J E K Y L L I SL A N D STEWARDS O F A DELICATE BAL AN CE CO NSERVATIO N PL AN 2020
As stewards of Jekyll Island’s past, present, and future, we’re dedicated to maintaining the delicate balance between nature and humankind.
THE FOLLOWING SUPPLEMENTAL APPENDICES, REFERRED TO IN THIS PLAN, ARE INCLUDED IN A COMPANION DOCUMENT APPENDIX A JEKYLL ISLAND – STATE PARK AUTHORITY, ENABLING STATUTE LIMITING DEVELOPMENT
APPENDIX B PRIORITY SPECIES LIST
APPENDIX C PLANT AND WILDLIFE SPECIES REFERENCED IN THE CONSERVATION PLAN
APPENDIX D VEGETATIVE COMMUNITY DESCRIPTIONS
APPENDIX E COASTAL GA – COOPERATIVE INVASIVE SPECIES MANAGEMENT AREA, PRIORITY INVASIVE SPECIES
APPENDIX F SUMMARY OF MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES
APPENDIX G BIBLIOGRAPHY OF LITERATURE SPECIFIC TO JEKYLL ISLAND
APPENDIX H COMPREHENSIVE FIRE MANAGEMENT PROGRAM
APPENDIX I WATERSHED PROTECTION PLAN
APPENDIX J PREDICTED UPLAND CONVERSION IN RESPONSE TO SEA LEVEL RISE
APPENDIX K DUKE WILDLIFE CORRIDOR STUDY
APPENDIX L A GEODESIGN APPROACH TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT ON JEKYLL ISLAND
APPENDIX M STAKEHOLDER COMMENTS PERTAINING TO THE OCTOBER 2020 DRAFT CONSERVATION PLAN UPDATE
CONTENTS 1- EXECUTIVE SUMMARY........................................4 2- INTRODUCTION................................................... 6 3- ENVIRONMENTAL SETTING.............................12 4- WILDLIFE & HABITATS.....................................22 5- MANAGEMENT...................................................50 6- INSTITUTIONAL SUSTAINABILITY.................82 7- ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT....................86 8- NATURE-BASED EDUCATION & OUTDOOR RECREATION...............................96 9- HUMAN RESOURCES, FUNDING & PARTNERS....................................101
LIST OF FIGURES FIGURE 1- SOILS OF JEKYLL ISLAND..................12 FIGURE 2- JEKYLL ISLAND STATE PARK...........14 FIGURE 3- VEGETATIVE COMMUNITIES.......23-24 FIGURE 4- EXTREME TIDES................................. 52 FIGURE 5- MANAGEMENT UNITS.........................61 FIGURE 6- DIAMONDBACK TERRAPIN CONSERVATION...................................62 FIGURE 7- CONSERVATION PRIORITY AREAS....90
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY For most of its history as a state property, Jekyll Island was operated without staff wholly dedicated to advancing the conservation and preservation of the Island’s natural communities and wildlife. Even in the absence of a dedicated program, staff recognized the opportunity and responsibility to care for the Island’s natural assets. For example, a former Materials and Purchasing Manager for the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA), Jan Caton, led the Jekyll Island Sea Turtle Project, which was instrumental in positioning the JIA to create and operate the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC). Following the establishment of the GSTC in 2007, the JIA Board of Directors approved a comprehensive Conservation Plan in 2011, which serves as the foundation of this 2020 update. By instituting a dedicated conservation mission and hiring a Conservation Director to join the JIA’s executive leadership staff, the Board affirmed the priority of natural resource conservation with respect to all substantive decisions made across the organization. Along with the Jekyll Island Master Plan and the Jekyll Island Design Guidelines, the Conservation Plan is essential to JIA’s dedication to maintain the delicate balance between nature and humankind in Jekyll Island State Park. Following this summary and the introduction, Chapter 3 (Environmental Setting) and Chapter 4 (Wildlife & Habitats) are more descriptive than prescriptive. Most action items pertaining to the resources described in these chapters appear in Chapter 5 (Management). Chapter 4 has been revised in this update to put more emphasis on wildlife. Since the 2011 Plan, JIA has prioritized wildlife monitoring and research. New wildlife goals are listed that draw on the substantial base of experience and knowledge that has been built over the past decade. This chapter of the Plan Update revises the Wildlife and Plant Priority Species lists, better defines the criteria for inclusion on those lists, and articulates the implications of a priority species listing. The 2011 Jekyll Island Conservation Plan was bold and aspirational in the scope of management strategies listed in Chapter 4. In updating this pivotal document in 2020, staff and stakeholders alike sought to refresh rather than moderate this challenge. Elements of the 2011 Plan remain to be accomplished, but with more resources in play and new challenges on the horizon, this update sets the bar higher. The approach of this Plan is akin to a football playbook: not every strategic play will be able to be made in the period between plan updates. JIA’s conservation and executive leadership, guided by the Plan, must prioritize plays according to their potential value and expense as opportunities are identified or created. In terms of conservation land management, this Plan, like its predecessor, endorses an active management approach, including measures such as wetland restoration, invasive plant control, native grassland management, and controlled burning. Passive conservation management can be more appropriate when natural areas are minimally impacted by historic legacies and ongoing threats and stresses associated with human uses and development. Conversely, many of the habitats within Jekyll Island State Park have been impacted in ways that have reduced their ecological potential and through biodiversity and productivity for wildlife can be enhanced with an active, yet careful, managerial hand.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 4
Throughout the Plan, content has been added to recognize the significant, escalating threat to natural resources posed by climate change as well as dynamics affecting conservation and development that will be imposed by rising sea level. A new, dedicated park-wide management objective has been added in this regard to Chapter 5, complementing the six other overarching objectives that were also included in the 2011 Plan. Addition of this material is consistent with Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan and with the guidance of federal natural resources agencies. Chapter 6 focuses on catalyzing a new arena for growth that will require structured, concerted effort. Titled “Institutional Sustainability”, it charges the JIA with evaluating its environmental footprint in terms of carbon emissions, material waste, and water use. It identifies actions that will be essential milestones in positioning the JIA to consider establishing targeted goals and timelines for reducing its footprint. Chapter 7 describes the process and intent of the Environmental Assessment Procedure, or EAP. This is a JIA-mandated environmental review process that was first implemented in 2012 for projects with the potential to degrade the natural resources of the Park. The process draws on the perspectives and expertise of external stakeholders as well as key JIA staff. Lessons learned and adjustments made over the intervening years of implementing the EAP for 19 projects have been incorporated in this Plan update. Conservation Protection Areas (CPAs) are also identified in this chapter. New areas have been classified as CPAs and the mandate established by CPA classification has been more clearly defined, stipulating that sanctioned activities in CPAs and associated buffers must not significantly impose upon the viewshed of a nature-dominated landscape, degrade the ecological integrity of the natural system or its habitat value for priority species, or reduce the erosion/flood protection afforded by natural features. This Plan update was informed and improved by extensive technical and stakeholder input. Reviewers largely affirmed the treatment of material related to climate change, sea-level rise, and sustainability. Responsive to public feedback, the Environmental Assessment Procedure has been modified to provide for increased transparency and opportunity for public comment. The provision of nature-based education and outdoor recreation opportunities remains an explicit charge in the JIA Conservation Mission, to which Chapter 8 is now dedicated. Few of the objectives listed in the Environmental Education chapter in the 2011 Plan still align with current priorities. Environmental Education “Gaps and opportunities”, identified in the 2011 Plan, were responsive largely to the limited marketing and communications bandwidth that existed within the JIA at that time, resulting in a perception that the JIA did not sufficiently promote existing opportunities. JIA’s marketing strategies have since evolved with a heightened emphasis on telling the conservation story and highlighting Jekyll’s unique assets as an ideal destination for families to learn and play in outdoor spaces. Accordingly, Chapter 8 is all-new material that aims to distill the landscape of nature-based education and outdoor recreation at Jekyll Island as it exists today. In the broadest sense, this Conservation plan, like its predecessor, establishes a set of conservation values and outlines a playbook for pursuing and prioritizing those values. As the Authority has evolved, so have its values as an institution. This Plan Update seeks to account for that evolution. Jekyll Island is a place like none other. The natural resources, public and private assets and administrative structures that make up this unique state park endow it with a resistance to overdevelopment, but not an immunity. By reaffirming its commitment to this Plan, the JIA demonstrates its abiding faith in a simple but profound idea that is foundational to the existence of this place that is loved by so many: Jekyll Island’s ecological vitality and economic vitality are inextricably linked and the preservation of its character depends upon actively holding these two otherwise opposing values in a careful balance that must be mutually empowering.
5 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
INTRODUC TION 2. INTRODUCTION This updated Conservation Plan was completed nine years after the approval of Jekyll Island’s first formal Conservation Plan for in 2011. Much of the following text follows the format adopted in the original plan because it has proven be an effective tool to guide the establishment and growth of a successful conservation program. Changes in the Plan are based on new information reflecting the accomplishments since 2011, additional information on the Island’s ecology compiled by professional natural resource managers now employed by the Jekyll Island Authority, and advances in scientific knowledge related to climate change, sea level rise and species dependent on the Island. Context for the entirety of the Jekyll Island Conservation Plan: Since 1950, Jekyll Island has operated under the direction of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority, commonly called the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) in recognition that Jekyll Island is separate from the State Park System of Georgia managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The JIA is governed by a Board composed of members appointed by the governor. Georgia law specifically designates Jekyll Island, along with the adjoining marshes and hammocks surrounding the causeway leading to the Island, as a state park. The land and its flora and fauna belong to all citizens of Georgia. Thus, conservation of the park’s natural assets is important to stakeholders across the state. Jekyll Island, however, belongs to a special category of state parks, since it is not managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and its operations are not subsidized by the state’s taxpayers. Rather, the Jekyll Island State Park Authority is authorized as the Island’s governing body and required to operate the park as a financially self-sufficient entity. Residential neighborhoods and commercial zones on the Island are made up of leased lots, and the lease fees flow to the Authority. JIA-operated enterprises, or “amenities”, account for 40% of JIA’s operating income. Parking fees are collected at the Guest Information Plaza on the causeway leading to the island. These revenue streams are used to support the operation and conservation of the Island. The Jekyll Island Conservation Plan recognizes the need for income-yielding lands respecting the statutory limitation keeping the total Developed area of the Island to no more than 1,675 acres as determined in the 2014 Jekyll Island Master Plan and as updated in future Master Plans. This Conservation Plan provides direction to guide JIA decisions about balancing multiple priorities, including conservation, and influencing the design and use of the park’s developed lands to enhance sustainability. Additionally, this Plan provides a road map for the prioritization of conservation in the natural areas of the Island surrounding developed lands. Careful attention is called for when interpreting the Conservation Plan acreages referencing lower-case “developed” areas and upper-case “Developed” areas. For example, Management Unit #s 5 and 6, Golf Course and Urban/Park, as described in Chapter 5, are customized according to conservation-management considerations and therefore are not intended to cross reference to acreages of areas classified in the Jekyll Master Plan as Developed. The Master Plan classifications apply to limitations imposed by state law on the developable acreage of Jekyll Island. Whenever the Master Plan classifications are referenced in this Plan, the words “Developed” and “Undeveloped” will be capitalized. If referring generically to undeveloped or developed land, the words are not capitalized.
The purpose of this Plan is to create a framework for protecting and managing the natural resources of Jekyll Island. This document is not the final story for conservation; instead, it provides a vision for a multi-decade approach to protect, adaptively manage, and enhance the sensitive environments of this barrier island within a continually changing physical, social, and biological context. A long-term planning horizon provides context for the vision for the Island within a dynamic natural and political environment, including climate change, sea-level rise, shoreline change, predictable and unpredictable biological responses, and multiple “generations” of JIA decision-makers. This Plan is not intended to serve as an annual work plan, specific funding vehicle, or new ordinance for the Island, although any or all of these may be needed along the way to fully implement the conservation strategies outlined in the Plan. With each successive update of both this Plan and the Jekyll Island Master Plan, the two will be integrated. Likewise, other topical planning documents produced by the JIA, such as the Design Guidelines, must be compatible with the Conservation Plan. The Plan is expected to be clarified, refined, and adapted based on further research, improved techniques, and a changing environment to maintain and improve conservation efforts and the ecological value of the Park. The Plan defines long-term objectives, a description of desired goals and impediments to success, and management actions to meet the objectives that will help focus JIA staff, partners, and the Park’s broad community of stakeholders and supporters, on a unified strategy for the ongoing conservation of Jekyll Island State Park. The utility of this Plan is anticipated to carry forward from five to eight years following the date of adoption. 2.1. MISSION & PRIORITIES This Plan, in alignment with the JIA Mission: As stewards of Jekyll Island’s past, present, and future, we are dedicated to maintaining the delicate balance between nature and humankind. and the JIA Vision: Through progressive stewardship and excellent customer service, Jekyll Island will be recognized as a sustainable conservation community that is the choice destination among all who experience its unique environment, services, and amenities. Establishes the following Mission, specific to the JIA Conservation Program:
Conserve, manage, and restore Jekyll Island State Park’s natural communities and biological diversity; provide nature-based educational and recreational opportunities for the general public; and guide the Jekyll Island Authority, its partners, and its tenants to reduce the broader environmental footprint of human activities that occur within the Park.
This mission statement is adapted from the 2011 Conservation Plan to include new focus areas presented in Chapter 6 (Institutional Sustainability). Park-wide Management Objectives that carry forward from the 2011 Plan are detailed in Chapter 5 and remain the guiding priorities regarding the Island’s natural communities and biological diversity. For the 2020 update, a new Park-wide Management Objective has been added to assure adaptation and response to threats associated with climate change.
