On a Barrier Island for Earth Day

Rocks and dunes near condo, Jekyll Island, 21 April 2012
Rocks and dunes near condo, Jekyll Island, 21 April 2012

Jekyll Island is the smallest barrier island in Georgia, at 7 miles long and 5700 acres (of which 4400 acres are solid earth), 65% of which is preserved from development by state law. The western side of the island is bordered by Jekyll Creek and salt marsh, and the eastern side by the beach and the Atlantic Ocean.

Barrier islands perform a special and important function for humans and wildlife, but they are fragile and always eroding north to south:

Barrier islands function as protectors of the mainland, providing a buffer against severe storms. They’re also wonderful wildlife habitat, harboring crabs, shore birds, gulls, terns, deer, raccoon, squirrels and gators, to name a few.

“Plants that colonize the islands can include sea oats, sand live oak, myrtle oak, southern wax myrtle, magnolia, and slash pine, among others. The barrier flats include clams, mussels, cordgrass and sawgrass.

“Despite their seeming permanence, barrier islands are ephemeral, on a geologic scale very young, and here today, gone tomorrow, prey to the very dynamic forces that created them. While they fulfill their protective functions well, severe hurricane force winds and tidal surges can alter them drastically – along with the human habitation settlements that are built on them.

You can read theories about why and how they form, and descriptions of the various barrier island environments (tidal flat, wetlands, dune, beach, et al.) here on this page.  Taylor Schoettle’s A Guide to a Georgia Barrier Island (1997) has been invaluable to us over the years.

Some animals we’ve seen here over the years include deer (ubiquitous), mink, alligators, raccoons, ghost crabs, surf crabs, wharf crabs, blue crabs, fiddler crabs, periwinkle and moon snails, plumed worms, lettered olives, sand dollars, coquina clam, oysters and mussels, various butterflies and moths, whelks, wood storks, all kinds of herons and egrets (great blue, white, cattle, snowy, green, little blue, yellow-crowned night, black-crowned night, tricoloured), glossy ibis, osprey, kites, bald eagles, plovers and sandpipers, whimbrel, several terns (including royal), black skimmers, thrashers, kingfisher, dolphins, many kinds of gull, brown pelicans and the occasional white, vultures, pond turtles and loggerhead (sea) turtles, anhingas, roseate spoonbills, boat-tailed grackles, mockingbirds, red-wing blackbirds, cormorants, warblers, red-bellied woodpecker, green anole, spotted salamanders, skinks, newts, various snakes (garter and ribbon for sure), “love bugs,” golden silk (banana) spiders, rabbits, cardinals, wood thrush, mourning dove, towhee, jellyfish, and more …

Among plants we’ve seen are beach croton, morning glory, sea-purslane, sea oats, several kinds of cordgrass, panic grass, butterfly pea, devil-joint, gaillardia, yucca, beauty berry, lantana, pennywort, cedar, red bay, catbrier, virginia creeper, wax myrtle, yaupon holly, saltwort and glasswort, sea oxeye, cattail, pickerelweed, rose mallow, live oak, sweet gum, sycamores, laurel oak, laurel cherry, Cherokee rose, oleander, verbena, passion flower, magnolia, Spanish moss, resurrection fern, other ferns, bald cypress, quaking grass and other grasses and sedges, creeping fig, vetch, flax, ball moss, cabbage palm, sago palm, saw palmetto, sumacs, ginger, southern pines  …

We’ve been here in May, June, August, September, December, and now in April.

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