Even though many refer to "Town Marsh" and "Carrot Island" as one island, calling it "Carrot Island," these are two separate islands. "Carrot Island" begins at Carrot Island Lane and ends at North River. The islands are two of the several islands included in the Rachel Carson Reserve.
Before dredging along the waterfront during the first quarter of the 20th century, "Town Marsh" was only 3/4 of a mile long and Carrot Island was essentially tidal marsh with some elevated hammock land.
|1888 Coast Survey of Beaufort Harbor|
By the 1930s and 1940s, these dredge-spoil islands became protective barrier islands. Acquired by the state in the late 1980s, the Rachel Carson Reserve, 2,315-acre site, more than three miles long and less than a mile wide, consists of Carrot Island, Town Marsh, Bird Shoal, Horse Island, Middle Marshes and extensive salt marshes and intertidial/subtital flats.
The reserve named in her honor, Rachel Carson (1907‒1964) was a marine biologist and conservationist whose work is credited with advancing the global environmental movement; in the 1940s, she did research in Beaufort.
In 1947, Beaufort resident Dr. Luther Fulcher placed horses on the islands. After his death, the horses remained and became feral, reverting back to the wild. Despite harsh conditions the horses have thrived on the reserve; their main food supply is Smooth Cordgrass. While treating as a wild herd, the reserve's staff oversees the horse management; identified and photographed, each horse is tracked for birth, health, social habits and death. In the spring of 2014, 33 horses were recorded on the reserve—14 males and 19 females.
The estuarine waters and subtital habitats surrounding the reserve are important nursery grounds for many fish species and habitat for mollusks and invertebrates. Animal presence is high due to the diversity, which offers foraging habitats for birds, mammals and marine life. The reserve also serves as a protective haven for several rare plant species. Preservation of the reserve allows this coastal ecosystem to be available as an outdoor laboratory where scientists, students and the public can learn about coastal processes and the influences that shape and sustain the area. Traditional recreational uses are allowed as long as they do not disturb the environment or organisms or interfere with research and educational activities.