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Lake Walk 1 (This lessons page is under construction)

Carolina Beach Lake is a beautiful part of our community. This 11-acre naturally-occurring freshwater lake and its wetlands provide habitat for many plant and animal species, collect stormwater, and help reduce flooding. The lake is a place for our community to gather, learn, move, and celebrate this special place where we live.


Vocabulary:  community, freshwater, stormwater, flood, lake, wetland, habitat, watershed, impervious
















5.L.2 Understand the interdependence of plants and animals with their ecosystem. 

5 .L .2 .1  Compare the characteristics of several common ecosystems, including estuaries and salt marshes, oceans, lakes and ponds, forests, and grasslands. 

5 .L .2 .3  Infer the effects that may result from the interconnected relationship of plants and animals to their ecosystem.

Geography and Environmental Literacy

EX .5 .G .1 .1 Compare the effects of human activity on the physical environment .


Focus questions:

What bodies of water are near Carolina Beach Lake?  What are the characteristics for each aquatic ecosystem near us?  

How do you use Carolina Beach lake?


"More than one-third of the United States' threatened and endangered species live only in wetlands, and nearly half use wetlands at some point in their lives. Many other animals and plants depend on wetlands for survival. Estuarine and marine fish and shellfish, various birds and certain mammals must have coastal wetlands to survive. Most commercial and game fish breed and raise their young in coastal marshes and estuaries. Menhaden, flounder, sea trout, spot, croaker, and striped bass are among the more familiar fish that depend on coastal wetlands.

Many of the U.S. breeding bird populations-- including ducks, geese, woodpeckers, hawks, wading birds and many songbirds-- feed, nest and raise their young in wetlands. Migratory waterfowl use coastal and inland wetlands as resting, feeding, breeding or nesting grounds for at least part of the year. Indeed, an international agreement to protect wetlands of international importance was developed because some species of migratory birds are completely dependent on certain wetlands and would become extinct if those wetlands were destroyed.












Wetlands function as natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, snowmelt, groundwater and flood waters. Trees, root mats and other wetland vegetation also slow the speed of flood waters and distribute them more slowly over the floodplain. This combined water storage and braking action lowers flood heights and reduces erosion.

Wetlands within and downstream of urban areas are particularly valuable, counteracting the greatly increased rate and volume of surface- water runoff from pavement and buildings. The holding capacity of wetlands helps control floods and prevents water logging of crops. Preserving and restoring wetlands together with other water retention can often provide the level of flood control otherwise provided by expensive dredge operations and levees. The bottomland hardwood-riparian wetlands along the Mississippi River once stored at least 60 days of floodwater. Now they store only 12 days because most have been filled or drained."

Excerpts: EPA: Wetlands

"The Carolina Beach watersheds are located within the Town of Carolina Beach and surrounding areas. These watersheds span 2,741.47 acres. Residential and commercial development over the past decades has resulted in an increase in impervious surfaces throughout the watershed, which has increased the amount of flooding and stormwater runoff that is transported to the Cape Fear River, Intracoastal Waterway, Snows Cut, and the Atlantic Ocean." 

Excerpt from Town of Carolina Beach Watershed Management Plan: Nine Elements Watershed Restoration Plan

Watch and Learn: Click here for Island Wildlife's Educational Video on Stormwater with NHC Soil and Water's Dru Harrison!

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A view of a fresh water lake and its surrounding vegetation at Carolina Beach, about 100 yards from the ocean. Courtesy of New Hanover County Public Library


Look at the image from the 1930s, look around you, and view the links below.  What is the same and what is different about the landscape almost 100 years ago?

Use one of the images from the lake walk to write a short story describing what you can see from the gazebo.

Create a Reader’s Theater script to discuss the ecosystem at the lake and why it is so valuable in our community. 