2.2. LAND AREA COVERED BY PLAN Established in 1950, the JIA was chartered and granted a lease from the State of Georgia for all of Jekyll Island as well as the marshes and marsh islands adjacent and adjoining the Island (O.C.G.A. § 12-3-241). Beginning in 1971 and as amended over time, the Georgia General Assembly established the limited land area of the Island that could be developed. Until 2014, this limitation was percentage based, and was commonly referred to as the “65:35” limitation, meaning that 65% of the Island must remained undeveloped. In 2014, following an update of the Jekyll Island Master Plan, Georgia Code was amended to change the land use limitation from a percentage basis to a fixed-acreage basis. Developed land on Jekyll Island is now limited to no more than 1,675 acres, which equates approximately to 35% of the land above Mean Higher High Water. The 2016 Georgia Code mandating the limit to developed land on Jekyll Island can be found in Appendix A. These limitations have always been applied only to the Island itself and have not had bearing on additional lands within Jekyll Island State Park that adjoin the causeway, including marshes and hammocks. The 2020 update to this Conservation Plan clarifies that the objectives herein do include that part of Jekyll Island State Park. This inclusion is important because of the marsh hammock islands that occur there, five of which are significant enough to be recognized as Conservation Priority Areas, as defined in Chapter 7. These include shell midden communities that harbor rare plants. JIA’s stewardship responsibilities along the causeway overlap with the interests and jurisdictional mandates of Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GA DNR), Georgia Department of Transportation, Georgia Power, Georgia State Patrol, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
2.3. ACCOMPLISHMENTS SINCE THE APPROVAL OF THE CONSERVATION PLAN IN 2011 A dedicated Conservation Department, which did not exist at the time of the approval of the Conservation Plan in 2011, is now integral to JIA’s day-to-day decision-making, operational capacity, and Jekyll Island visitor experience. The Department now includes a staff of 4 full-time and up to 6 seasonal, part-time, or temporary personnel focused on achieving the objectives in the Conservation Plan. Below are some of the accomplishments made by Department in the last 9 years through the leadership of the JIA Board and support of the JIA Executive Team: 1. The Conservation Department, with support from AmeriCorps and other institutional partners through the Coastal Georgia Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CG-CISMA), have made substantial progress in controlling the most damaging invasive plant species affecting the Park. 2. The Department performs independent wildlife inventory and monitoring concentrating on keystone predators and priority species that are rare or particularly influential in the ecosystem. 3. In addition to the independent research conducted by the Department, the JIA supports novel ecological research through a diverse and strategic array of external research agreements. 4. Since mandated by the Conservation Plan in 2012, Conservation staff have led the stakeholder-informed Environmental Assessment Procedure (EAP) for all projects that have the potential to affect natural systems. 5. Three of the Conservation Department’s full-time staff have training in wildland firefighting and two are certified in prescribed fire management to address the issue of accumulated fuel loads in some of the Island’s forests. 6. Conservation personnel operate a 24/7 hotline for wildlife concerns within Jekyll Island State Park. 7. The Department established a Park Ranger program to:
• Provide trained ambassadors to interface with Island guests and intervene when visitors or residents mistreat wildlife or ignore rules designed to protect the community’s environmental assets and values.
• Manage new educational nature-based programs that are revenue generating and coordinated the development of a Junior Ranger Field Guide. 8. The Department has catalyzed efforts to:
• Install electric car charging infrastructure throughout the Island,
• Lease land for a 4-acre, 1-megawatt solar array on the Island’s old landfill, and
• Conduct baseline analyses of the Island’s material waste streams and recycling efforts.
9. In addition to their assignments specifically tied to natural resources conservation, staff also:
• Implement the Watershed Protection Plan (Appendix I) in coordination with the JIA Water/Wastewater Department as mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division.
• Oversee the management and water-quality monitoring of all freshwater ponds on the Island.
• Collaborate with the Marketing Department to provide content direction and fact-checking for JIA’s promotional materials, and to support the scouting and review process for film and photoshoot requests on the Island.
• Participate in the RFP review process for selection of major project partners. • Oversee the development and management of coastal engineering and resiliency efforts.
• Created and now manage the GIS database for the Island.
• Collaborated on the concept development and exhibit design of the renovated and reimagined museum of Jekyll Island, Mosaic.
• Managed the expansion of certification, through Audubon International’s Cooperative Sanctuary program, of all of Jekyll Island’s golf courses.
2.4. DATA SOURCES Work conducted by JIA personnel since 2011 has built upon information compiled by GADNR and others and has established an extensive body of knowledge about the ecological systems of Jekyll Island. This Plan does not repeat that wealth of information, but instead provides a brief summary of relevant natural resource data and a description of the environmental setting of the Island in order to summarize the context of the Plan. Documentation of source data and information is provided through written text, appendices, and references to websites. The Plan uses vegetative communities as the framework for identifying beneficial management actions and outlines Threats, Key Attributes, and Desired Future Conditions for natural communities as a way of defining priorities for management. The Management section of the report defines comprehensive management actions and divides the Island into distinct Units for implementing actions in the short- and long-term. Many of the proposed actions can be implemented as soon as staff and funding are available to be dedicated to the task. Others require the formation of a committee to collect more data, discuss options, and then decide on a course. These include the development of a comprehensive beach management plan, and a plan for managing nuisance and invasive wildlife populations. An updated section on the Environmental Assessment Procedure defines the current process for evaluating natural resource impacts associated with proposed projects with the potential to affect natural resources and defines Conservation Priority Areas that warrant particular attention. The JIA Board provides final approval for updates to the Conservation Plan that is then implemented through the leadership of the JIA Conservation Department. The expectation is that there should be a formal review and update of this Plan every five to eight years. Updates will continue to call upon both external and internal JIA technical expertise, as well as institutional and citizen stakeholder involvement through a public review process. 2.5. PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT As was the case for the 2011 Conservation Plan, Dr. Jay Exum, president of Exum Associates, Inc. (http://www.exumassoc.com/about/) facilitated public input through a review with technical experts, non-governmental organizations and representatives of the general public. A group of 10 individuals with technical expertise in barrier island and coastal ecology, sustainability and management of ecosystems similar to Jekyll Island comprised the Technical Stakeholder Group. In addition, eight individuals comprised the Advisory Stakeholder Group, including representatives of local and statewide environmental and community organizations. The technical group was primarily a collection of active and retired biologists, foresters, and scientists with expertise in the ecology of barrier islands, and most had specific expertise on Jekyll or a nearby island. The advisory group consisted of representatives of local and regional environmental non-governmental organizations and representatives of local community groups, some of whom are also Jekyll Island residents. These stakeholder groups gave invaluable input on the context of conservation on Jekyll Island, provided specific comments on the Plan and commented on its potential effects on Jekyll Island residents. This Plan was updated at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in drastic changes in all aspects of everyday life, including the intended approach to public involvement. Expectations for face-to-face meetings and an open house format for public input were modified. The Technical Stakeholder Group was able to meet on March 12, 2020, for a review of the major elements of the Plan. The Advisory Stakeholder Group provided comparable input during a Zoom conference meeting on April 28, 2020. Subsequently, each group reviewed drafts of the revised Conservation Plan and improved the quality of the Update. Internal guidance from JIA senior staff and Conservation Department staff was solicited at points throughout the process. Representatives of the stakeholder groups and their affiliations are referenced below, and their efforts were much appreciated.
TECHNICAL STAKEHOLDER GROUP • Scott Coleman, Little Saint Simons Island, Ecological Manager • Ashby Worley, The Nature Conservancy, Coastal Climate Adaptation Director • Abby Sterling, Shorebird Biologist, Manomet Inc., Vice President, Coastal Georgia Audubon • Clay Montague, University of Florida, Associate Professor Emeritus • Eamonn Leonard, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Biologist • Katy Smith, University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, Water Quality Program Coordinator • Bill Wikoff, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Coastal GA Sub Office, Fish and Wildlife Biologist • Mark McClellan, Georgia Forestry Commission, Stewardship Coordinator • Steve Newell, Marine Institute at Sapelo Island, retired Director • Doug Samson, Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, Reserve Manager ADVISORY STAKEHOLDER GROUP • Mindy and David Egan, Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, Co-Directors • Alice Keyes, One Hundred Miles, Vice President of Coastal Conservation • Ame Ivanov, Jekyll Island Citizens Assoc., President • Bonnie Newell, Jekyll Goes Green, Founder • Laura Early, Satilla Riverkeeper, Executive Director • Rachael Thompson, Glynn Environmental Coalition, Executive Director • Charles McMillan, Georgia Conservancy, Coastal Director The Plan was made available for general public review and comment in November and December 2020 before final consideration by the JIA Board in January 2021.
ENVIRONMENTAL SETTING 3.0. GEOGRAPHIC, CLIMATIC & SOIL CONTEXT Jekyll Island is located in Glynn County, one of the coastal counties in the State of Georgia, and is the westernmost barrier island on the eastern seaboard of the United States. The Island and surrounding estuarine marshes are shaped by twice-daily tidal fluctuations of approximately 6 to 8 feet and influenced by outflows of freshwater from the Satilla, Little Satilla, Turtle/Brunswick, and Altamaha watersheds. The coastal Georgia mainland is hot and humid in the summer, but the barrier islands are typically cooled by sea breezes. Winters are cool, with occasional, brief cold spells. Rainfall averages slightly less than 50 inches a year, with a disproportionately heavy distribution between June and September; snowfall is rare. Rainfall from the nearby Brunswick field station can be found online. Temperature, wind speed/direction, and pressure are recorded at a station in Great Dunes Beach Park on Jekyll Island and are archived by WeatherFlow Inc. This data is available in real time at https://windalert.com/. The scientific consensus, and increasingly public opinion, is that global climate change is occurring (https://www.climate.gov). Tropical cyclones have influenced the ecosystems that exist in coastal Georgia over large time scales. Evidence suggests that tropical cyclone intensity and resulting rainfall can be expected to increase as climate change proceeds (https://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/global-warming-and-hurricanes/). The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service soil survey for Glynn County, Georgia identifies nine general soil map units, which are grouped according to slope and landscape. Those that occur on Jekyll Island include the Meggett, Mandarin-Rutledge, Cainhoy-Mandarin-Pottsburg, PelhamSapelo, Fripp-Duckston-Beaches, and Bohicket-Capers families of soils. Specific mapping units that occur on Jekyll Island are shown on Figure 1. In general, these are sandy soils with greater occurrence of organic content and calcium content associated with the geologically older portions of the Island.
Brunswick Field Station Temperature and Precipitation Data: http://www.sercc.com/crn; select GA Brunswick 23 S station
3.1. HYDROLOGY The cycle of water in and around the Island has significant ramifications for the distribution, extent, and health of natural systems on the Island. The elevation, duration, energy, and frequency of the tide defines the structure and vegetation diversity for beach/dune systems and salt marshes as well as significantly influences the vegetation successional gradient landward of the mean high tide line. Non-tidal wetlands are dependent on freshwater sources, composed primarily of rainfall and surficial groundwater (near the ground surface), as well as the attenuation of salinity levels provided by positive drainage of freshwater. These wetlands provide significant habitats and freshwater sources for common and priority plant and wildlife species found on the Island. Other water bodies created for fill production, stormwater attenuation and treatment, or other purposes also provide freshwater sources, but exhibit different vegetation structure and forage availability than natural freshwater wetlands.
Figure 1. Soils of Jekyll Island
ENVIRONMENTAL SETTING 12
Alterations to surface and groundwater flows and volumes can have significant consequences for natural systems. Impervious surfaces that route rainfall and stormwater directly into brackish or saline environments can alter the salinity levels and corresponding vegetation communities at point discharges, while also limiting the capacity for groundwater recharge of the surficial aquifer. Water withdrawals from the surficial or deeper aquifers can result in reductions in the elevation of groundwater on a temporary or permanent basis. The lowering of the groundwater can result in saltwater intrusion into the surficial aquifer and the advent of detrimental salinity levels into historically freshwater systems. Lowered groundwater levels can also reduce the duration and elevation of inundation within freshwater systems through more rapid “leakage” of water from wetlands or lakes into the surficial aquifer. If extended over a long duration of time, the reduction in groundwater hydrology may result in the loss or significant degradation in wetland function. During cycles of drought, evidence of reduced hydrological function can be particularly apparent on the Island. This evidence includes lower pond levels, transitional and upland vegetation within historical wetland systems, and loss of canopy species. Regional influences, such as deep groundwater withdrawals for industrial uses on the mainland and potable water supplies, may impact groundwater levels on the Island although linkages between surficial aquifers and deep, confined aquifers such as the Floridan are not well understood in coastal Georgia. On an individual basis, surficial water wells used to irrigate lawns and other landscapes may have local scale impacts on surficial aquifer levels during drought. Historical infrastructure and development uses affect surface water routing, thereby influencing groundwater recharge as well as surface water inputs into wetland systems. From October 2012 through December 2013, the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) partnered with Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) to evaluate baseline conditions in the Island’s surficial aquifer. The resulting report is available here: https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20161017. Additional studies would be beneficial to improve the understanding of the causes of the apparent reduced hydrological functions. Water saving conservation measures have been implemented on the Island, including low-flow appliances, cistern storage, and use of rainwater for flushing toilets (Hampton Inn and Convention Center) and irrigation (Convention Center). The golf courses, operated by the JIA, minimize water use through conservative irrigation management in accordance with the course-wide Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary certification. The 2018 Jekyll Island Carrying Capacity and Infrastructure Assessment concluded that the Island’s public water system, originating from five Floridan aquifer wells on the Island, is operating at under half of its permitted withdrawal capacity with year over year trends in use holding steady through 2017 (https://issuu.com/jekyllisland/docs/jekyll_island_carrying_capacity_and).
13 ENVIRONMENTAL SETTING
3.2. REGIONAL CONTEXT The New Georgia Encyclopedia is a web-based program of Georgia Humanities in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor. In the Geographic Regions section of the Geography and Environment Topic, there is a primer on the history of Jekyll Island (https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/geographyenvironment/jekyll-island). The Lower Coastal Plain and Coastal Islands subsection provides details on the geology of Georgia’s barrier islands, including a description of the ecology of Georgia’s Lower Coastal Plain (https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/ geography-environment/lower-coastal-plain-and-coastal-islands). This section illustrates the physiographic context of Jekyll Island along the Georgia coast in association with Georgia barrier islands from Tybee Island to Cumberland Island. Figure 2 provides an aerial photograph of Jekyll Island, including natural features from the Altamaha River north of Little St. Simons Island, south to include the Brunswick, Little Satilla,a and Satilla Rivers. The “sweeping salt marshes” described in the Lower Coastal Plain and Coastal Islands subsection highlights the ecological significance of tidal marshes that were the subject of Sidney Lanier’s poem “The Marshes of Glynn”. These highly productive marshes, along with small “islands” of upland within the marsh, also called “marsh hammocks”, represent more than 8,927 acres of Jekyll Island State Park and provide a valuable nursery for the fish and shellfish that are vital to the economy of the Georgia coast as well as a habitat for migratory birds and rare plants. Jekyll Island’s salt marshes have been protected since the passage of the Marshlands Protection Act by the Georgia General Assembly in 1970. Strict permitting requirements restrict alteration of the marshes within the boundaries of Jekyll Island as well as the vast areas of tidal marsh along Georgia’s coast.
