Goat Island, Sunset Beach, NC

Jo O'Keefe Copyright 2011. Photos may be used for educational purposes only. Contact me with inquiries. jo@okeefes.org

Goats and deer live on the dredge spoil islands behind the lowest barrier islands in Brunswick County, NC. Without predator pressure, the goat population on local dredge spoil islands has grown. Goats are not native to the East Coast. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy wants to see the goats because it is possible that they include unusual blood lines or heritage breeds. The State is concerned that waste goats drop near the Intracoastal Waterway is polluting the water, leading to shellfish "closings." Because the goats spend 23 hours per day on the centers of the islands, their droppings near the waterway would be minimal. The above photo illustrates what might occur. The goats emerge from the center of the islands after dawn and before dusk to graze on marsh grass near the waterway. The grass is exposed during low tide. Later, when high tide covers the marsh grass, droppings are carried into the waterway. The State of North Carolina has cancelled its Request for Proposals to remove goats from three islands near Ocean Isle Beach. Further information is needed.
NC Dept. of Administration map of three islands with goats between Ocean Isle Beach and the mainland
Google Earth image of Goat Island, Sunset Beach, NC
Photos of goats on an island behind Ocean Isle Beach taken by Kelley Frink, Sunset Beach, NC, October 2007
Photos of goats on an island behind Ocean Isle Beach taken by Kelley Frink, Sunset Beach, NC, October 2007
Photos of goats on an island behind Ocean Isle Beach taken by Kelley Frink, Sunset Beach, NC, October 2007
Goat Island south of the Intracoastal Waterway and west of the Big Narrows and the causeway to Sunset Beach
Suddenly the goats appear. They march slowly forward single file, their heads bent down, toward the tip of their private island near the Sunset Beach Bridge. Folks waiting in cars for the bridge gasp and reach for cameras. The goats are a mesmerizing surprise after days spent watching pelicans, gulls and waves.

The goats live on Goat Island, a dredge spoil island between Sunset Beach and the Intracoastal Waterway. They leave their safe haven in the center of the island to graze at the island's eastern end near the bridge.

A nearby mainland resident claims that he put the first goats on the island in the early 1980s. Others state that they came from ships that wrecked while transporting livestock. The goats have multiplied. Some migrated to nearby dredge spoil islands in both North Carolina and South Carolina.

John Frink of Sunset Beach took me by boat to Goat Island. We used two of my cameras to photograph the goats, first on the ICW side of their island. John deserves equal credit for these photos. Later we climbed uphill through shrubs and photographed them while we hid amidst brush. The goats stood near their fresh-water "lake," a low-lying area filled with rain-water.

The lake explains their survival. Goats need only fresh water and plant material to survive - the latter because they are herbivores, i.e., plant eaters.

Here are observations from that outing combined with information from the Internet.

Goats come in an array of colors, even mottled. They have long ears. Their tails point upward. A thick fur coat protects goats from cold. Both sexes have black horns, beards and udders. The goats with enlarged udders on Goat Island are females.

Males are called billy goats or bucks. Females are called does or nannies. Baby goats are kids.

Goats are in the cattle family and closely related to sheep -- whose tails point downward.

Throughout the day goats graze on plants. First they swallow their food after little chewing, next they regurgitate it, and then finally they chew it thoroughly before swallowing it again.

The most astonishing thing I learned is that, in comparison to humans who produce less than a liter of saliva daily, goats produce 100 to 150 liters of saliva each day. Their beards must be nasty.

The goats below were at the tip of the island near the bridge, photographed from the causeway with my point and shoot camera.