Additional Resources:

Study Jam: Aquatic Ecosystems

Lake Walk 2

If you sit quietly by the lake, chances are a turtle will pop its head out of the water. The lake and its surrounding habitats provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for many turtle species, including yellow-bellied sliders, snapping turtles, diamondback terrapins, eastern box turtles, mud turtles, and spotted turtles. These turtles are omnivores, which means they will eat insects, fish, fish eggs, worms, amphibians, plants, flowers, and berries. Aquatic vegetation is important for many turtle species.

Vocabulary:  Carapace, aquatic, reptile, habitat, omnivore, semi-aquatic, plastron, amphibian, turtle, terrapin, terrestrial

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1.E.2 Understand the physical properties of Earth materials that make them useful in different ways. 

1.L.1.2 Give examples of how the needs of different plants and animals can be met by their environments in North Carolina or different places throughout the world.

1.L.1.3 Summarize ways that humans protect their environment and/or improve conditions for the growth of the plants and animals that live there (e .g ., reuse or recycle products to avoid littering).

Focus Questions:

What are the different species of freshwater turtles in NC?  What are the key features to look for to identify the turtles at the lake?

How did the shoreline restoration benefit the turtles at the lake? 

Turtles and Lizards of North Carolina.jpg

"Turtles (order Testudines) represent the oldest of all living reptiles; they have undergone little change since their beginnings early in the Triassic period. Their shell consists of an upper section, the carapace, and a lower section, the plastron. Turtles are found throughout North Carolina, from the Coastal Plain to the mountains in the west. Overall, twenty species of turtles, belonging to six different families, inhabit North Carolina. Five of these species are sea turtles and one (the Eastern Box Turtle) is primarily terrestrial. The rest are semi-aquatic, inhabiting North Carolina’s ponds, wetlands, and other water bodies. The greatest threat to turtles is habitat loss, particularly destruction and degradation of aquatic habitats. However, the destruction of terrestrial habitat surrounding wetlands and ponds which is required for nesting, and hibernation in some species, poses significant threats as well. In addition thousands of turtles are crushed every year by cars on North Carolina’s roads and highways." Excerpt from

Watch and Learn! Click to watch Island Wildlife Webinar with NC Reserve's Elizabeth Pinnix on our Diamondback Terrapins!

Watch and Learn! Human-Turtle Conflict Avoidance!



Visit the area of the shoreline with native plantings and compare the restored area with a different stretch of the shoreline with nonnative vegetation or hardened shoreline.  How does the restoration change the terrain for the turtles?


What are the obstacles that turtles face at the lake and its surrounding area?  Imagine that a turtle wants to climb out of the lake and go across the walking path to a delicious food source on the other side or to make its nest. Can you create safe passage for your turtle?  Using a Classroom Corner Store of building materials*, design a way for your turtle to cross safely from the lake to its desired food and/or nesting site.

*Set up a "Store" where students can select 4-5 building materials such as cardboard tubes, chenille stems, popsicle sticks, string, paper, woven fabric, etc.

Carapace Capers Lesson by NC Wildlife



Additional Resources:

Learn About North Carolina's Terrific Turtles

Cool Critters: Spotlight on 12 species of Freshwater Turtles

Why Do Snapping Turtles Display Aggression?

North Carolina's Threatened Diamondback Terrapins

Diamondback Terrapins and Invasive Phragmites

Lake Walk 3

We're keeping this area natural. Why? Because native trees, grasses, and wildflowers are local heroes! They have evolved over many centuries to survive in this exact place and provide habitat and food for pollinators like butterflies, bees, and birds. Native plants also have deep root systems that help absorb water during large rainfall events and that help stabilize the soil. This helps reduce erosion and sedimentation of our waterways.


Do you know what the biggest source of waterway pollution is in North Carolina? Sediment pollution. Sediment in our water harms aquatic life and our fisheries. You can help reduce sedimentation by planting native plants.

Vocabulary:  pollinator, sediment, pollution, native, erosion, fisheries, soil, evolve, co-evolve, photosynthesis

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3.L.2.4 Explain how the basic properties (texture and capacity to hold water) and components (sand, clay and humus) of soil determine the ability of soil to support the growth and survival of many plants.