Figure 2. Jekyll Island State Park
ENVIRONMENTAL SETTING 14
3.3. GEOLOGIC FRAME OF REFERENCE Jekyll Island’s older core was formed approximately 40-50,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch at a time when sea-level was about 6 feet above the current level. This was during an interglacial period (in between ice ages) when the polar ice caps had receded and sea level rose. Subsequently, during the last global ice age of the Pleistocene, continental glaciers expanded again and sea level fell by 300 to 500 feet. During this time, Jekyll Island was no longer an island, becoming part of the mainland with the shoreline shifting about 80 miles to the east of its current location. Approximately 18,000 years ago, the continental ice sheets started to melt, causing the sea level to rise again, sometimes very rapidly, until about 5000 years ago when the rate of sea-level rise settled close to its current rate of about 1 foot of rise every 100 years. The remains of a 4,000-5,000-year-old forest are visible today on Jekyll’s beach adjacent to King and Dexter Avenues. When exposed by wave action, the ancient soil, called a paleosol, and the stumps of the trees that grew in it are revealed between the tides, and beach goers can walk through a landscape that has been preserved for thousands of years buried below sea and sand. During this same time period, new islands formed along the encroaching shoreline, their sands migrating westward as sea level rose. Geologists associate these islands with the Holocene (recent) Epoch. Along Georgia’s coast, some of the Holocene islands eventually merged with the older Pleistocene islands. Jekyll Island is one of these composite islands. Identifying the Holocene parts of Jekyll Island is easy because these areas at the north and south end of the Island have rolling topography. These ridges and swales were formed as sand dunes along the shoreline. As the shoreline moved, plants became established and began a succession eventually leading to mature live oak-dominated maritime forest on the ridges and freshwater wetland plant communities in the low swales. The south end of Jekyll Island has experienced rapid accretion, or growth, which has been historically documented, with the Island’s southern point expanding southward at an average rate of over three feet per year since the earliest accurate maps became available in the mid 1800s. As with any science, our understanding of the geology of Georgia’s coast evolves and is driven by the development and vetting of hypotheses about the past, informed by the conditions and processes we observe in the present. The study of geology is known for the extraordinarily long timeframes that must be considered to understand the processes at work. Typically, these timeframes are measured in millions of years. However, coastal geologic processes, particularly at the shoreline, can occur very quickly by comparison, with major changes potentially occurring over timeframes of hundreds to thousands of years – in a blink of an eye, geologically speaking. One emerging hypothesis about Jekyll Island’s geologic past suggests that as recently as 2,800 years ago, Jekyll Island and Saint Simons Island, the next island to the north, may have been connected as a single island. This hypothesis is intriguing because, if confirmed, it would mean that some extreme changes in the coastal landscape surrounding Jekyll Island took place during a time when Native Americans occupied the area. The breaching of Saint Simons Sound, perhaps precipitated by a major hurricane, would have been an extraordinary and dangerous event to have witnessed.
15 ENVIRONMENTAL SETTING
3.4. PREHISTORIC AND HISTORIC LAND USES Jekyll Island’s earliest known inhabitants were Native American hunter-gatherers who lived on the Island in small groups during the Late Archaic Period, approximately 4,500 years ago. Current boundaries of the Historic District, Horton House and Brewery Ruins Site, Former Huddle House Site, and Great Dunes Golf Course comprise four of the largest prehistoric settlement areas on the Island. The Native American habitation is a significant factor to the landscape we observe today because they disposed of large quantities of oyster, whelk, and clam shells in the form of midden piles throughout the Island in numerous locations. As a result of this activity over several centuries, the soil pH has been altered, producing very fertile basic soils suitable for most plant species. In addition, Native Americans would regularly burn off the underbrush of the Island to improve hunting and minimize attacks from biting insects. Over time, this practice of frequent controlled burns most likely affected plant and animal species diversity on the Island. English occupation reached Jekyll Island in 1738-1739 with General James Oglethorpe stationing Captain William Horton on Jekyll. This led to the construction of a home and brewery on the north end of the Island as well as the planting of rye, barley, other grains, and an orange grove. In 1792, Jekyll was purchased by Christophe Poulain du Bignon, who raised sea-island cotton as a prosperous enterprise until the Civil War. A large swath of the Island was cleared from the present Historic District running north to the Horton House Historic Site and utilized for growing cotton. About 1830-1840, the largest live oaks on the Island were sold to the United States Navy for ship timber with most of them going to the Pensacola Naval Yard for ship construction. Cabbage palms were also a rare site on the Island prior to the formation of the Jekyll Island Club as they had been cut for their cabbage, which was considered a delicacy in the South. After the Civil War, feral horses, cattle and hogs multiplied rapidly and they most likely had a significant impact on the Island’s landscape. Not until the Island came into the possession of the Club were efforts taken to mitigate these conditions. In 1886, the Island was purchased by the Jekyll Island Club, and Club members selected a landscape architect (Horace William Shaler Cleveland) to develop a landscape plan for the Club Grounds in 1887 that accepted the natural beauty of the Island. As a result, most of the Island was primarily managed in its natural state during most of the Club era, also in part to support hunting. Hunting abundant game on the Island was perhaps the activity most highly regarded by early Club members and landscape management efforts were directed towards optimizing this activity, including the use of prescribed burning. As hunting lost its popularity in favor of other activities, the prescribed burnings became less frequent. By 1942, as the Club began to have financial troubles, members decided to raise money by cutting all of the sellable pine timber on the entire Island, excluding the Club compound. The harvesting of pine timber clearly would have resulted in significant disturbance to large portions of the Island. It appears that most of the timber that was harvested on the Island occurred primarily on the older, Pleistocene portions of the Island.
ENVIRONMENTAL SETTING 16
Archival documents reference the vegetation composition and land use of the Island just prior to the acquisition by the Jekyll Island Club and broke down 14,000 acres of Jekyll Island and back-barrier marshes associated with that land transfer as follows:
• 2,500 acres of heavy oak and pine timber • 2,500 acres of sea island cotton land • 2,500 acres of hammock land • 2,000 acres of dry savannah land • 1,000 acres of hard black marsh land • 3,500 acres of salt marsh
While these numbers do not equate closely to the current measurements of Jekyll Island State Park land, they paint a basic picture of the diversity of habitats and land uses in the 1880s.
The State of Georgia acquired the Island from the Club in 1947 and built a causeway to connect the Island to the mainland. During the early State era, the Island underwent significant development. With the creation of Beachview Drive, large sections of the natural dunes, once described as almost 40 feet high in places, were leveled flat from Captain Wylly Drive to south of the Days Inn to create a concrete boardwalk and to provide uninterrupted views of the ocean from Beachview Drive. The creation of Ben Fortson Parkway, South Riverview Drive and other roadways on the Island restricted natural tidal flows into interior salt marsh as natural stream beds were directed into culverts or were completely cut off. This fragmentation severely impacted the headwaters of First Creek, which was once the largest tidal drainage system on the south end of the Island. The airport site was also greatly expanded, resulting in several acres of salt marsh that were filled in, to expand the size of the runway. Some of this fill material might have eroded into the adjacent salt marsh, creating additional high marsh along the north east boundary of the taxiway. The construction of Jekyll Island’s golf courses significantly reduced and altered the Island’s natural freshwater wetlands. Oleander golf course altered the original hydrology of both salt and freshwater systems, magnifying changes that were initiated by ditch building during the Club era. Perhaps the greatest landscape impact to the Island occurred around 1968 when the JIA attempted to create a marina complex on the southwest end of the Island. Many acres of salt marsh were dredged to create two harbor basins. The spoils were used to construct earthen dykes around each basin, plus an upland area for parking and support activities. The larger basin was tidally connected directly to Jekyll Creek, while the smaller freshwater basin did not initially connect to adjacent tidal waters. Unfortunately, soon after dredging the saltwater yacht basin, it started to silt back in. In time, after the marina project was abandoned, the saltwater basin was then converted into a low-level salt marsh by pumping additional dredge material from Jekyll Creek back into the saltwater yacht basin. The freshwater basin had connecting culvert pipes installed through its dykes in order to allow tidal exchange. For a time, this basin was used as a cable ski/wakeboard park called Ski Rixen. A portion of the high grounds now comprise Summer Waves Water Park, Tidelands Nature Center, and parking for the public boat ramp complex. Overall, the natural hydrology and surrounding plant communities were drastically altered by this project, wiping out all that remained of the former First Creek tidal system. Its name disappears from maps and charts around this time. Upland areas where dredge spoils associated with this project were deposited host novel ecosystems. While being susceptible to invasive plant species, such as salt cedar, they also support rare native plants and provide some of the best habitats on the Island for small mammals and the native predators that rely on them, such as eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and bobcats.
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Former dredging operations approved by the Army Corps of Engineers in Jekyll Creek and St. Simons Island Sound during the previous decades have also altered the ecology of the adjacent salt marshes and natural sand sharing processes. Dredge material was periodically pumped directly into the adjacent salt marsh, creating additional hammocks and high marsh flats in several locations. Some of these newly created hammocks allowed for the establishment of very rare plants, but sometimes these disturbed sites also allowed additional invasive exotic species to become more established on the Island. The Jekyll Creek channel of the Intracoastal Waterway was not dredged from the mid-1990s until 2019. In 2019, one-half of the channel was dredged. A small portion of this sediment was utilized to pilot a potential beneficial use known as Thin Layer Placement (https://coastalgadnr.org/JekyllCreek). The inlet to the north of Jekyll Island at Saint Simons Sound hosts a major shipping channel to the Port of Brunswick, one of the Nation’s major ports for the import and export of motor vehicles. Alteration to the dynamics of nearshore sand movement due to shipping channel dredging and beachfront armoring has affected shoreline change on the Island’s beachfront. Sand migrates along the beachfront to the north and south, depending upon wave energy and tidal currents. This has created localized areas of erosion (loss) and accretion (growth) across the Island’s beaches. Historically, the northern half of the Island has experienced more erosion and the southern half of the Island has experienced more accretion. Shoreline change data for coastal Georgia’s beach and marsh shorelines are easily accessible through the Georgia Coastal Hazards Portal (http://gchp.skio.usg.edu/). Beaches on the southern half of the Island are characterized by wider dune systems backing the beach. In contrast to Saint Simons Sound, the inlet to the south of the Island at Saint Andrews Sound has not been engineered at all. At the Island’s southern point accretion has occurred very rapidly with peak rates exceeding 20 feet of growth per year -- meaning that houses and facilities built just off the beach in the 1950s are now located 1/4- to 1/3-mile away. The expansive early- and mid-successional dune habitat that has been created is one of the Island’s most important wildlife habitats. The frontal dune system here is particularly important for nesting Wilson’s plovers, a State-listed threatened species. Hurricanes have had direct and indirect impacts on the Island. No major hurricanes have made landfall in coastal Georgia since the 1890s, but Hurricane Dora in 1964, Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and Hurricane Irma in 2017, all passed close enough to cause substantial shoreline erosion across the Island’s beachfront. Initially in response to the impacts of Hurricane Dora, between 1965 and 1976, approximately 4.8 miles of revetment were constructed of granite boulders that sit on top of a base of compacted crushed granite. The granite rocks, also known as Johnson Rocks after President Johnson, are still in place from roughly the southern lease boundary of the Marriot hotel project (under construction in 2020) to 1/4 mile north of Villas By the Sea (VBTS). South of Oceanview Beach Park, natural sand accretion and dune growth has buried over 1/3 of the total length of the revetment structure. However, north of this location, exposure of the rocks due to dominant erosional forces and resulting wave-energy refraction off the rocks has resulted in loss of sea turtle habitat and progressively narrowing intertidal beaches along a south to north gradient. Beaches adjacent to VBTS and the neighboring Cottages development are reduced to the point that during some parts of the tidal cycle they are not exposed even at low tide. Nonetheless, some areas of the intertidal beach with exposed revetment armoring do provide valuable shorebird foraging habitat. Hurricanes Matthew and Irma caused extensive damage to the revetment structure that had, prior to those storms, been failing to fully prevent landward erosion at its northern extent due to questionable original construction quality and structural compromise over time. In 2018 and 2019, an approximately 11 million dollar, primarily state-funded revetment rehabilitation project was undertaken to restore the functionality of the structure. Fifty thousand tons of larger granite rocks were added to rebuild the revetment to its original design specifications. One hundred cubic yards of sand were backfilled landward of the revetment, replacing what had been lost to erosion to create an engineered dune. A heavy-duty synthetic textile material was added at the interface between the revetment and the sand backfill to prevent sand loss through the rocks. One hundred thirty thousand dune plants were planted on the sand backfill.
ENVIRONMENTAL SETTING 18
Wildfires have also affected the Island during the era of State ownership, but their infrequency and limited size due to suppression have minimized their impact to established plant communities. Their earlier historical significance was likely greater, but with less frequent fire-return intervals than would have occurred on the mainland. The spatial extent of wildfires may also have been limited by the natural resistance of live oak-dominated maritime forest to burning. Considering that 14% of the land acquired by the Jekyll Island Club in 1886 was classified as “dry savannah land”, periodic disturbance of the understory, whether due to fire, livestock grazing, or a combination of the two, was clearly influential on the landscape and would have been reflected in the composition and diversity of the Island’s plant and animal communities. The most significant change to vegetation communities in the past 15 years has been the dramatic and rapid loss of most of the Island’s mature red bays due to the introduction of laurel wilt disease. The first diagnosis for the Island was in summer 2006, but within two years, almost half of the Island’s red bays had succumbed to the disease, and nearly all of the Island’s red bays were lost by 2010. Red bays persist on the Island, but typically die back before growing larger than a small tree. Nonetheless, they do sometimes produce fruit even in this reduced state. Research on the long-term effects of the disease by the US Forest Service and others continues. Some individual trees on Jekyll Island and some small stands on neighboring islands appear to be resistant to the disease. The largest remaining red bays on Jekyll Island are about six inches in diameter and only a few of these isolated individuals are known. Camphor tree is an invasive exotic plant that has the potential to move into the mid-story niche vacated by red bay and is even capable of becoming a canopy tree displacing other natives. Management strategies to remove camphor tree along with other invasive exotic plants are covered in Chapter 5. 3.5. CULTURAL RESOURCES Jekyll Island’s recorded prehistoric sites date from the Middle Archaic through the Mississippian periods. Sites occupied by Native Americans during the Contact Period where Europeans first encountered Native Americans have not been clearly identified. Known historic period sites range from Horton House, completed in 1743, to sites affiliated with the Jekyll Island Club period on the Island. In addition to the well-known Historic District facilities, the Island includes a number of archaeological and cultural resource sites. A total of 54 known archaeological sites were documented as of 2020 on property managed by the Jekyll Island Authority. Fifty of these archaeological sites are currently listed with the Georgia Archaeological Site File (GASF), including 21 prehistoric sites, 14 historic sites, 8 sites with both historic and prehistoric components, and 7 sites of unknown cultural affiliation. Two additional sites are known and have site forms but have not received a State Site Number. They are both listed as prehistoric sites. Saint Andrews Beach Park on the south end of the island memorializes the victims of the Wanderer, the last known vessel to bring enslaved Africans to the eastern seaboard of the United States, and its infamous, illegal arrival at Jekyll Island in 1858. A memory trail of interpretive exhibits presents this tragic history to the public.
