The Nature Conservancy, in its relentless effort to save us for ourselves, has acquired options to buy Monkey and Swan islands on North Carolina's Outer Banks.

Valued at $4 million, the islands are critical feeding grounds for migratory waterfowl and include more than three miles of beach as fine as any along the Atlantic Coast.

Once part of the Atlantic barrier island chain but now sections of a slim, more-or-less continuous sand peninsula stretching southward 20 miles into Dare County from Virginia Beach, buffer the freshwater marshes of Currituck Sound. The sound provides rest and food for waterfowl and is part of the base of the food chain on which the fabulous fishing of the Outer Banks depends.

Currituck's marshes and semisaline ponds yield the highest duck count along the Atlantic Flyway during the spring and fall migrations, the Conservancy said.

The two "islands" are the last stretch of the ocean barrier in private hands and thus subject to possible development, according to David E. Morine, director of land acquisition for the organization.

The private nonprofit Conservancy, which naturally enough encourages donations, hopes to find the money to buy the islands by the end of the year.