"Soil is the solid material on Earth’s surface that results from the interaction of weather and biological activities with the underlying geologic formation. Soil is created from rocks that have been broken down, organic matter, water and air. All soil types are made of varying amounts of silt, sand, and clay. Many different colors can be present in soil depending on the minerals and
chemical and biological reactions within the soil. Soil is typically found in layers that are distinguished by different colors, textures, and structures. Soil layers also have different amounts of organic matter and gravel. When humans work the and, for agriculture, home building, and road construction, they change the landscape to fit different purposes. Land use involves changing the landscape, including the soil, rocks, andvegetation. Humans change the land differently than how nature changes the land.

Many animals depend on soil. Some we can see but there are also billions of

microscopic organisms, such as bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and algae, which inhabit

and enrich the soil." Source: Nature Conservancy

Watch and learn! How Dirt Works

"Native plants are foundational in ecosystems. Through photosynthesis,

they convert energy from the sun into forms that are usable for all other living

things. Native plants provide nectar, shelter, and sustenance for butterflies,

pollinators, and birds."

"You are probably familiar with the iconic and endangered Monarch butterfly,

whose caterpillars can only eat milkweeds. This relationship is not unique in the

insect kingdom. Over millennia, native insects and butterflies have co-evolved

with the plants that provide for them. Many species eat and reproduce only on

specific plants – native plants."

"Caterpillars and other insects not only provide the next generation of butterflies and beetles, they are the perfect food to grow the next generation of birds. Most birds feed their young insects, and caterpillars are a critical source of protein. It takes 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to raise a single nest of black capped chickadees."

"Pollinators also depend on native plants for nectar and sustenance, and we humans depend on pollinators – one out of every three bites of food we eat is the result of insect pollination!"

"Despite all this, most residents, parks, and businesses rely mainly on non-native species, which do not provide much if any wildlife benefit. " Excerpt from Deep Roots.

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Diagram referenced from the Conservation Research Institute

What is a Native Plant?


"Native plants are those species that evolved naturally in a region without human intervention ...These plants developed and adapted to local soil and climate conditions over thousands of years and are vital parts of local ecosystems necessary for the survival of pollinators, insects, birds, mammals, and other wildlife."

Plants are not considered native to a region within decades or even centuries after introduction. To be native, they must originate in the region and co-evolve with other species over thousands of years. As these species evolve together, they adapt to the physical environment formed by local climate and weather conditions, soil types, topography, and hydrology."

Native plants form interdependent, highly specialized relationships with other organisms that are necessary for each other’s survival. Replacing natives with plants from other regions cannot replicate the complex interactions that naturally occur."

Excerpt from NC Extension.

What is Sediment?

Sediment is the loose sand, clay, silt and other soil particles that wash into a body of water. Sediment can be suspended in the water and it can settle at the bottom of waterways. One beautiful way you can help prevent soil erosion and sedimentation is by planting native plants.

What is Sediment Pollution?

"The Environmental Protection Agency lists sediment as the most common pollutant in rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs.While natural erosion produces nearly 30 percent of the total sediment in the United States, accelerated erosion from human use of land accounts for the remaining 70 percent. The most concentrated sediment releases come from construction activities, including relatively minor home-building projects such as room additions and swimming pools. Sediment pollution causes $16 billion in environmental damage annually.

Sediment entering stormwater degrades the quality of water for drinking, wildlife, and the land surrounding streams in the following ways:

  • Sediment fills up storm drains and catch basins to carry water away from roads and homes, which increases the potential for flooding.

  • Water polluted with sediment becomes cloudy, preventing animals from seeing food.

  • Murky water prevents natural vegetation from growing in water.

  • Sediment in stream beds disrupts the natural food chain by destroying the habitat where the smallest stream organisms live and causing massive declines in fish populations.

  • Sediment can clog fish gills, reducing resistence to disease, lowering growth rates, and affecting fish egg and larvae development.

  • Nutrients transported by sediment can activate blue-green algae that release toxins and can make swimmers sick.