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A number of historic sites on the Island have survived and are not maintained for public access, including most notably:
Spanish American Gun Emplacement/Artillery Mounts • Installed circa 1898, along what was then beachfront • Located southeast of the St. Andrews picnic area
Confederate Battery • Constructed by the Confederate Army in late 1861 and early 1862 • Abandoned and dismantled by the Union Army in 1862 • Located west of the Jekyll Island Airport Dairy Silo/Barn Site • Constructed by the Jekyll Island Club circa 1910 • All that remains is a tabby silo Archaeological investigations on the Island prior to the middle 1980s are summarized in a 1985 survey report prepared by Morgan R. Crook, Jr. (West Georgia College). Informal studies (i.e., roadside examination of exposed artifacts, brief visits to documented sites) were conducted in the 1950s. In the early 1970s, the University of Florida sponsored test excavations at the Horton House and nearby Horton Brewery site. The University of Georgia and the JIA sponsored additional informal (nonsystematic) archaeological surveys of the Island during the early to middle 1970s. These studies resulted in initial documentation of many of the currently recorded archaeological sites. In 1974, shell and artifacts were exposed during construction work on the fourteenth fairway on the Indian Mound Golf Course, although no report was produced. A researcher from West Georgia College conducted investigations on the Island in 1985 and recorded 16 additional archaeological sites. The same researcher conducted additional archaeological testing at the Horton House site in 1991. Ten archaeological sites were recorded in surveys conducted in 1994 for the proposed Great Dunes Golf Course, while surveys in 2001 and 2002 each recorded two previously unknown archaeological sites. In 2017, The Weber Family Site was revealed by shoreline erosion caused by Hurricane Irma. Native American artifacts including ceramics, a soapstone bowl fragment, and a projectile point were documented originating from this occupational midden site. These artifacts are associated with the Middle to Late Archaic to Woodlands cultural periods, circa 6,000 B.C. to 900 A.D. Work continues annually to identify and survey sites as funding becomes available or as project planning necessitates. These efforts are managed by the Director of Historic Resources for the Jekyll Island Authority and staff. 3.6. ECOLOGICAL THREATS AND STRESSES Specific ecological threats and stresses have been identified and used in this Plan to define existing and potential pressures on natural resources on the Island. They are characterized for each vegetative community cited in Section 4.0, and they serve as key elements of management actions in Section 5.0. Several of these specific ecological threats and stresses affect multiple vegetation communities and may affect the fulfillment of management objectives for the entire Island. These threats are similar to those identified by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Savannah Coastal Refuge Complex for six National Wildlife Refuges in coastal portions of Georgia and South Carolina (see https://fws.gov/uploadedFiles/Region_4/NWRS/Zone_3/Savannah_Coastal_ Refuges_Complex/2011%20Savannah%20Final%20CCP%20formatted.pdf). The identification and use of threats and stresses to guide the development of management actions is also consistent with the Nature Conservancy’s Conservation Action Planning approach. The following summarizes general categories of ecological threats and stresses occurring across the Island.
1. Development and Redevelopment: Development and redevelopment activities can cause the direct loss of habitat, wildlife, and plant species through grading, filling, or other land alterations. They may also affect natural habitats through changes in light and sound conditions and the dynamics of water quality and availability at the surface and beneath the ground. Even redevelopment constructed within an existing building footprint can cause impacts to surrounding habitats during and following construction. Development and redevelopment activities pose some of the more significant stresses and threats to natural habitats on the Island.
2. Habitat Loss or Fragmentation: Existing infrastructure occurs on the margins or already bisects portions of the Island. In some cases, conversion of natural communities to developed uses causes a direct loss of habitat. Incompatible uses that fragment natural communities or erode the ecological continuity between natural vegetation types also serve to facilitate exotic species invasion and destructive fires.
3. Stand-altering Fire: Unplanned fires (from cigarettes and campfires, improper fire prescription, lightning fires, etc.) in areas with high fuel loads have a high chance of intense fires that exceed the fire resilience capacity of characteristic canopy species within many of the natural communities on the Island. A stand-altering fire could remove fire-sensitive, canopy trees (e.g., live oaks) and/or shift successional processes towards a different community type.
4. Indirect Impacts: Natural communities can be impacted by the indirect effects of human use. Specific examples include changes in freshwater or saltwater inputs to wetland areas, changes in lighting or sound that alter the suitability of habitat for wildlife, or nutrient runoff. ENVIRONMENTAL SETTING 20
5. Exotic, Invasive Species and Native Nuisance Species: Both faunal and floral exotic invasive species have the potential to affect biodiversity, structure, and population dynamics. Floral species such as Chinaberry, salt cedar, camphor tree and Chinese tallow have the capacity to alter stand structure, fire susceptibility, and overall biological diversity. Faunal species such as feral cats and fire ants prey on native species. Non-native plant pests such as the red bay ambrosia beetle with its associated fungus and the cactus moth pose threats ranging from landscape altering to concerning. Feral hogs have not been documented on Jekyll but are known to occur within the Park along the causeway, closer to the mainland, and could be extremely destructive to native plants, sea turtle nests, and ground-nesting birds. While desirable from a wildlife viewing perspective, native wildlife can at times adversely affect long-term conservation goals by preferentially foraging on propagules and saplings of desirable native plant species (e.g., white-tailed deer) or feeding directly on another target priority species (e.g., raccoons foraging on sea turtle eggs). Range-expanding North American species such as armadillo and coyote can have both adverse and beneficial effects. Armadillo were first observed on the Island in 2015, and in 2020 the first coyote was documented on the Island. Research is emerging documenting armadillo burrows creating a habitat that is beneficial to other vertebrates. The consensus among Georgia’s coastal natural resource managers is that the coyote’s net negative impacts on conservation of priority wildlife such as depredation of ground nesting birds, especially shorebirds, exceed any potential collateral benefits, such as white-tailed deer population control. Coyote control is notoriously challenging, but if they can be prevented from establishing themselves on Jekyll Island, they should be.
6. Groundwater Variability: Regional changes in groundwater due to withdrawals and drought have affected freshwater wetlands on the Island. In addition to affecting the hydrology of freshwater wetlands, these groundwater changes affect salinity at locations where the groundwater historically discharged through freshwater systems into tidal marshes. The interaction between groundwater variability and the general absence of fire in the State-era of the Island has resulted in the degradation of small, shallow, freshwater wetlands.
7. Tidal Flow Alterations: Tidal flow alterations can occur from a variety of activities from dredging efforts that alter sand shoals to structural impoundments of historical salt marshes to constrictions on tidal flow such as culverts. These alterations can have direct effects on salinity levels and inundation regimes for salt marsh and beach areas. They can also indirectly affect freshwater flow and retention in freshwater wetland systems upstream of tidal creeks and wetlands.
8. Beach Erosion and Sand Starvation: Beach erosion and sand starvation affect both the beach ecosystem and dunes and interdunal swales that provide a habitat for shorebirds and sea turtles and protect the Island from storm damage.
9. Storm Frequency: Though it is unclear if it is a long-term trend, during the past 20 years, tropical storms and hurricanes have become more intense and more rain is falling in heavy downpours (https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/climate-change-ga.pdf). Barrier islands have always been uniquely affected by these high-intensity storms, but an increase in the frequency of their occurrence may cause ecosystem-altering changes on Jekyll Island.
10. Sea-level Rise: The 2014 Jekyll Island Master Plan calls for a precautionary approach in anticipation of 1.3 to 2.3 feet of sea-level rise by the year 2060. An acceleration is suggested by the increasing frequency of observed extreme high tides, which are commonly referred to as King Tides and can result in high tide flooding. These trends will continue to affect inundation regimes, estuarine wetland migration, salinity levels, and structural aspects of vegetation zonation for tidal marshes, beaches, dunes, interdunal swales, and other habitats on the Island. The JIA’s sea level-rise planning parameters will be reevaluated and could be revised with the next iteration of the Master Plan.
11. Limited Regeneration of Canopy Species: The limited number of canopy species saplings in several habitats provides a diminished base for canopy recruitment in the event of a natural event (e.g., storm damage, lightning) or human-induced event (e.g., wildfire, canopy removal). Factors affecting sapling number and diversity may include: over-browsing by deer, and other seed/sapling predators/browsers; lack of appropriate conditions for germination (e.g., thick duff layers, lack of fire or sunlight, etc.); and historical management practices.
12. Climate Change: Global emissions of greenhouse gases are altering the chemical composition and physical properties of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. This human-induced phenomenon adds to the other threats and stresses and influences their trajectories.
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WILDLIFE & HABITATS 4.0. INTRODUCTION Extensive vegetation community and land-cover mapping was conducted as part of previous management planning efforts for the Island and work conducted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR). The GADNR mapping efforts characterized vegetation types using National Vegetation Classification designations and associations by NatureServe. A total of 29 vegetation communities and land covers were identified as part of the 2011 update for these mapping efforts, which are shown on Figure 3 and referenced in Section 4.2 below. Wildlife species use vegetative communities as habitat to forage, to mate and rear offspring, to rest or to hibernate, to support migration, and to remain concealed from predators. Precautionary management, either active or passive, to optimize the capacity of habitat to meet these needs, is especially important in the case of rare species. Differing vegetative communities support different assemblages of wildlife. Some species, such as raccoons, are generalists that benefit from a variety of vegetative communities, while others, such as Wilson’s plovers, are specialists, relying on specific beach and dune habitats.
NatureServe Explorer Link: https://explorer.natureserve.org/ The NatureServe communities were used as the classification system for the 2013 book The Natural Communities of Georgia. Several locations within Jekyll Island State Park are highlighted as featured places, and Jekyll Island is used to characterize several of the coastal vegetative communities.
WILDLIFE & HABITATS 22
23 WILDLIFE & HABITATS
WILDLIFE & HABITATS 24
4.1. VEGETATIVE COMMUNITIES The descriptions that follow provide a brief overview of the predominant vegetative communities and land uses found on the Island. Vegetative communities with similar structure and/or ecological characteristics, such as forested wetlands and herbaceous wetlands, have been grouped within these overviews. Several vegetative communities with smaller areal extent or ruderal characteristics were not included in this overview, but all the communities are described in information provided by GADNR in Appendix D. Each of the following overviews includes: • General Vegetation Category, including US Vegetation Classification designation(s) and corresponding number on Figure 3
• A description of the Current Conditions of the structure, diversity, hydrology, fuel loads, or other characteristics relevant to defining management goals
• A brief Description of the current structure of each habitat
• Global Rarity Ranking based on the global ranks identified in the Conservation Status section of the vegetation classification description maintained by NatureServe
• Key Ecological Attributes that consist of ecological or biological characteristics on which the habitat composition, structure, or aesthetic depends. Alteration of these characteristics could lead to the loss of the habitat type over time
• Threats and Stresses to the integrity, function, and/or aesthetic of each land use/vegetative community listed in order of priority to be addressed,
• Underlying Soil types based on the mapping efforts included in the USDA Soil Survey of Camden and Glynn Counties, Georgia, 1980
• Wetland Status based on Environmental Setting designations within the associated NatureServe vegetation classification
• Acreage and Percentage that each vegetative community/land cover occurs on within the Island
• Desired Future Conditions for the community that would be obtained with appropriate management over a 50-year period
• Dominant Vegetation (by stratum if appropriate) • Other Typical Plant Species found within the vegetation type
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4.1.1. MARITIME HAMMOCKS • MARITIME LIVE OAK HAMMOCK (1) • SOUTHEASTERN FLORIDA MARITIME HAMMOCK (2) Description: Mature upland forests of mixed old-age canopy dominated by live oak, sand live oak, and other oak species, minimal (Live Oak Hammock) to moderately dense (Florida Maritime Hammock) mid-story, and diverse understories ranging from dense saw palmetto to open shrub layers with minimal herbaceous plants Key Ecological Attributes: Mature forest canopy composition and structure; broad areas with intact habitat; canopy species that are sensitive to fire Underlying Soils: Cainhoy fine sand, 0-5% slopes; Fripp-Duckston complex, 0-20% slopes; Mandarin fine sand; Meggett fine sandy loam; Pelham loamy sand Acreage/Percentage of the Island: 1,160/19.8 Dominant Vegetation: • Dominant Canopy/Subcanopy Vegetation: live oak, sand live oak (Florida Maritime Hammock), sand laurel oak, slash pine, red bay, cabbage palm • Dominant Shrub Vegetation: saw palmetto, beauty berry, sparkleberry, eastern red cedar, wax myrtle, yaupon holly, rusty staggerbush (Florida Maritime Hammock), fetterbush (Florida Maritime Hammock) • Dominant Herbaceous Vegetation: witchgrass, slender woodoats, foxtail, basketgrass, whip nutrush
Other Typical Vegetation: blackberry, catbrier, American holly, Spanish moss, witchgrass, switchcane, resurrection fern, eastern gamagrass, muscadine, tough bully, pigeonwings Current Conditions: Variable canopy characteristics and understory conditions range from mature canopies of pine and sand laurel oak, with frequently high fuel loads from leaf litter and saw palmetto, to mixed canopies of live oak and pine over an open shrub and groundcover layer, to multi-aged stands of large live oak over a dense understory composed almost exclusively of saw palmetto and rusty lyonia. Areas with saw palmetto exhibit other fire dependent/resilient herbaceous and shrub species. For most canopy areas, the canopy is primarily mature with few multi-aged saplings/young trees present, although the number of saplings is more pronounced in the southern portion of the Island within this habitat. Threats and Stresses: • Habitat fragmentation and loss from new development uses or modifications to existing uses • High fuel loads and extensive fuel “laddering” on or adjacent to fire-sensitive canopy species that could expose the community to destructive, stand-altering fires • Undesirable fire applications due to factors such as campfires, discarded cigarettes, and improper fire prescription • Invasive floral and faunal exotic species infestations • Loss of red bay trees from laurel wilt • Limited regeneration of canopy species due to factors such as deer over-browsing and lack of appropriate recruitment conditions (e.g., open soils, fire) Wetland Status: No Global Rarity Ranking:
G1 Critically Imperiled
G3 G4 Vulnerable Apparently Secure
Desired Future Conditions: Intact aggregations of mature canopy supplemented by multi-aged saplings with a diversity and structure of native species, including epiphytes, and minimal fuel loads composed of duff, herbaceous, and low-growing shrub vegetation that reduce the potential for destructive, uncontrolled fires WILDLIFE & HABITATS 26
4.1.2. PINE FORESTS • MARITIME SLASH PINE UPLAND FLATWOODS (5) • MID- TO LATE- SUCCESSIONAL LOBLOLLY PINE - SWEETGUM FOREST (6) Description: Mature upland forests of pine-dominated, typically old-age canopy, minimal midstory, and diverse understories Key Ecological Attributes: Mature pine canopies with scattered oaks; diverse understory of fire dependent/resilient species; habitat continuity with other vegetation types Underlying Soils: Mandarin fine sand; Mandarin-Urban Land Complex; Pelham loamy sand; Rutledge fine sand Acreage/Percentage of the Island: 1,160/19.8 Dominant Vegetation: • Dominant Canopy/Subcanopy Vegetation: slash pine, live oak, red/swamp bay, loblolly pine, sweetgum • Dominant Shrub Vegetation: saw palmetto, wax myrtle, eastern red cedar, yaupon holly, fetterbush • Dominant Herbaceous Vegetation: sparse; rockrose, silkgrass, brackenfern, goldenrod Other Typical Vegetation: catbrier, Spanish moss, witchgrass, switchcane, prickly-pear, pigeonwings, deerberry, muscadine, sea oxeye, elephant’s foot, beautyberry, St. Andrews cross, coral bean, camphor tree, blackberry, Virginia chainfern
Current Conditions: Pine dominates the canopy throughout with scattered occurrences of live oak and other canopy species. Understory conditions range from dense saw palmetto (less common) and yaupon holly to more open shrub-dominated areas with herbaceous species present. Portions have recently been burned, reducing fuel loads, but much of this type exhibits high fuel loads from leaf litter and saw palmetto. Pond pine is present as a sub-dominant pine forest canopy species in much of the Island’s central interior, generally in association with lower elevation. Threats and Stresses: • Habitat fragmentation and loss from new development uses or modifications to existing uses, • High fuel loads that could expose the community to destructive, standaltering fires, • Limited ability to apply prescribed fire due to restrictions such as smoke management and fire control measures posed by adjacent land uses, • Limited regeneration of canopy species due to factors such as lack of appropriate recruitment and seed production conditions (e.g., open soils, fire) and deer over-browsing, • Undesirable fire applications due to factors such as campfires, discarded cigarettes, and improper fire prescription, • Invasive floral and faunal exotic species infestations, and • Vulnerability to pest species such as southern pine beetle. Wetland Status: No
Global Rarity Ranking:
G1 Critically Imperiled
G3 G4 Vulnerable Apparently Secure
Desired Future Conditions: A multi-age canopy composed of pine, live oak, and other native canopy species with a relatively open, diverse herbaceous and shrub layer characterized by low fuel loads that support occasional, low- intensity fires
27 WILDLIFE & HABITATS
4.1.3. FORESTED WETLANDS • OUTER COASTAL PLAIN SWEETBAY SWAMP FOREST (7) • LOBLOLLY-BAY FOREST (8), RED MAPLE – TUPELO MARITIME SWAMP FOREST (9) Description: Freshwater forested wetland systems with dense canopies, open shrub and herbaceous layers Key Ecological Attributes: Freshwater hydrology; diverse, mature canopy structure; hydric soils Underlying Soils: Rutledge fine sand
Acreage/Percentage of the Island: 72/1.2 Dominant Vegetation: • Dominant Canopy/Subcanopy Vegetation: red maple, loblolly bay, slash pine, dahoon holly, black tupelo, swamp bay • Dominant Shrub Vegetation: wax myrtle, swamp bay, buttonbush, fetterbush • Dominant Herbaceous Vegetation: slender woodoats, sedges, lizard’s tail, cinnamon fern, Virginia chainfern Wetland Status: Yes
Other Typical Vegetation: peppervine, plume grass, muscadine, Spanish moss, Virginia creeper, hempweed, switchcane, cabbage palm, bluestem, netted chainfern, pennywort, blackberry Current Conditions: Encroachment of transitional vegetation; death of wetland canopy species may be indicative of hydrological alteration; canopy composition changed by death of bay trees from redbay ambrosia beetle/laurel wilt fungus; herbaceous layer has grown densely in portions that have open canopies; large numbers of canopy trees have fallen and are lying on the ground in loblolly bay forest and red maple – swamp blackgum forest; golf course channels and pond systems along with regional groundwater changes may be affecting hydrology; upper reaches of systems have begun transition to upland vegetation Threats and Stresses: • Local and potentially, regional hydrology alterations due to groundwater withdrawals • Sensitive to brackish/freshwater input changes and sea level rise • Wetland exhibits encroachment of vegetation that typically occurs on the transition between wetland and upland • Canopy loss due to laurel wilt fungus and the uncertainty associated with the long-term viability of this genus (Persea) in the forested landscape on the Island • Exotic invasive plant species infestations • High fuel loads that could expose the community to destructive, stand-altering fires • Saltwater intrusion • Climate change induced extremes in drought and precipitation
Global Rarity Ranking:
G1 Critically Imperiled
G3 G4 Vulnerable Apparently Secure
G4 (Loblolly Bay Forest); G3 (Outer Coastal Plain Sweetbay Swamp Forest); G2 (Red Maple – Swamp Blackgum Maritime Swamp Forest)
Desired Future Conditions: Mature-canopy of native wetland species, with natural (dynamic) hydroperiods that support a diversity of multi-aged canopy species and appropriate understory, and herbaceous vegetation at densities that do not pose a risk for catastrophic fire WILDLIFE & HABITATS 28
4.1.4. BACK-DUNE/DUNE SWALE VEGETATION (ATLANTIC COAST INTERDUNE SWALE (11); • ATLANTIC COAST INTERDUNE SWALE (11); LIVE OAK - YAUPON HOLLY • (WAX-MYRTLE) SHRUBLAND ALLIANCE (12) Description: Mosaic of dune successional vegetation stages from backdune swales to shrub thickets Key Ecological Attributes: Salt tolerance; hydrological inundation regime; high species and habitat diversity; adapted to dynamic movements of sand from wind and wave transport Underlying Soils: Beaches Acreage/Percentage of the Island: 128/2.2 Dominant Vegetation: • Dominant Canopy/Subcanopy Vegetation: scattered live oak and cabbage palm • Dominant Shrub Vegetation: wax myrtle, swamp/red bay, eastern red cedar • Dominant Herbaceous Vegetation: needle rush, saltmeadow cordgrass, bluestem, rush Global Rarity Ranking:
G1 Critically Imperiled
Other Typical Vegetation: peppervine, tough bully, groundsel, Hercules’-club, plume grass, saw palmetto, lantana, pigeonwings, butterfly pea, giant foxtail, knotweed, rustweed, dune prickly-pear, prickly-pear, ragweed Current Conditions: Undulating landscape exhibits mosaic of shrub/oak thickets on dry areas and freshwater herbaceous marshes in depressions; system exhibits high diversity in herbaceous and shrub species on an overall basis, although upland areas can be low in vegetation cover; wetland depressions range from diverse freshwater systems to needle rush flats, in part due to successional status and distance from the primary dune (measured from the south) Threats and Stresses: • Soil openings within community or adjacent vegetation types may lead to wind erosion • Sensitive to overwash if adjacent dunes are altered • Habitat fragmentation and loss from new development uses or modifications to existing uses
G3 G4 Vulnerable Apparently Secure
G3 (Atlantic Coast Interdune Swale); G2/G3 (Live Oak-Yaupon holly holly-(Wax Myrtle) Shrubland Alliance)
Desired Future Conditions: A dynamic variety of successional stages ranging from herbaceous interdune swales to mature live oak forests with salt-tolerant shrubs that are allowed to undergo natural processes
• Sea-level rise from climate change may alter vegetation composition and soils in recently established interdune swales, • Exotic species infestations, including pathogens (such as the fungus Raffaelea lauricola, which is transmitted by the invasive ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus) and has wreaked havoc on redbay trees across the Island) • Development in adjacent lands may limit seed sources for succession • Sensitive to alterations in the timing, salinity, and duration of water discharges from adjacent development • Early successional areas may be sensitive to recreation uses • Deer over-browsing may limit recruitment of shrub and canopy species • Unauthorized foot traffic • Lack of sediment deposition • Loss of habitat due to woody encroachment and lack of fire • Limitations to the landward migration of this community type associated with climate change and sea level rise due to adjacent development Wetland Status: Yes
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4.1.5. SALTMARSH ISLAND/ECOTONES • RED-CEDAR - LIVE OAK - CABBAGE PALMETTO • MIDDEN WOODLAND (4); COASTAL SALT SHRUB THICKET (13) Description: Isolated patches of live oak and cedar forest and/or shrubland with scattered palms and pines with dense, salttolerant understory vegetation on small islands or peninsulas surrounded by tidal marsh, some underlain by high-calcium soils enriched with oyster shell material Key Ecological Attributes: Salt tolerance and sensitivity to salinity changes Underlying Soils: Mandarin fine sand; Bohickets-Capers Association (including disposed dredged material) Acreage/Percentage of the Island: 96/1.6
Current Conditions: Occur on salt marsh ecotones as well as sand ridges and islands, including a shell midden and dredge spoil, surrounded by salt marshes in southern portions of Island; successional communities representing transition from highelevation areas in marsh communities to live oak hammocks as land and soil accretes around the vegetation; calcium-loving species occur as codominants in the canopy and/or shrub layers of the Shell Midden, including several Georgia Special Concern plant species; salt cedar (exotic) present in many locations; trees at lower elevation margins exhibiting decreased vigor, potentially due to hydrologic or salinity changes
Dominant Vegetation: • Dominant Canopy/Subcanopy Vegetation: live oak, southern red cedar, cabbage palm, slash pine (Shrub Thicket), black cherry (Shrub Thicket), Hercules-club (Shell Midden), sugarberry (Shell Midden) • Dominant Shrub Vegetation: Marsh Hammock saw palmetto; Shell Midden - Florida wild privet, climbing buckthorn, soapberry, saw palmetto, yaupon holly, erect prickly-pear, Spanish bayonet; Shrub Thicket - wax myrtle, red cedar, groundsel, marsh elder, yaupon holly, salt cedar, lantana • Dominant Herbaceous Vegetation: sparse; rockrose, silkgrass, brackenfern, goldenrod Other Typical Vegetation: coral bean, needle rush, trumpet vine, poison ivy, tough bully, muscadine, Virginia creeper, red/ swamp bay, Spanish moss
Threats and Stresses: • Invasion and expansion of area occupied by salt-tolerant exotic species • Potential declines in native cactus species from non-native cactus moth, • Succession to closed-canopy mixed pine and oak forest • Limited regeneration of canopy species due to factors such as lack of appropriate recruitment, seed production conditions (e.g., open soils, fire) and deer over-browsing • Wave erosion of dredge spoil island • Hydrological alterations in the adjacent marshes and rivers • Sea level rise impacts to community through inundation • Undesirable fire applications due to factors such as campfires and improper fire prescription Wetland Status: Yes (Shrub Thicket) No (Marsh Hammock, Shell Midden) Global Rarity Ranking:
G1 Critically Imperiled
G3 G4 Vulnerable Apparently Secure
G3 (Red Cedar – Live Oak – Cabbage Palmetto Marsh Hammock); G2 (South Atlantic Coastal Shell Midden Woodland); G4 (Coastal Shrub Thicket)
Desired Future Conditions: Multi-age canopy of native oak, cedar, and shrubs (Marsh Hammock), calcium-loving and other shrub species (Shell Midden), or a mixture of native pine and oak and salt-tolerant shrubs (Salt Shrub) that grade into the adjacent coastal marsh WILDLIFE & HABITATS 30
4.1.6. DUNES • SEA OATS TEMPERATE HERBACEOUS ALLIANCE (15) Description: Primary dune dominated by sea oats Key Ecological Attributes: Salt tolerance; dune formation; vegetation composition and structure of species that contribute to dune formation/ stabilization
Underlying Soils: Beaches
Current Conditions: Extensive natural primary dune in southern portions of Island; successful restoration of dunes has occurred in central portion of Island; variable degrees of disturbance occur throughout Island from pedestrian traffic and authorized motor vehicle use on beach Threats and Stresses: • Highly sensitive to human en croachment • Soil destabilization
Acreage/Percentage of the Island: 66/1.1 Dominant Vegetation: • Dominant Herbaceous Vegetation: sea oats Other Typical Vegetation: bitter seabeach grass, southern saltwort, fleabane, butterfly pea, pigeonwings, dune primrose, largeleaf pennywort, sandspur, beach elder, saltmeadow cordgrass, railroad vine, beach croton, fiddleleaf morning-glory, yucca, seashore dropseed
• Vegetation loss • Availability of native dune species propagules/plants for regeneration, including sea oats • Wave erosion • Vegetation re-establishment within restoration areas • Exotic species infestations such as salt cedar and beach vitex • Sea level rise may impact sea oats communities at lowest elevations of dunes or lead to dune erosion • Beach armoring or alterations may affect dune formation processes • Authorized beach driving • Deer grazing • Actions that alter natural patterns of sand transport and accretion Wetland Status: No
Global Rarity Ranking:
G1 Critically Imperiled
G3 G4 Vulnerable Apparently Secure
Desired Future Conditions: Robust and continuous dunes steadily accreting following storm events, supporting stable or increasing populations of nesting sea turtles and shorebirds, and stabilized by a diverse dune plant assemblage free of nonnative, invasive species
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4.1.7. FRESHWATER HERBACEOUS WETLANDS SOUTHERN ATLANTIC COASTAL PLAIN CAROLINA WILLOW DUNE SWALE (10), SAND CORDGRASS – SEASHORE MALLOW HERBACEOUS VEGETATION (16), SOUTHERN HAIRGRASS – SALTMEADOW CORDGRASS – DUNE FINGERGRASS HERBACEOUS VEGETATION (17), SOUTH ATLANTIC COASTAL POND (18), SAWGRASS HEAD (20) Description: Freshwater herbaceous/shrub wetlands dominated by cordgrass or sawgrass in herbaceous wetlands and Carolina willow and large-flowered hibiscus in the shrub wetlands Key Ecological Attributes: Freshwater hydration sources; herbaceous community structure; inundation regimes Underlying Soils: Rutledge fine sand Acreage/Percentage of the Island: 29/0.5 Dominant Vegetation: • Carolina Willow Dune Swale: Carolina willow, large-flowered hibiscus, dotted smartweed, royal fern, peppervine, hemp weed, wax myrtle, lizard’s tail, pennywort, false nettle • Cordgrass Communities - sand cordgrass, southern hair grass, saltmeadow cordgrass, dune fingergrass, wax myrtle, dog fennel, frog bit, fleabane, rush, bluestem, blackberry, ragweed, knotweed • Sawgrass Head - sawgrass, Carolina willow, buttonbush, black tupelo, thistle, blackberry, dog fennel, peppervine, wax myrtle, cabbage palm, lizard’s tail Wetland Status: Yes
Current Conditions: Encroachment of transitional vegetation; death of wetland shrubs/decrease in area covered by wetland herbaceous species may be indicative of hydrological alteration in cordgrass and sawgrass head communities; staining on willows indicate periodic inundation for sawgrass head, but inundation length may not be sufficient to maintain historical wetland type; all communities except for Carolina willow dune swale appear to be transitioning to a different, potentially non-wetland, vegetation type; Carolina willow dune swale home to large-flowered hibiscus
Threats and Stresses: • Regional and local (on-Island) groundwater withdrawals • Encroachment of transitional and upland vegetation, development in adjacent uplands could alter surface water hydrology inputs • Excavated pond near landfill effects on surface hydrology of sawgrass head • Exotic species infestations • Sea level rise changes to salinity and tidal movement in freshwater marshes connected to coastal marsh • Shrub growth due to inundation regime alterations and/or altered fire patterns • Deer grazing.
