Onslow Beach

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A gallery of images of U.S. Military exercises conducted at Onslow Beach from 1979 to 2006. Click on the image to enter the gallery.

Onslow Beach is an 11-mile (17.7 kilometer) stretch of undeveloped beach located along the Atlantic coast in Onslow County (see map), in southeastern North Carolina. It is primarily used as amphibious training grounds for the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, the premier site for such training on the U.S. east coast, of which the beach is part. The beach additionally supports the recreational needs of the Camp Lejeune community, as well for the surrounding community to the extent possible. It is also home to two endangered species, each sustained by a fragile ecosystem.

Usages: military and recreational

Onslow Beach as a military training location began with a search in late 1940 at Marine Corps headquarters. With new requirements for manpower stemming from U.S. interests abroad during World War II, the Corp projected that a "new species" of units and defense battalions would be needed to garrison forward bases. The increased demand for manpower would also mean an increased need for training facilities. A search along the U.S. east coast ensued.

Onslow Beach—clearly not just for military training.
Photo © Copyright by Onslow County Tourism, used by permission.

One among several of the chosen sites was Onslow County North Carolina's New River area, which a military World War II historian described as "111,170 acres of water, coastal swamp, and plain, theretofore inhabited largely by sand flies, ticks, chiggers, and snakes." After the United States Congress funded construction for what is now Camp Lejeune on 15 February 1941, it activated less then three months later as a tent camp. Since then, the beach has been used by the U.S. Marines, Navy, and Army for various training exercises, particularly amphibious exercises and landings.[1]

Onslow Beach has been the site of many militarily important training exercises. It helped train men to take Guadalcanal from Japanese control in one of the most hotly contested campaigns that became a turning point in the war.[2] Not every training exercise ended in actual action, of course: A practice invasion of Cuba was conducted on 16 November 1962, 19 days after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis.[3]

During times when no exercises are being conducted, the beach is popular for fishing, sunbathing, and shell collecting, especially during warmer months. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, an estimated 2,000 people each weekend visit Onslow Beach.[4]

Endangered species

A Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) nesting at Onslow Beach.

Camp Lejeune conducts one of the preeminent fish and wildlife management programs within the United States Department of Defense. All wildlife at the beach is carefully managed to allow its continued military usages.[5] Three endangered species, two animal and one plant, reside at Onslow Beach.

Seabeach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus).

The first known instance of successful nesting of a Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) north of Florida occurred in 1980 at the beach. The specimen deposited 819 eggs in five nests. Tagged, she returned to the same stretch of the beach five years later to deposit 893 eggs, again in five nests.[6] Today sea turtles, especially Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta), are known to habitually nest at the beach. During their nesting season, from May through October, sea turtle eggs are daily collected from a one-mile stretch of the beach and placed in an incubator, and the turtles released after hatching.[7] Many other nests elsewhere on the beach are cordoned off to allow the hatchlings to incubate and emerge naturally.

A U.S. federally protected annual plant, Seabeach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus), grows on the beach's dunes and overwash flats.[8]


As with most beaches that support important human and wildlife activity, restoration efforts to counter natural erosion are an ongoing effort. In September 2005, Hurricane Ophelia took an especial toll, not only causing significant erosion but nearly destroying the beach's historic Riseley Pier.

Onslow Beach at sunrise, 2006.

Additional works consulted

  • Cragg, Dan (2001). Guide to Military Installations. Stackpole Books. ISBN 1875284923.

Further Reading

  • Lane, Kerry L. (2004). Guadacanal Marine. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1578066646. See especially Chapter 2, Preparing for Combat.

External links


  1. Shaw, Jr., Henry I. Opening Moves: Marines Gear Up for War. Marines in World War II Commemorative Series. Available at: http://www.nps.gov/archive/wapa/indepth/extContent/usmc/pcn-190-003115-00/index.htm.
  2. Sloan, Bill (2005). Brotherhood of Heroes. Simon and Schuster, 15. ISBN 0743260090. 
  3. Franklin, Jane (1997). Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History. Ocean Press, 61. ISBN 1875284923. 
  4. Lance Cpl. Rebekka S. Heite, MCAS New River. "Life's a beach at Onslow Beach, N.C." Marine Corps News, 16 May 2007. Available at http://www.marines.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/lookupstoryref/20075185112.
  5. "Endangered Species Award Nomination, Natural Resources, Large Installation, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina." Defense Environmental Network & Information eXchange. Available at https://www.denix.osd.mil/denix/Public/News/OSD/SecDef00/NR/Camplejeune/camplejeune.html.
  6. Peterson, et al. "Tagged Green Turtle Returns and Nests Again in North Carolina". Marine Turtle Newsletter, 35:5-6, 1985.
  7. "Statement of Major Edward Hanlon, Jr., United States Marine Corps, Commanding General, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Before the Senate Armed Service Committee Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support on 20 March 2001". United States Senate. Available at http://armed-services.senate.gov/statemnt/2001/010320eh.pdf.
  8. "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Amaranthus pumilus (Seabeach Amaranth) Determined To Be Threatened". Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Services Division of Endangered Species (April 7, 1993, 50 CFR Part 17, RIN 1018-AB75). Available at http://www.fws.gov/endangered/r/fr93498.html.