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by Raleigh Kitchen, Membership and Outreach Manager, St. Simons Land Trust
The issue of conservation is a topical one. You hear about it on the news, read it in the paper, and sometimes feel overwhelmed by the amount of lands, waters, and wildlife in need of it. Conservation feels like a big task. A really big task. And truthfully, it is! When all we see are headlines about dramatic declines in habitat and wildlife abundance, it’s important to remember that action is being taken – on a global and local level. And you can be involved.
Organizations across the nation are working to create a culture of conservation in their hometowns. They are mobilizing community members and giving them the resources needed to positively impact the future of the habitats and wildlife around them. An example of an organization creating that culture in the southeast is the St. Simons Land Trust.
With the dedicated help of nearly 1,500 supporters, SSLT has protected over 1,000 acres of land on St. Simons Island, GA. And more than half of those acres can be found inside a property teeming with conservation-minded staff, researchers and volunteers. Cannon’s Point Preserve is a 608-acre tract of land located on the north-end of St. Simons Island. It contains some of the last intact maritime forests in Georgia and is rich in cultural and natural history. The peninsula has over six miles of saltmarsh, tidal creek and river shoreline that provide habitat for wildlife such as oysters, birds, fish, and manatee. Cannon’s Point also contains shell middens dating back to 2500 BCE and historical remains of a large plantation-era home and slave quarters owned by John Couper in the 1800s.
Since opening to the public in 2014, Cannon’s Point Preserve has welcomed thousands of visitors that enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking and birding throughout its trails and nearby waterways. And although the Preserve is a place for St. Simons Island residents and visitors to rest, recreate, and connect to nature, the goal of the Land Trust and its partners is for the property to also serve as a nationwide model for scientific research, conservation, and nature-centered education.
Image: Eliot VanOtteren
Over the last five years, and with the help of members of four task forces and an advisory council, researchers have focused on the following conservation issue areas with the goal of sharing data with conservation projects throughout the United States.
LIVING SHORELINE: The Preserve’s living shoreline was constructed in 2015 utilizing 8,000 bags of oyster shells, spartina alternaflora plugs, and other native vegetation. It was designed to mimic a natural stream bank and allow for ecological processes to occur while simultaneously creating essential wildlife habitat. It was the fourth demonstration living shoreline project in Georgia and the first to be accessible by vehicles, allowing it to be widely used for educational purposes.
MARITIME FOREST RESTORATION: Only two months after the living shoreline was complete, the Preserve’s maritime forest restoration project began when live oak seedlings were planted in areas that had been logged due to a pine beetle outbreak. The research has included four different experiments in four different phases that have provided significant information about live oak survival.
ARCHAEOLOGY: In partnership with the Coastal Georgia Historical Society and colleges and universities, archaeology has been a part of Cannon’s Point Preserve research from the very beginning. Multiple digs have taken place on the site since its purchase in 2012. The types of artifacts discovered and analyzed include pottery and animal remains. And results from this initial research indicate that people have been living and using resources at the Preserve for over 4,000 years.
BAT SURVEYS: Most recently, Cannon’s Point Preserve has been a location for annual bat surveys conducted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. These initial surveys have resulted in evidence of northern yellow bats (a species of concern in Georgia) utilizing the old- growth maritime forest habitat. This research also indicates the importance of preserving habitat for the health and success of many different rare and threatened species.
BUTTERFLY SURVEYS: Cannon’s Point Preserve is also partnered with the Butterflies of the Atlantic Flyway Alliance (BAFA). Through five years of butterfly surveys at CPP and other coastal Georgia counties, BAFA will gather the information necessary to create land management recommendations for property owners and managers. Collected data will include migratory movement and nectar and host plant utilization. Thus far, butterflies such as the gulf fritillary, Palamedes swallowtail butterfly, and the beloved monarch have been counted.
The amount of ongoing research at Cannon’s Point Preserve serves as a positive reminder that although negative headlines can be overwhelming, action is being taken. We hope you will take some time this week to do a little research of your own. Find those organizations working to create a culture of conservation at your local level. Reach out. Volunteer. Financially support. And spread the good news that action is being taken.
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