Global Rarity Ranking:
G1 Critically Imperiled
G3 G4 Vulnerable Apparently Secure
G3/G4 (Southern Atlantic Coastal Plain Carolina Willow Dune Swale); G3 (Sand Cordgrass – Seashore Mallow Herbaceous Vegetation); G2 (Southern Hairgrass – Saltmeadow Cordgrass – Dune Fingergrass Herbaceous Vegetation); G3 (South Atlantic Coastal Pond); G2 (Sawgrass Head)
Desired Future Conditions: Freshwater marshes and/or prairies with appropriate shrub growth that exhibit natural (dynamic) hydroperiods and support a diversity of native understory and herbaceous vegetation and wildlife WILDLIFE & HABITATS 32
4.1.8. TIDAL MARSHES • SOUTHERN ATLANTIC COASTAL PLAIN SALT AND BRACKISH TIDAL MARSH (21)
Description: Herbaceous-dominated tidal marshes interspersed with creeks and saltpans Key Ecological Attributes: Tidal water fluctuations; water depth and residence time; salinity levels Underlying Soils: Bohicket – Capers Association
Acreage/Percentage of the Island: 1,755/30
Current Conditions: Tidally influenced herbaceous systems often coupled with tidal channels/creeks; community type exhibits multiple plant zones depending on salinity/ inundation regimes; plant zones include creek levees, low and high marsh, needle rush and shrub marsh borders, saltpans with limited vegetation, and small shrub islands; portions of the habitat were impounded creating generally open water bodies with variable salinity levels; recreation trails occur on the margins of portions of this habitat; sensitive to brackish/freshwater input changes
Dominant Vegetation: • Marsh: smooth cordgrass, glasswort, saltwort, salt grass, needle rush • Marsh Border: sea oxeye, eastern red cedar, groundsel, marsh elder, salt cedar, cabbage palm, fleabane
Threats and Stresses: • Alteration in tidal flow patterns, • New or altered freshwater, pollutant, and nutrient inputs • Historical impoundments • Incompatible recreation uses • Existing trail effects on hydrology • Development in adjacent uplands that alters surface water flow patterns • Historical channel dredge spoil deposition • Exotic species invasion including salt cedar on margins and low islands • Vegetation zonation changes from increased salinity and higher tidal reach resulting from sea level rise • Armoring of creek banks or channels with riprap or other hard surfaces • Broad-scale pesticide application to minimize mosquito growth may affect wildlife in upper trophic layers • Florida-native species, such as the mangrove tree crab migrating north as a result of climate change Wetland Status: Yes
Global Rarity Ranking: Common Desired Future Conditions: Predominantly herbaceous communities characterized by multiple plant zones consistent with variable salinity and inundation from tidal fluctuations, dissected by natural creek channels
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4.1.9. BEACH • SOUTH ATLANTIC UPPER OCEAN BEACH (22)
Description: Open sand beaches including the upper beach and subtidal and intertidal sand shoals Key Ecological Attributes: Tidal cycle; sand movement; tidal wrack; erosion and accretion
Underlying Soils: Beaches Acreage/Percentage of the Island: 295/5
Current Conditions: Extensive natural primary dune in southern portions of Island; beach armoring occurs in north-central portions of historical beach; extensive areas of intertidal and subtidal sand shoals present, especially in the southern portion of the Island; variable degrees of disturbance occur throughout Island from pedestrian traffic; Generally, Driftwood Beach and northeast portion of Island exhibit reduction in width of beach due to erosional forces, while the beaches in the southern end of the Island are expanding due to accretion
Dominant Vegetation: • Dominant Herbaceous Vegetation: southeastern sea rocket and/or limited to no other vegetation Other Typical Vegetation: csaltmeadow cordgrass, railroad vine, beach croton, southern saltwort, seacoast marshelder, shoreline seapurslane Global Rarity Ranking:
G1 Critically Imperiled
G3 G4 Vulnerable Apparently Secure
Desired Future Conditions: Sand beaches and intertidal/ subtidal shoals constantly changing with tidal influences with scattered vegetation tolerant of high salinity, dynamic winds and moving sands providing sustained habitat value for nesting sea turtles and shorebirds. Undisturbed beaches are free of erosion control infrastructure. Engineered beaches are designed to accommodate and emulate natural processes.
Threats and Stresses: • Requires unhindered longshore currents and up-current sand sources to naturally replenish sand • Conflicts between recreation and tourism and natural process of accretion and erosion • Installation of beach armoring such as bulkheads, groins, jetties, and riprap that alter natural sand movements and erosion/accretion activities • Sea level rise will likely impact this community and may make it difficult for decision-makers to allow natural processes to run their course • Placement or location of structures within areas affected by predicted 100-year sea level rise • Exterior/visible lighting on buildings near sea turtle nesting areas • Motorized vehicles on the beach • Soil destabilization from pedestrian traffic • Trash associated with tidal wrack • Litter deposited by beach users and discarded by people in areas where debris can float onshore at Jekyll Island • Authorized beach driving • Human-caused disturbances for nesting and roosting shorebirds, sea turtles, and other beach inhabitants • Effects of fire ants, raccoons, and other native and invasive predators on nesting shorebirds, sea turtles, and other egglaying beach inhabitantsk Wetland Status: No
WILDLIFE & HABITATS 34
4.1.10. URBAN/DEVELOPED • INCLUDES DEVELOPED, GOLF COURSE, PARKS & RECREATION, QUARRY/STRIPMINE/ EXCAVATED WATERBODY, TRANSPORTATION, AND OPEN FIELD DESIGNATIONS (24-29) Description: Residential, commercial, golf course, excavated ponds, and infrastructure portions of the Island; includes open space for lawns, parks, and forested areas Key Ecological Attributes: Small pockets of natural vegetation; Wildland/Urban interface Underlying Soils: Carnhoy fine sand, 0-5% slopes; Fripp-Duckson complex, 0-20% slopes; Mandarin fine sand; Mandarin-Urban land complex; Rutledge fine sand
Threats and Stresses: Threats have been identified most importantly for specific natural habitat conservation as opposed to human-made habitats. However, since natural system processes occur within human-made habitats and wildlife still use remnant natural systems within urban settings as well, management strategies and threat assessments are still warranted. The following list is identified for urban/developed lands: • Habitat fragmentation and edge effects
Acreage/Percent of the Island: 1,550/27 (not to be confused with the 1,675-acre limit on the area of developed land – see Section 2.2 of this report)
• Population-level impacts to wildlife species associated with vehicle-strikes on roadways
Dominant Vegetation: • lawns; live oak, sand laurel oak, slash pine, landscape plantings
• Altered wildlife diversity and movement patterns resulting from eradication and colonization
Current Conditions: Land use category includes lands currently used for residential uses, commercial and recreational elements, and supporting infrastructure; the historic district; developed areas typically include buildings, roads, lawns, and/or scattered landscape plantings; natural vegetative communities occur throughout land use type, including forested areas within the golf course, early successional dune communities within vacant lots, canopy tree structure on lots; pockets of natural vegetation areas within these designations provide important habitat for migratory species; refugia for larger wildlife species that occur or stray into developed lands, and territory for smaller resident wildlife species; exotic species such as tallow have been planted on some residential lots; roadways and trails cross wetland systems to provide access into the Island; excavated ponds occur within the golf course and other areas of the Island Global Rarity Ranking: Not ranked Desired Future Conditions: Residential, commercial, and recreational uses with low-maintenance landscapes of native vegetation, effective storm water retention/detention infrastructure, and occupants that embrace natural resource protection on the Island
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• Exotic species infestations such as camphor tree and Cherokee rose • Pollution from oil, grease, and heavy metals from impervious surface run-off, and herbicide and pesticide treatments • Fire suppression • Installation of beach armoring such as bulkheads, groins, jetties, and rip-rap that alter natural sand movements and erosion/accretion activities • Alteration of natural wetlands due to ditching for drainage • Water source redistribution in stormwater lagoons • Construction related impacts, such as pollution related to construction waste and erosion/sedimentation concerns • Water withdrawals for potable use and irrigation • Light and noise pollution • Limited seed dispersal of native species due to patchiness of remaining natural habitat Wetland Status: The majority of this category is not currently wetland. Historical wetlands within urban/developed land uses have been extensively altered through vegetation removal, drainage alterations, and fill/dredge activities. Remaining wetlands are typically small and altered in both vegetation composition and hydrology and may not be separately mapped on Figure 3, but may be candidates for future restoration and/or enhancement activities.
4.2. PLANTS GADNR staff conducted plant surveys on Jekyll Island prior to 2012. Since 2012, JIA staff have conducted both structured and opportunistic plant inventories within the Park. Notable rare plants have included climbing buckthorn, large-flowered hibiscus, and Florida wild privet. Assuring their long-term viability is a key element in the management actions included in Section 5.0. They are indicators of ecosystem health in a variety of habitats across the Island, and their protection is essential to a successful conservation strategy. The JIA will work to build a digital and/or physical herbarium collection, and a GIS database of rare plant locations along with metadata describing most recent observations. Many of the rare plants documented on the Island are associated two distinct types of soil and hydrologic characteristics: Shell Midden / Calcium-Rich Soils Florida wild privet, rouge plant, climbing buckthorn, and soapberry occur on shell middens along the causeway and along the marsh on the southwestern portion of the Island, as well as potentially other locations with abundant shell deposits. These areas have high-calcium soils typically associated with Native American middens. Red mulberry is a more common species that is associated with these deposits. Many of the locations that were home to this vegetation type have been lost or destroyed outside of the conservation areas. Latham’s hammock on the causeway is particularly important because it is the only sizeable area of this type within the Park that is not subjected to deer herbivory. However, it is threatened by sea-level rise. JIA will protect these plants by preventing any expansion of development from affecting Native American middens and by collecting seed from rare plant populations threatened with loss to be grown and planted to establish viable populations in relatively secure locations. Brackish / Freshwater Wetland Soils Several species are found in upper reaches of the coastal marsh or freshwater wetland systems, including powder-puff mimosa, saltmarsh mallow, and large-flowered hibiscus (also known as swamp hibiscus). The large-flowered hibiscus is a showy species characteristic of this group located within both freshwater marsh and freshwater wet grasslands in various spots through the Island. This species is sensitive to alterations in inundation regimes, salinity levels, and other disturbances. By protecting all remaining freshwater wetlands from the impacts of development, including sedimentation and nutrient pollution, and by strategically pursuing engineered protections for high-value freshwater wetlands to prevent contamination by saltwater intrusion through sea-level rise, JIA will strive to conserve these rare plants.
swamp hibiscus red mulberry
WILDLIFE & HABITATS 36
4.2.1. INVASIVE EXOTIC SPECIES Since 2012, Jekyll Island has had an active invasive plant control program and JIA has participated as partners on the steering committee of the Coastal Georgia Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CG-CISMA). The CG-CISMA partners maintain a listing of invasive species organized into three priority levels based on the amount of resources that CISMA partners invest. This list can be found in Appendix E. Jekyll Island is unique in being the only barrier island on the coast of Georgia where mature stands of Chinese tallow tree were established but have now been ecologically eradicated, due to JIA efforts with the support of CG-CISMA partners. Other high-priority invasive plant species for Jekyll include salt cedar, Chinaberry, camphor tree, Japanese climbing fern, and Chinese privet. The CG-CISMA also addresses invasive exotic animal species including feral pigs and Cuban treefrogs. Feral pigs have been documented on the Jekyll causeway but not yet on the Island. If established, they would impose heavy negative impacts on native plant and wildlife communities. Likewise, invasive Cuban treefrogs pose a severe threat to native treefrog populations. A targeted control effort associated with a concentrated infestation of Cuban treefrogs at a hotel property on the Island has made progress, but isolated occurrences of the species continue to be documented at this location and have occurred at two other locations across the Island. Landscape material from Florida-based sources should be expected to be an ongoing source of invasion for both plants and animals. At this time, landscaping procurement for the island cannot feasibly be accomplished without utilizing Florida-based sources. Early detection and rapid response will continue to be an essential strategy.
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4.2.2. PLANT PRIORITY SPECIES Plant species listed in the table below have been identified as priorities for conservation because their persistence within Jekyll Island State Park faces potential challenges. Some priority species may need monitoring or research to maintain awareness of their local status, improve understanding of their ecological roles and prospects, and inform management action to mitigate identified threats. By limiting the amount of disturbance caused by development or acting to restore enhance ecological systems with the Park, the JIA can reduce threats and risks to the persistence of these species. The Environmental Assessment Procedure (Chapter 7) should be implemented for any projects with the potential to negatively impact priority species. Priority species include federally listed species along with species identified in the most recent version (2015) of the Georgia SWAP as Coastal Plain High Priority Plants, provided these federal- and state-identified species have been documented within Jekyll Island State Park beyond an isolated, incidental occurrence. Additionally, the List includes species not listed by federal or state authorities if JIA Conservation staff concluded that they were:
• Locally rare or at-risk in Jekyll Island State Park
• Experiencing wide-range declines and either locally dependent on resources currently within the Park or with the potential to benefit from habitat restoration/enhancement within the Park
• Particularly at risk of threat due to climate change or sea-level rise within the Park
• Particularly well-suited to serve as an indicator of ecosystem health
Plant Priority Species are listed below and in more detail in Appendix B. Species highlighted below are watchlist species that could occur on Jekyll but have either never been documented, are unverified or documented by a single instance, or have not been documented in the past 20 years.
black tupelo button bush climbing buckthorn dwarf pawpaw Florida wild privet
hop tree large-flowered hibiscus lime-fleeing sedge loblolly bay muhly grass
pignut hickory rouge plant soapberry widgeon grass
Watchlist Species: Bartram’s airplant greenfly orchid
Florida wild privet
WILDLIFE & HABITATS 38
4.3. WILDLIFE Wildlife management is the act of deliberately influencing the trajectory of wildlife habitat, wildlife populations, and human/wildlife interactions for the benefit of both wildlife and people. Simply limiting disturbance is not always the most advantageous strategy, particularly in the context of substantial human influence over the landscape, both historic and current. The ecology of disturbance, caused by fire and storms for example, is critical to the life-history strategies of many wildlife species. Efforts should therefore be made to provide an appropriate array of early successional habitats throughout the areas covered under this plan. Considering the challenges posed by development to many wildlife species, the highly complex and dynamic nature of the underlying natural systems, widely varying social and cultural attitudes towards wildlife and the environment, and the highly visible nature of management on Jekyll Island, implementation of the goals articulated in this plan presents a constantly evolving challenge. Success depends upon intuitive and adaptive decision making, informed by familiarity with public values and the best available science. Since the approval of the 2012 Conservation Plan, substantial efforts have been placed on monitoring, managing and conducting research on wildlife and their habitats across the Island. Numerous examples of these activities are cited in this chapter. Efforts include collaborative work with universities, agency research personnel and NGOs. Appendix G provides references for published works completed since 2010 that inform this Plan and are applicable to its implementation. Ongoing monitoring and research efforts will support management and operational decision making, development considerations, and techniques for ecological restoration. Summary Wildlife Goals The following goals provide an overarching framework to guide the development and evaluation of wildlife and habitat management, restoration, research, and outreach programs.
