The sound to sea view offered by the dunes gives insight into factors influencing the ecology of the park. The large sand dunes of the Outer Banks are believed to have formed 3,000 – 4,000 years ago. Dune fields have ecosystems within and also influence the ecology of surrounding areas.
The highest points of Jockey's Ridge may seem devoid of life beyond a passing monarch or gull. Sand movement by wind scours some areas while increasing sand volume elsewhere. This may form low lying areas that support vernal pools following storms. A slight difference in elevation may determine where water collects. Subsequently, a slight amount of water has a way of shaping the ecology of the area. Where water lingers, tadpoles may thrive and an entire ecosystem can develop.
Migration paths at times lead through the dunes. Larger animals such as deer, foxes, and coyotes have been observed moving through the dune area during evening hours and the early morning. More extensive migration paths connect at the park and bring seasonal visitors such as the osprey and tundra swan.
The height of the dune offers shelter from high winds, salt spray, and surge of the sea. This vegetation beyond the dunes grows dense and is known as a maritime shrub thicket. Vines make walking through difficult to visitors but provides a valuable refuge for native wildlife. The tallest growing trees of the area are often live oak or loblolly pine.
To the west, the waters of the Roanoke Sound divide Roanoke and Bodie Islands. This brackish water is where the freshwater of our rivers mixes with saltwater flowing through inlets. The proximity to these inlets is one factor that influences the precise salinity of estuarine waters. For some species like the diamondback terrapin, this area is home for life. Calm, shallow waters also may serve as protected areas for early stages of the life cycle prior to venturing to the ocean. Others such as migratory birds may just make a brief stop.
Seven natural communities are documented within the park: Dune Grass, Estuarine Fringe Pine Forest, Interdune Marsh, Live Dune Barren, Maritime Evergreen Forest, Maritime Shrub, Tidal Freshwater Marsh (Bruce Sorrie Inventory, 2014).