White Wings Over Ocracoke

Sundae Horn
White pelicans!
White pelicans!

OCBA to sponsor new Ocracoke white pelican refuge and research center.

"As part of our branding and marketing initiative, we want to introduce this beautiful bird to the waters around Ocracoke," said OCBA Travel and Tourism Director Helena Stevens. 

In 2017, after partnering with Magellan and Element Advertising out of Asheville, NC to the tune of $130,000, Ocracoke Civic & Business Association unveiled their new website, visitocracokenc.com, which features a graphic of a white pelican flying past the lighthouse. 

"Plenty of people have pointed out to us that white pelicans don't live at Ocracoke," Helena said. "After much discussion with Element, our marketing stakeholders, Ocracoke business leaders, and the OCBA board, we've decided that the best course of action is to think outside the box. A lot of coastal communities would create websites that reflect the environment they represent. We're shifting the paradigm and creating an island paradise, a simulacrum of Ocracoke, that matches our brand."

In a partnership with the National Park Service, OCBA sought funding from the Ocracoke Tourism Development Authority to build a state-of-the-art breeding refuge for the large white birds on NPS property at Loopshack Hill, adjacent to the Ocracoke Community Park.

They have beautiful black wingtips!
They have beautiful black wingtips!
visitocracokenc.com

"I support this plan one hundred percent," said TDA board president Amy Howard. "It's a much better use of TDA money than the proposed boardwalk and nature trail in that part of the island."

"When white pelicans fly over the community park during ball games, Ocracoke's brand will take off and soar," stated a recent email to OCBA members. "We plan to have the white pelican replace the lighthouse, the ponies, the beach, and even the bicycle wheel as the iconic symbol of Ocracoke."

Ocracoke already hosts an abundance of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), which are native to these shores and populate the east coast from Canada to South America. A species that was once considered endangered, brown pelicans made a great comeback after DDT was banned in the United States. (The pesticide was found to cause brown pelican eggshells to be too thin to reach maturity.) Brown pelicans congregate in Silver Lake, perching atop pilings, looking for handouts from fishermen, and entertaining residents and visitors. They breed on "Bird Island" in Pamlico Sound and make their home on Ocracoke year 'round.

White pelicans on the other hand, have never called Ocracoke home. They spend their winters at the Pacific and Gulf coasts, and summer in the northwest as far north as Alberta, Canada. They have wingspans up to 10 feet (second only to the California Condor in native North American birds), which allows them to float seemingly effortlessly in the clouds. 

"We are on board with helping out the neighbor communities at the National Seashore," said seashore superintendent Dave Hallac. "We think the white pelican preserve will be a boon for Ocracoke's economy and it will increase park visitation. And, of course, we don't see any problem with introducing non-native species into this pristine and fragile natural habitat."

Because white pelicans like a summer diet of mountain stream fish such as perch or rainbow trout, the Ocracoke refuge will include a fully-stocked freshwater lake. 

"Once we know we can support the birds with the stocked fish, we'll sell fishing permit and allow anglers to catch the surplus," OCBA staff reported. "This will combine a great fundraising effort for the refuge with OCBA's commitment to providing visitors with experiences that match our advertising campaigns."

Phase 1 of the project will be completed by the peak season, and visitors will be able to view the birds and learn about them as early as Labor Day weekend. 

Beach boardwalk! You know we need one!
Beach boardwalk! You know we need one!
visitocracokenc.com

"We really want to promote shoulder season events, and feel that a September "White Pelican White Tie Dinner & Dance" will be the perfect way to share with visitors what Ocracoke is really about," Helena explained. 

Phase 2 will include observation platforms, an adopt-a-white-pelican program, signage and promotional materials, and guided kayak tours to see the white pelicans feed at night. That's a sight not to be missed!

OCBA's strategic marketing plan doesn't end there. They are already in talks with the Park Service about installing a wooden (or recycled plastic "wood") boardwalk bike path along beach to better match the promise of an easy, breezy oceanside bike ride as depicted on the website. 

"We know that people love to bike on Ocracoke," Helena explained. "It's a big part of our brand. But wouldn't it be better if they could get off the busy roads and bike along the surf with white pelicans circling overhead? We're driving the market for better beach access with our website, and our visitors expect these amenities."

Gannet! It's like a designer seagull!
Gannet! It's like a designer seagull!
visitocracokenc.com

When asked about the other bird that animates the visiitocracokenc website, OCBA board member Justin LeBlanc defended the inclusion of the gannet. 

"Look, I know that gannets are northern birds and most of them live in cold places like Scotland, Canada, and Iceland, but occasionally, one or two will fly by Ocracoke," he said. "I saw one once. It's possible that visitors will see one if they keep coming back for, say, twenty years. The important thing is that they're prettier than the laughing gulls we actually have on the island. Laughing gulls are the pigeons of beach birds and nobody wants to advertise that they're flying around pooping on cars, stealing snacks, and making a racket. Our visitors want to see sleek, beautiful white birds, and that's what the website will show them. The island will just have to catch up with the advertising." 

Ocracoke servers will soon be trained to speak in sentence fragments to better match the marketing.
Ocracoke servers will soon be trained to speak in sentence fragments to better match the marketing.
visitocracokenc.com

 

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