Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge was established on June 6, 1938 as a 4,589-acre refuge to provide feeding and resting habitat for migratory birds.
It is a critical segment in the Atlantic Flyway. As the metropolitan area of Virginia Beach began to grow in the 1980’s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pursued a land acquisition program to double the size of Back Bay NWR in order to protect the watershed from harmful development. Since 1988 the Refuge has grown to over 9,250 acres, protecting critical habitat for wildlife, which years ago had been zoned as residential and commercial.
The Friends of Back Bay was instrumental in gaining approval for the expansion and obtaining $24 million of funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to purchase land from willing sellers within the acquisition boundary. The expansion provided a buffer against development, thus reducing erosion and runoff of fertilizers and chemicals that pollute Back Bay. As a result water quality has improved, there has been a marked increase in the amount of submerged aquatic vegetation and the numbers of ducks, geese and other water birds have increased.