  • Sediment deposits in rivers can alter the flow of water and reduce water depth, which makes navigation and recreational use more difficult.

You can help reduce sediment pollution!

  • Sweep sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them off. Washing these areas results in sediment and other pollutants running off into streams, rivers and lakes.

  • Notify local government officials when you see sediment entering streets or streams near a construction site.

  • Put compost or weed-free mulch on your garden to help keep soil from washing away.

  • Avoid mowing within 10 to 25 feet from the edge of a stream or creek. This will create a safe buffer zone that will help minimize erosion and naturally filter stormwater runoff that may contain sediment.

  • Either wash your car at a commercial car wash or on a surface that absorbs water.

Adapted from EPA brochure


Visit the native planting area in the late spring-early fall. Take your time and watch and explore the area. How many different bugs, insects, lizards, bees, turtles, birds and other wildlife do you see? Using a smartphone, take photos and use an app like iNaturalist's app Seek to help identify what you have seen. Compare this count to another area with non-native or hardened structures at the lake.

Use your findings to create a personal field guide of your observations at each site. Draw, paint, or paint a picture of the wildlife you see. Include the day, time, month, weather, wind direction, and temperature. Was it pollinating a flower? Eating a leaf? Fishing at the edge of the planting area? Don't forget to look at the water near the planting area. Is it clear, cloudy, dirty? Does it have trash or debris? What kind of pollution? Plastic bags, balloons, or plastic cups? Erosion or sediment? Write this down too, and let an adult know so they can schedule a lake cleanup!

Watch and Learn: Five-minute lesson: NC Natural Science Museum Video on Native Plants for NC Butterfly Gardens!

Watch and Learn:  Island Wildlife's video on Native Plants with Extension Agent Amy Mead!

Additional resources:

Waterway Sediment Pollution: What it Is and How to Prevent It

Audubon North Carolina's Native Plants for Birds

What's That Plant? A Native Plant Module

Lake Walk 4

Do you like to watch birds?  The lake and its wetlands provide food for many wading birds including the Black-crowned night heron, green heron, Little blue heron, Great blue heron, Cattle egret, Snowy egret, Great egret, White ibis, and Glossy ibis.  We had several Roseate spoonbills at the lake in 2021 and 2022! Many species of songbirds and wading birds enjoy the habitats at our natural lake year-round.

Vocabulary:  migration, population, juvenile, conservation, habitat, pupate, predator, prey, endangered, species

Image by Joyful


EX.4.L.1 Understand the effects of environmental changes, adaptations and behaviors that enable plants and animals to survive in changing habitats.


Focus questions:  What does a habitat need to support a population?  How can Carolina Beach Lake support songbirds and wading birds?

"North Carolina’s wetlands are full of birds! This is because wetlands are excellent sources of food, water, and shelter for birds. Egrets and the great blue heron are large wading birds that build nests near wetlands and feed in their shallow waters. Migrating birds like snow geese, falcons, and many species of songbirds will stop in our wetlands to rest from flight and refuel. Many types of ducks rely on wetlands during migration or year-round to raise their young and feed. One-third of the worldwide population of Northern Pintail ducks overwinters on Lake Mattamuskeet, a large wetland in eastern North Carolina.

The availability of water and wide range of plants in wetlands make them a great place for many animals to live. Most types of animals you can think of that are native to North Carolina, no matter their size, can be found in a wetland. Bugs, frogs and salamanders, fish, birds, snakes and turtles, and mammals like mice, squirrels, deer, and bears all like to use wetlands. In fact, 70% of the endangered species in our state depend on wetlands to survive! Wetlands provide them with the space they need to live and get food. Wetlands are also a great place for migrating animals to rest. For example, Tundra Swans migrate from their nesting grounds in Canada all the way to eastern North Carolina to spend their winters in our state’s wetlands.