1. Actively enhance underperforming habitat to maximize the availability of food, water, space, and cover for Wildlife Priority Species.
2. The reintroduction and continued use of prescribed fire for wildlife habitat enhancement and human safety (including upkeep of buffer areas and firebreaks).
3. The restoration of connectivity to saltmarsh and brackish wetlands.
4. The restoration of the historical extent and vegetation diversity of freshwater wetlands.
5. The provision of supplemental recruits to the populations of rare or threatened plant species using local genotypes and selecting resilient locations, including reforestation of live oak.
6. The prevention of negative impacts from invasive species through prioritized removal or, if relevant, restoration of the habitat altered by the invasive species.
7. The increased connectivity of habitats on the Island that are safely navigable by all wildlife species.
8. The continuation of publicly available wildlife issue response service.
9. The prevention, deterrence, and elimination of wildlife feeding and disturbance/ harassment, especially with species that can injure or transmit disease to people.
10. The continuation of prioritized species monitoring to include keystone predators, migratory species, wetland-dependent species, species experiencing widespread decline, and locally rare species.
11. The development of strategies that minimize wildlife injury or mortality.
12. The continued evaluation and minimization of negative impacts of development or redevelopment to wildlife habitats.
13. Acknowledge that barrier islands are dynamic communities and that some external influences, such as shoreline processes and range shifts of regionally native species, should be allowed to proceed.
14. When appropriate, manage natural predators such as raccoons and coyotes to minimize impacts to Wildlife Priority Species including sea turtles and shorebirds.
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4.3.1. RESTORATION Ecological restoration involves active human intervention to influence the environmental trajectory of damaged, degraded, or destroyed habitats. Restoration can involve reintroducing a natural process to remediate an existing habitat, planting to recreate a habitat or conversion of one habitat to another. Degraded or diminished habitats identified in this Plan, are candidates for restoration. Restoration will prioritize the diversity and connectivity of high-value habitats available on the Island, such as the restoration effort for Fortson Pond, prospects for restoring connectivity among the other remaining fragments of the First Creek tidal system, or restoration of rare maritime grassland communities. Restoration projects may include recreating or reconnecting previously filled or fragmented wetlands, removing invasive exotic plants, the application of prescribed fire to promote diverse and productive fire-adapted or early successional plant communities, protection or creation of wildlife corridors, or using native seeds/seedlings to establish a desired plant community. Regardless, the guiding objectives will be to: 1) maximize native biodiversity; 2) support rare or threatened species; and 3) enhance ecosystem resiliency. 4.3.2. WILDLIFE RESPONSE In 2012, a wildlife response program was initiated. Initially conceived as an opportunistic invitation to report sightings of species being researched, the influx of calls about injured or sick animals and safety concerns led to the evolution of a wildlife-response hotline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The JIA Conservation Division operates this system with rotating on-call and manager-on-duty responsibilities. With increased visitation to the Island, and more awareness of the hotline, call volumes have increased significantly. Call volume varies seasonally depending on both human and wildlife activities, with the highest volume of calls in the spring and early summer when visitation is high, and many animals are on the move. The objectives of this program are to: 1) mitigate any immediate risk to people or to wildlife, especially priority species; 2) create an opportunity for informative engagement with visitors, residents, and staff; and 3) provide information about the location of human/ wildlife interactions and the nature of these interactions.
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4.3.3. WILDLIFE MONITORING & RESEARCH Following approval of the first iteration of this Plan in 2011, JIA began building a body of site-specific knowledge to support conservation efforts on Jekyll Island. The JIA now directly coordinates a strategic monitoring and research program for the Island to support the development of wildlife/habitat management efforts, operational best management practices, and communication/education strategies. This monitoring serves as a bellwether for sudden population fluctuations or more gradual trends that may call for management intervention. JIA staff also coordinate with other agencies and institutions to provide access to Jekyll Island State Park as a field site to do research. The overarching objective of conservation-oriented monitoring and research on Jekyll Island is to better understand the dynamics and needs associated with accommodating a diverse wildlife assemblage alongside human activity in the context of limited, sustainable development. JIA investment in research will encourage tightly focused questions, novel approaches, and research products that are likely to directly contribute to decisions of management, restoration, or sustainability in specific and foreseeable ways. Listed and summarized below are species that have been the subject of JIA-directed monitoring and research. Keystone Predators Predators are an indicator of a healthy ecosystem and contribute to stabilizing populations of prey species that can dominate and reduce the diversity of other communities when unchecked. Many predators need large home ranges to survive. Space can be limiting on a relatively small island like Jekyll. Species with small and/or isolated populations are at risk of extirpation from the Island due to factors such as disease, habitat loss due to storm or sea-level rise impacts, predation or competition by invasive species, or road-mortality. Predators are often the first species to disappear from a landscape that has been over-developed. Some predators exert such significant influence on the ecosystems they inhabit as to be classified as “keystone” species. JIA Conservation staff recognize the following species as keystone predators. American alligator – The alligator population on Jekyll has been monitored since 2011 and has included routine population census counts and mark-recapture efforts. Academic research involving movement, toxicology, public education, and diet have been completed or are in progress. The alligator population on the Island appears to be stable with the age structure shifting to larger individuals that reduce the number of younger alligators through cannibalism. Movement research indicates that larger size classes of alligators move frequently across the Island, utilizing freshwater wetlands, artificial ponds, saltmarsh areas, and sometimes traveling to other islands or the mainland. Preliminary results from toxicology studies indicate that Jekyll-based alligators may carry less of a chemical pollution load than alligators studied elsewhere, implying that alligators on Jekyll Island are less exposed to pollutants that can bioaccumulate in the food chain. Ongoing population monitoring will continue, along with outreach and education to promote awareness, appreciation, and safety consciousness around Jekyll’s largest predator.
Bobcat – Bobcats were first confirmed on Jekyll in 2014 and have established a small, but apparently growing population. Genetic identification from scat has thus far only confirmed the presence of five individuals, but a population of between 5 and 10 individuals appears likely at the time of this Plan update. Monitoring includes movements and habitat use with cameras and GPS tracking, and scat collections for diet analysis and DNA identification of individuals. The aim of these efforts is to determine if the Jekyll bobcat population is likely to be self-sustaining. Bobcat reproduction on the Island appears to have occurred on multiple occasions since 2014, but survival and establishment rates are unknown. Inbreeding and its impact on fitness are a concern. If the population is deemed unlikely to sustain itself, discussions will be initiated with GADNR to explore possible interventions to sustain this species’ important role in the local, island ecosystem.
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Eastern diamondback rattlesnake – The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake (EDB) is another rare predator on Jekyll Island and has been monitored since 2011 via radio tracking to gather information on survival, habitat use around development, basic life history, and population status. Results show that EDBs avoid areas that are used and maintained by people, including areas that are mowed and open or used regularly by pedestrians. They rarely cross roads and are most likely to do so prior to and after hibernation, and during the fall breeding season. Of 35 EDBs that were tracked, 52% have died, a quarter of those from human-caused mortality. Rattlesnakes rely on camouflage and are among the most difficult predator species to find and observe in nature without radio-telemetry. Assessing population size is a major challenge that is being addressed through a structured detectability assessment. Analysis of DNA as well as the chemical composition of venom indicates that the Jekyll EDB population is isolated from mainland populations and internally fragmented with no genetic exchange occurring between individuals on the south and north ends of the Island. In the future, continued radio-tracking is expected to provide information on average lifespan, demographic survival rates, and reproductive output. Monitoring can also reveal how individuals respond to extreme events like droughts, hurricanes, and over the long-term, climate-related changes in the environment.
Canebreak rattlesnake – Canebrake rattlesnakes appear a very rare predator on Jekyll Island, having only been observed on three occasions since 2011. A single adult was captured in early 2018 and subsequently equipped with a radio transmitter to track its movements. During the 16 months it was tracked, no other individuals of this species were discovered. A hybrid juvenile cross between an EDB and a Canebrake was also discovered on the Island in 2018 and is currently being tracked. This instance is one of only a few known occurrences in the wild of hybrid EDB/Canebrake individuals. The occurrence of a hybrid could indicate a lack of same-species mates for the adult known to be present on the Island.
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OTHER SPECIES GROUPS RECEIVING SUSTAINED MONITORING AND RESEARCH EFFORT
Turtles The Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC) is the lead within the JIA for all turtle research, management, conservation and outreach. As a primary focus, the GSTC implements sea turtle monitoring and management protocols set forth by the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative, a GADNR-led program. Data are submitted annually to a central electronic repository to support collaborative research and conservation initiatives. Nesting sea turtles have been studied since 1955 on Jekyll Island. The primary species that nests on Jekyll Island is the loggerhead sea turtle, although green sea turtles, and leatherback sea turtles have been observed. Sea turtle nest monitoring and research on Jekyll Island follows statewide management protocols, which involve identifying nests, protecting them from predators with wire mesh and monitoring incubation period and hatching success. The GSTC also performs overnight patrols to identify and tag as many nesting females as possible. In collaboration with a regional study led by University of Georgia researchers, one egg from every nest and one skin biopsy from every nesting female are collected to genetically assign nests to individual females. Additional sea turtle research led by the GSTC includes collaborations to study injury rates, environmental contaminants, behavior following abandoned nesting attempts, nest incubation temperature, disease monitoring, and a variety of other veterinary and health-related topics.
The diamond-backed terrapin is the only turtle species that exclusively inhabits estuarine environments. Its populations have suffered significant declines from coastal development and bycatch mortality in crab pots. Modeling efforts predict that the population around the Jekyll causeway faces decline if threats such as road mortality and nest predation are not reduced. Led by the GSTC, vehicular patrols on the causeway during peak nesting times have been very successful in reducing collisions by moving terrapins off the roadway. These patrols also allow timely rescue of injured terrapins and collection of viable eggs from deceased females for captive rearing and subsequent release. Each turtle is individually marked so that it can be identified if encountered in the future. Several mitigation strategies have been successfully implemented, including protected nest mounds to encourage the turtles to nest without crossing the road, flashing light signs to alert motorists to be on the lookout for terrapins, and education programs on the causeway and at the GSTC. Future efforts will focus on design, construction, and testing of barriers to prevent terrapins from accessing the roadway.
Box turtles have undergone significant declines throughout their range owing to habitat loss, road mortality and other threats. The GSTC has been radio-tracking box turtles on Jekyll Island since 2011. Data collected from radio-tracking provides information about box turtle survival around developed habitats, reproductive output, habitat preferences, population size and trajectory, and whether head-started juveniles can augment the population. Box turtle mortality due to vehicle strikes on roads has been observed, and head-started box turtles have proven to successfully establish and survive at high rates in the wild on Jekyll.
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Shorebirds Nesting Wilson’s plovers have been monitored on Jekyll Island since 2012. Because they use beach habitats during peak season when human visitation is highest, they face significant challenges when nesting and rearing young. Nest numbers on Jekyll are low relative to major nesting sites in Georgia, but Jekyll beaches have produced fledglings to bolster a species that is classified as Threatened by the State of Georgia. Jekyll’s nest numbers have been rising in recent years, likely due to an increase in early successional dune habitat recovering and expanding following hurricanes that modified the Jekyll shoreline in 2016 and 2017. Conservation strategies include roping off the most important habitat areas during nesting, limiting beach driving, prohibiting pets from core nesting areas, and strictly enforcing leash rules around nest/hatchlings outside of the no-pet zone. To evaluate management success and threats, JIA monitors nesting and rearing using cameras, surveys, and banding hatchlings. JIA Conservation staff also participate in annual migration and mid-winter shorebird surveys following International Shorebird Survey (ISS) protocols in coordination with other partners along the GA coast organized under the Georgia Shorebird Alliance, which is collaboratively led by GADNR and Manomet, Inc.
Migratory Butterflies Jekyll Island provides important habitat for many species of butterflies. There are several species that migrate south in the fall season along the Atlantic Flyway. The importance of the Atlantic Flyway, migration rates, and habitat requirements for these species are currently unknown. A regional study in cooperation with other conservation organizations on the Georgia coast was initiated in 2018 to evaluate conservation opportunities and challenges for these species. Along with other partners in the Butterflies of the Atlantic Flyway Association (BAFA), JIA is monitoring three focal species annually during migration: monarchs, gulf fritillaries, and cloudless sulfurs.
Frogs Frogs have been monitored on the Island since 2011. Because they rely on sensitive and ephemeral freshwater wetlands, they serve as indicator species for the health of these important habitats. The frogs of Jekyll Island have been monitored through passive artificial refugia and through frog call surveys following rain events. Eleven species of frogs have been documented on the Island since 2011. The gray treefrog was only observed three times, all between 2012 and 2013, indicating that they are very rare on the Island. They may be naturally rare, they may have declined due to disease, or they may have experienced declines from other pressures, human-induced or otherwise. Frog call monitoring will continue on a periodic basis.
