphins and more Wildlife than one coastal area can show. You will visit Wildlife Sanctuaries like; Mason Inlet Water bird Management Area, as it offers a variety of barrier island habitats, including open beach, dunes, and marsh. Birdlife here changes with the seasons: in winter flocks of small shorebirds feed on sandy inlet shoals, while in the summer large groups (colonies) of Least Terns raise their chicks on hot sand. You will also have the opportunity to collect shells and even fossilized shark teeth. You can also take a dip in the ocean off Topsail's most beautiful beaches on the East Coast..

In between our birding quest we will help visit and give assistance to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Surf City. We will also witness sea turtle hatchlings emerge from their nests as they  make their first steps of survival towards an independent life out to sea.