Worms, insects (e.g., butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, craneflies, mosquitoes, deer flies), crayfish, snails, and clams love wetlands because they are full of dead plant material to eat, and water that they need. Some of these animals like to burrow in the soil and under leaf litter, some like to live on or near the surface of the water, and some like to feed on other animals in the wetlands. Each of them are important links in the food web, as food sources for a variety of animals." Source: NC Wetlands

Activity: Draft a plan for your wildlife dream garden. What wildlife would you like to see? For example: If you want to attract monarchs, plant their host plant, milkweed. If you want to see gulf fritillaries, plant native passionflower. Here is a great list to get you started. Now read the following and identify and add a source of water, a place of shelter, a place to raise young, and a plan that does not involve using pesticides or herbicides that may harm your plants and wildlife. Draw a map of where you would like to put your garden. Visit your site in the morning, at noon, and in the late afternoon. Note the following on your map: shade areas, sunny areas, availability of water, and type of soil (sandy, moist, clay). What type of wildlife would you like to attract? Using the list above, which plants would you plant where and why?

Attracting wildlife into your yard is as easy as providing food, water, cover, and places to raise young. Limit mowing and spraying pesticides to protect plant, wildlife, and human health!

Food Sources:

Flowering native plants seeds, berries, nectar, nuts
Seed feeder

Suet feeder

Hummingbird feeder

Squirrel feeder





Water garden/pond

Fountain with running water


Wooded area

Ground cover

Log pile

Roosting box

Evergreen shrubs and trees

Places to Raise Young:

Mature trees

Nesting box

Dense shrubs

Host plants for caterpillars

Dead trees/snags

Finally, make your garden no mow, no spray,

and no blow zone! Remember: leave the leaves

so that some bug species can pupate successfully!

"Creating a wildlife habitat garden to attract birds, butterflies, and other neighborhood wildlife is fun, rewarding, and makes a big difference." Adapted from NC Wildlife Federation

Lake Walk 5

Some birds are migratory, and like tourists, they only stay for a little while to rest and eat. Carolina Beach Lake is an important stop on the Atlantic Flyway for migratory birds. These birds fly south each fall to overwinter where there is food and each spring they fly north to breed and nest. Some migratory birds travel short distances, and some, like the snow goose, breed in the arctic in the spring, and then migrate south in the winter. We had a snow goose visit us in 2021. What special migratory birds have you seen at the lake?



"Migration is very hard work, but the work has big benefits, such as food—lots of it! Many birds that migrate north in spring arrive just as huge numbers of insects are hatching. It’s a buggy banquet full of protein for both hungry arriving adults and the young birds soon to be hatched. Growing chicks especially need lots of insect protein to grow big and strong. Spring also brings new seeds, fruits, and nectar-filled flowers. Thanks to all this food, many migratory birds raise more young than birds that stay in warm places all year long.

Migration is also dangerous. Storms can kill birds or send them off course. Many migrating birds crash into windows and brightly lit tall buildings.

One of the biggest problems for any migrating bird is the loss of habitat. Birds need healthy habitats everywhere they spend time throughout the year. That includes the places they nest and raise their young, the places they spend the winter, and the places they stop along their migratory journeys to rest and feed. They need wild unbuilt places like woods, beaches, grasslands, and wetlands. When natural areas are replaced by roads, homes, shopping centers, farms, and other human-made structures, there is less of the healthy habitat birds need throughout the year. A healthy habitat is also a place where there are plenty of native plants— the kinds of plants that grow naturally in a particular area. Those plants provide more nutritious fruit and host many more insects than plants that are from other places. When people replace native plants with nonnative plants, the amount of the right kind of food available to birds is reduced.

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Many people want to help migratory birds. In all kinds of communities, people are planting native plants that provide food and places for hummingbirds and songbirds to nest and rest. They are working to protect grasslands for the hawks that hunt there and other birds that nest there. Beaches, wetlands, and bodies of water are being cleaned and protected to provide healthy habitats for shorebirds, wading birds, and swimming birds like ducks and geese."

