Growing up in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, Walker Golder could look across a narrow sound and see uninhabited Masonboro Island sprawling to the east. Nearby, a string of other pristine barrier islands held redfish and speckled trout, ducks and shorebirds, and empty, seemingly endless beaches. “That was my home, my playground, my entire world,” he says. “And it shaped my life completely.” It’s a world the forty-nine-year-old biologist now works tirelessly to save.
As deputy director of the National Audubon Society’s North Carolina State Office, Golder oversees the North Carolina Coastal Islands sanctuary system—nineteen fragile islands scattered along 180 miles of shore. These slivers of sand are undeveloped and managed specifically to protect the astonishing array of breeding waterbirds that rely on their imperiled sands, including oystercatchers, black-crowned night herons, royal and Sandwich terns, and 40 percent of North Carolina’s brown pelicans.
On any given day, Golder might be in a classroom giving a talk on shorebirds, on a barrier island collecting data on days-old chicks, or in corporate boardrooms making a pitch for funding. But no matter where he finds himself, he spreads the message that the few remaining pristine barrier islands deserve a special kind of care and han- dling. Empty dunes and beaches are as attractive to shell seekers and Frisbee-chasing dogs as they are to breeding birds at the end of their arduous migrations. But for so many bird species, there is simply no other place left to go. “This is not a fight that pits birds against people,” Golder says. “It’s about finding balance in a world that has changed dramatically.”