A Walk on the Wild Side at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge

Pictured: Susan Wojtowicz, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, carefully makes her way through the tern colony on South Monomoy Island during a population survey.

At Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, visitors can wander the trails, explore the shoreline, view rare and endangered wildlife and take a guided tour.

Written and photographed by Marcy Ford

Nowhere in Chatham is nature more present, protected and undisturbed than at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Twenty years ago, as a student at University of Massachusetts Amherst, I spent a summer as a volunteer, assisting biologists and working in the visitors center. Since then, I have enjoyed this wild and wonderful oasis. Last summer, I once again volunteered and witnessed firsthand how much the protection of this vital habitat has benefited wildlife. It is also an asset to the town because of educational opportunities and community partnerships.

Seasonal interns Kaitlyn Nafziger, Devan Blazey, and Kacey Srubas, conduct a vegetation survey on South Monomoy Island.

A little over a mile from Chatham Lighthouse, across the Morris Island causeway on Wiki’s Way, is the entrance to the refuge and visitors center. The Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1944, encompasses approximately 7,921 acres of wildlife habitat, including barrier beach, dunes, fresh and saltwater marshes and freshwater ponds. In 1970, most of the land was designated by Congress as a wilderness area—the only coastal wilderness in Southern New England, which protects wildlife and further limits activities allowed within those boundaries. But Monomoy isn’t just a sanctuary for wildlife, it’s also a haven for visitors to experience some of the Cape’s unique habitats.

Visitors may wander the shoreline and trails, view wildlife, wade into the shallows or take a guided tour. Fishermen may cast their lines or dig for shellfish. Photographers discover an endless amount of inspiration from wide, unencumbered landscapes to the macro environments of the mudflats. Bird enthusiasts flock from all over the world to witness the abundance of species that nest, feed or pass through the refuge during migration.

Whatever time of year you visit, there is always something different to see, with the changing tides and seasons.

Refuge manager Matthew Hillman on South Monomoy Island.


The Friends of Monomoy is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advocate for the continued protection of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, assist in its management and increase public awareness of its unique wildlife and ecosystems through education and fundraising. Their members volunteer in many capacities, such as overseeing the maintenance of the visitor’s center and gift shop. They conduct guided tours, organize beach cleanups and offer free talks throughout the summer at the Chatham Community Center on subjects such as the Atlantic white shark, horseshoe crabs, seals, pollinators and coastal birds.

For more information: 508-945-3430; Follow the Friends’ Facebook page

A Hudsonian Godwit feeds among the short-billed Dowitcher on the flats around Minimoy, a small island.


How to get there:
The mainland portion of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is accessible by car. The islands are open to the public within areas not posted and the flats are open for fishing and shellfishing.

There are two ferry services in Chatham that are specifically permitted to transport visitors to the wilderness of North and South Monomoy Islands to watch birds, go shellfishing, fin-fish for striped bass or view gray seals. The ferries shuttle visitors back and forth from beaches that are open to the public.

For more information:
Visit the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge website and Facebook page.

Monomoy Island Ferry (508-237-0420)
South Monomoy Tour, naturalist-led private tours, seal cruises, departs from Stage Harbor

Monomoy Adventures (508-292-3060)

Seasonal interns Devan Blazey, left, and Lori Leach, right, lead a group of children from the Monomoy Community Services program during a tour of the Morris Island trails.