Excerpts from Audubon Adventures

Focus questions:  What physical adaptations allow so many types of birds to use coastal North Carolina during migration?  How can people make changes that help birds during migration?

Activity:  Develop a Bird Steward program for Carolina Beach Lake.  A bird steward educates people about birds in the environment, especially those that are in need of protection and conservation.  There are two special times of the year when we can observe and help birds during migration:  the Spring migration season is March 15 - May 30, and the Fall migration season is September 10 - November 30.  You can find as many as 470 species in our state.  More than 200 species have been spotted at Fort Fisher Recreation area, and more than 210 species have been seen at Airlie Gardens.  Source: Audubon 

Locate North Carolina along the Atlantic Flyway.  On the same map, locate the two special visitors we have discussed in our lessons: the Snow Goose and the Roseate Spoonbill.  Beaks and feet can tell us a great deal about birds!  The Snow Goose is found far north of NC on the Canadian and Northern Alaskan tundra.  It has a beak designed for grazing on plants.  They can pull sedges and grasses out of the ground and they also eat grains from plowed fields.  The Snow Goose uses its feet when walking about to forage for food.  It also uses its webbed feet for swimming.

The Roseate Spoonbill is found in the southeastern U.S., and Central and South America.  It has a large spoon-shaped bill that it sweeps through shallow or freshwater to find crustaceans and fish.  As sea levels rise, it is harder for this bird to find its food; the water is too deep, and fish grow too large for the spoonbill to catch.  It uses its long toes and long legs to wade through waters near bays, forested swamps, and wetlands.

Team up with your classmates to explore the different beaks and feet that could visit Carolina Beach.  Identify three other birds with different types of beaks and feet that visit coastal NC.  Visit the lake during migration season with sets of binoculars to document the avian visitors near your school.  What do you see most often?

What can humans do to help migrating birds?     

Dim the lights for birds at night:  “Light pollution attracts and disorients nocturnally migrating birds, making them more likely to land in areas where they are more vulnerable to collisions and other dangers. At least 100 million birds die every year from colliding with buildings in the United States alone. Artificial light also impacts birds in the breeding and winter seasons, disrupting feeding and other vital behaviors. Because artificial light affects birds in so many ways, it is impossible to know just how many birds are impacted by light pollution every year around the globe. Throughout the year we will spread the message to “dim the lights for birds at night” and highlight the steps that individuals, communities, and governments can take to reduce the impact of light pollution on our shared birds”  (Source: World Migration Bird Day)  Audubon is working with cities across North Carolina to create Lights Out programs during spring and fall migration.  Business owners and homeowners can help in many ways.  Find out what you can do at work, at home, or as a volunteer.  Students can draft a proposal for a Lights out program at Carolina Beach.​

 Share the beach with birds:  “Watch for posted areas with nesting birds.  Birds are sitting on nests in these areas.  Let them rest, and don’t play near these areas with balls, kites, or noisy activities.  Do not feed gulls.  Gulls can be dangerous to eggs and baby birds in the area.  Keep your dog on a leash, and be sure to clean up trash when you leave.”  Adapted from Audubon.

Understand climate change.    The earth’s climate has been changing throughout time.  Human activity is causing global warming today at a rate too fast for many bird species to keep up with the shifts.  Birds are losing habitat, struggling with food shortages, and dealing with changes in migration patterns due to temperature changes.  What can you do?   Reduce the energy you use, turn off the lights, reduce heating and take up cycling.  Find out what NC is doing about climate change.

Extensions:  Visit Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s  Wall of Birds to explore the evolution of birds.

Interview a Beach Bird Steward from Wrightsville Beach.

Lake Walk 6

Did you know that according to the US Department of Agriculture, one of every three bites of food we eat is the direct result of pollinators? Birds, bees, bats, beetles, butterflies, moths, and other bugs aren't just nice to have in nature; they are essential to our survival. They also have specific needs. For instance, many pollinators can only eat a single species of plant. When the plant is gone, so is the pollinator. You can help strengthen the food web for wildlife and humans by planting a variety of native plants in your community.


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