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Mammals White-tailed deer are an abundant species found in all habitats on Jekyll Island. Annual assessments conducted since 2012 utilizing spotlight surveys, supplemented with photo surveys since 2014, indicate that the population has been generally stable at consistently high densities. Population density estimates have been produced by photo-identifying individual bucks based on unique antler morphology each year at bait stations distributed across representative habitats throughout the Island. Bucks that are not uniquely identifiable with confidence are not counted. The number of uniquely identified bucks is taken as a confident minimum number of adult bucks present on the island at that time. The ratio of bucks to non-bucks (does plus fawns) is averaged over three nights conducting spotlight count surveys along a standardized route across the island. The buck to non-buck ratio is applied to the number of confidently photo-identified bucks to produce a conservative estimate of total deer on the Island, which is divided by the area of the Island (excluding beach, marsh, and ponds) to present the result as density (deer per square mile). Jekyll Island’s unmanaged herd, based on this confident minimum estimation approach, has not fallen below 79 deer per square mile since 2014, the first year of buck photo-identification. GADNR advises landowners to manage for an average population size of 20-30 deer per square mile for a healthy herd in the Lower Coastal Plain region of the state. The average annual number of fawns per doe from 2012 – 2019 was 0.33, based on spotlight survey data. Assuming a typical doe is reproductive for five years during a lifespan, doe deer on Jekyll are producing approximately 1.67 offspring over the course of their lives on average. However, 2018 and 2019 spotlight surveys recorded the lowest average number of fawns per doe of any year since surveys began in 2012.
If the number of fawns produced per doe remains at 2018/2019 levels, or falls below, the typical doe may no longer produce enough offspring to replace herself in the population and density could begin decline. Though inconclusive at this stage, this reduction in the number of fawns per doe could prove to be an indicator that the significance of fawn predation, by the apparently establishing bobcat population, is increasing. Potential ecological consequences of what nonetheless remains a highly abundant large herbivore population include heavy deer parasite loads and susceptibility to disease in the population, as well as impacts to native plant community structure, diversity, and cover, including in sensitive habitats such as sand dunes and wetlands. Bat surveys have been conducted each summer since 2015 on behalf of GADNR using “Anabat” technology that records bat calls while driving a standardized route around the Island. These surveys have documented five bat species, including northern yellow bats and tri-color bats, both listed by the State of Georgia as Species of Concern. Raccoons are ubiquitous on the Island and are monitored for disease when an animal is near death due to illness or injury and must be euthanized. Rabies, distemper, and parvo are all known to occur in the Jekyll Island raccoon population based on the monitoring, conducted in partnership with the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study. High raccoon populations have negative impacts on nesting sea turtles and shorebirds, and their influence on these priority species is monitored on the Island.
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4.3.4. EXTERNAL RESEARCH APPLICATION REVIEW PROCESS Jekyll Island offers a unique, and easily accessible, natural laboratory in a limited-development context that is attractive to researchers studying environmental systems, flora, fauna, and cultural resources. All research that takes place on Jekyll Island is subject to the approval of JIA. In 2017, JIA established a standing Research Committee to evaluate, furnish feedback, and consider approving proposed research projects led by external investigators. To do research on Jekyll, a brief proposal is required for evaluation. Principal investigators are required to submit a scope of work summarizing their proposed project, methodology, reasons for pursuing Jekyll as a study site, expected research products, and other collaborators. JIA reserves the right to deny research applications that may be deemed inappropriate for Jekyll, or to approve research with conditions or modifications. At the time of this update, the Research Committee includes the Director of Conservation, the GSTC Director, the GSTC Research Ecologist, the Director of Historic Resources, and the Conservation Division’s Wildlife Biologist. These roles may be delegated to others within the JIA structure as needed due to availability or expertise. A JIA point of contact for coordination and oversight is designated for each research project following approval. 4.3.5. WILDLIFE PRIORITY SPECIES Wildlife species listed in the table below have been identified as priorities for conservation because their persistence within Jekyll Island State Park faces potential challenges. Some priority species may call for monitoring or research to maintain awareness of their local status, improve understanding of their ecological roles and prospects, and inform management action to mitigate identified threats to their local persistence. By limiting development disturbance or acting to restore or enhance ecological systems with the Park, the JIA can reduce risks to the persistence of these species. The Environmental Assessment Procedure (Chapter 7) should be implemented for any projects with the potential to negatively impact priority species. Priority species include federally listed species along with species identified in the most recent (2015) version of the Georgia State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) as Coastal Plain High Priority Animals, provided these federal and state identified species also have been documented within Jekyll Island State Park beyond an isolated, incidental occurrence. Bird species included on the Watch List of the State of North America’s Birds 2016 Assessment by the Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) have been incorporated as well. These are the bird species NABCI determined to be most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats. https://www.stateofthebirds.org/2016/resources/species-assessments/ Additionally, the List includes species not listed by federal or state authorities, if JIA Conservation staff concluded that they were:
• Locally rare or at-risk in Jekyll Island State Park
• Experiencing range-wide declines and either locally dependent on resources currently within the Park or with the potential to benefit from habitat restoration/enhancement within the Park
• Particularly at risk of threat due to climate change or sea-level rise within the Park
• Particularly well-suited to serve as an indicator of ecosystem health
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Wildlife Priority Species are listed below and in more detail in Appendix B. Species highlighted below are watchlist species that could occur on Jekyll but have either never been documented, are unverified or documented by a single instance, or have not been documented in the past 20 years.
Birds American oystercatcher American woodcock bald eagle black-necked stilt bobolink cape may warbler chuck-will’s-widow common nighthawk Connecticut warbler eastern whip-poor-will gull-billed tern horned grebe Kentucky warbler king rail least bittern least tern lesser yellowlegs little blue heron
loggerhead shrike long-billed curlew marbled godwit nelson’s sparrow painted bunting pectoral sandpiper peregrine falcon piping plover prairie warbler prothonotary warbler red knot reddish egret red-headed woodpecker American kestrel saltmarsh sparrow seaside sparrow semipalmated sandpiper short-billed dowitcher
swallow-tailed kite tricolored heron willet Wilson’s plover whimbrel wood stork wood thrush Watchlist Species: American black duck Bachman’s sparrow barn owl black rail black-billed cuckoo Kirtland’s warbler northern bobwhite northern saw-whet owl Swainson’s warbler
Reptiles box turtle canebrake rattlesnake green sea turtle Kemp’s ridley sea turtle leatherback sea turtle
coachwhip diamondback terrapin loggerhead sea turtle eastern diamondback rattlesnake eastern kingsnake
bobcat gray fox northern yellow bat tri-colored bat
barking treefrog eastern newt gray treefrog pinewoods treefrog
Invertebrates hummock crayfish mole crayfish monarch butterfly
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Watchlist Species: eastern coral snake island glass lizard pygmy rattlesnake
Fish Watchlist Species: bluefin killifish
Watchlist Species: two-toed amphiuma
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4.3.6. ABUNDANT, POTENTIALLY PROBLEMATIC SPECIES The Island is home to a variety of wildlife in addition to those designated as Wildlife Priority Species. Several of these species, including white-tailed deer and raccoon, are ubiquitous and often attracted to food resources within and surrounding developed areas. They may become a nuisance in developed landscapes where natural predators are reduced or absent. While sometimes desirable from a wildlife viewing perspective, these circumstances can adversely affect long-term conservation goals. For example, white-tailed deer may reduce the productivity or diversity of herbaceous vegetation in the understory. Raccoons may prey directly upon the eggs and young of Wildlife Priority Species, including sea turtles, diamondback terrapins, and wood storks. Large alligators may present real or perceived concerns for human safety, exacerbated by feeding. Management of these species requires an understanding of the population that can be supported by the natural systems with sustained habitat quality, the population that can coexist compatibly with human population, and the health of the population in question. Other forms of wildlife, such as mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents, are more traditionally viewed as nuisance or pest species by humans, either because of the annoyance inflicted by the species or because of health concerns. Chemical applications associated with pest control can collaterally harm non-target species. JIA will continue to coordinate with Glynn County Mosquito Control to promote and facilitate maximized larvicide treatment to minimize the need for adulticide spraying. JIA will seek to collaboratively establish no-spray areas and routes where adulticide will not be used. Anticoagulant rodenticides can poison and kill predators or scavengers of exposed rodents, including some Wildlife Priority Species, such as bobcats. Regulatory tools, including prohibition through local ordinance, will be evaluated for advancement as needed to protect Wildlife Priority Species. 4.3.7. WILDLIFE DISEASE Wildlife diseases can have major impacts on wildlife populations and may pose a risk of human infection. When wildlife species exhibit symptoms consistent with disease, appropriate experts, including the GSTC veterinarian will be consulted. The Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Survey (SCWDS) is an important partner in this regard. Provided approval from Georgia DNR, JIA has access to SCWDS resources such as testing racoon carcasses for rabies and deer herd health assessments. Notable wildlife diseases confirmed to be present in Jekyll Island wildlife populations include:
Rabies: Documented in racoons on Jekyll Island periodically since 2013 (Ortiz et al., 2018, Appendix G), rabies can be transmitted to other mammal species including humans, and it is suspected to have been a factor in the rapid decline of the Island’s gray fox population that occurred between 2014 and 2016. Amphibian Diseases: Amphibians have been documented with ranavirus and chytrid fungus on Jekyll Island, but no significant declines appear to have resulted, perhaps indicating that these pathogens are not novel here. Snake Fungal Disease: Snake fungal disease has been documented in five of 15 snake species on Jekyll and is apparently widespread, but unlike severe instances documented in more northern latitudes, no widespread mortality events have yet been linked to this disease on Jekyll Island. The disease has been successfully treated in an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake by the GSTC Veterinarian.
The presence of Lyme Disease on Jekyll Island has not been confirmed through direct testing of ticks for the pathogen. However, ticks in the Southeast are known to carry numerous pathogens in addition to Lyme.
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4.4. POTENTIAL IMPACTS TO WILDLIFE AND PLANTS FROM CLIMATE CHANGE The following narrative draws from material in the 2015 Georgia SWAP. Also, a new overarching management objective for Jekyll Island State Park pertaining to climate adaptation has been added to this Plan in Chapter 5. The complex set of consequences related to climate change are referenced in greater detail in Objective A in Chapter 5. These consequences, including warmer temperatures, sea-level rise, greater frequencies of extreme tides and the higher potential for extreme storms are impacting wildlife species, plant communities, and habitats, and these effects are projected to increase substantially over time. The impact of climate change reaches beyond local and state boundaries and affects each species differently. The impacts of climate change do not exist in isolation but combine with and exacerbate existing threats to wildlife and plants. Habitat protection, restoration, and connectivity enhancement can help mitigate the impacts of climate change. Range shifts in response to climate change may affect wildlife and plants on Jekyll Island. A warming climate will likely cause the ranges of many species to shift northward, possibly leading to changes in ecological dominance and interactions between longestablished species on the Island and new arrivals. The timing of seasonal events, such as the arrival of migratory birds and the pulses of invertebrate production that supports them, could become asynchronous, leading to reduced bird fitness. Plant species that are reliant on isolated lowland habitats are threatened by sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion/inundation. Climate change is likely to have adverse effects on herpetofauna. Effects on habitat suitability are the most wide ranging, but in the case of most turtle species and the American alligator, species that exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination, warming temperatures may skew sex ratios adversely. The GSTC will continue to monitor the length of incubation for all sea turtle nests, which is significantly correlated with incubation temperature and sex ratio. The Conservation Department will continue to monitor the island’s alligator population. Warming winters and heightened extremes of rainfall and drought could also impair the ability of rattlesnakes to hibernate in winter and affect the availability of their small-mammal prey.
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MANAGEMENT 5.0. INTRODUCTION Desired future conditions for each vegetation community and land use on the Island were identified to provide a vision for the ecological structure, diversity, physical condition, and aesthetic over an extended timeframe (50 years) for specific portions of the Island. Desired Future Conditions (DFC) describe objectives and outcomes and reflect aspirational conditions of Jekyll Island with respect to conservation objectives. Many of the DFC share common elements that can provide broader guidance on management practices for overall natural resources within the Island, including:
• Mature canopy conditions in forested systems that still allow for regeneration of canopy species
• Minimal fuel loads provided by duff and herbaceous/shrub vegetation to minimize potential for destructive, uncontrolled fires
• Appropriate shrub/herbaceous layer diversity depending on canopy density
• Wildlife populations characteristic to the Island
• Wetlands and coastal creeks exhibiting natural and dynamic hydroperiods sufficient to support a diversity of wetland dependent species
• Multiple successional stages in dune/swale habitat
• Appropriate plant zonation based on salinity, tidal fluctuation, storm events, and dune/beach dynamics
• Resource-based recreation in natural lands that are compatible with the recreation type
• Residential, commercial, and recreational uses with low-maintenance landscapes of native and non-invasive vegetation, effective stormwater infrastructure, and occupants that embrace natural resource protection on the Island
• Naturally vegetated buffers placing residential, commercial, and recreational uses at an appropriate distance from tidal wetlands expanding in response to sea level rise.
Achieving these DFC will require an adaptive approach to minimize the effects of the threats identified in Section 4.2 and enhance the natural value of the Park. “Adaptive” in the context of natural resource management planning means using information collected from research and monitoring to revise the methods used to achieve the Desired Future Conditions, which rarely change. This chapter documents general management elements to address Island-wide natural resource issues followed by specific management elements for the individual Management Units described in Section 5.4.
5.1. PARK-WIDE MANAGEMENT General management objectives and strategies address management issues that affect natural resource issues across the Island as well as the lands and wetlands along the Jekyll Island Causeway that are within the boundaries of Jekyll Island State Park. These objectives provide the overarching framework for implementing management actions on the Island and should be among the first considerations when developing adaptive approaches to the management plan. Objective A – Adapt to anticipated impacts of climate change and sea-level rise Discussion: Climate change is affecting the natural environments and wildlife of Jekyll Island. There is broad scientific consensus that rates of climate change and sea-level rise are increasing globally ( https://www.ipcc.ch/documentation/). Once thought of a matter of predictions of the distant future, the evolving impacts of climate change and sea level rise are increasingly evident and well documented in the present. Global mean sea level (GMSL) has risen by about 7–8 inches since 1900, with about 3 of those inches occurring since 1993 (http://doi.org/10.7930/J0VM49F2). Data, predictions, and guidance are readily available specific to Georgia (https://statesummaries.ncics.org/chapter/ga/). A 60 year database of meteorological conditions recorded on Sapelo Island, 20 miles to the northeast of Jekyll Island, is consistent with regional trends across the Southeastern United States. These data reveal that local average annual temperatures have increased 2-3 degrees F, that nights are warming relatively more than days, and that winters are warming relatively more than summers (Doug Samson, Reserve Manager, Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, personal communication). Sea level has been measured at Fort Pulaski near Savannah continuously since the 1930’s. Historically, the average rate of rise has equated to about 1 foot every 100 years (https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/sltrends/sltrends_station.shtml?id=8670870). However, data from recent decades suggest an acceleration, notable by the sharp increase in frequency of extreme high tides observed. High tides greater than 5 feet above mean sea level never occurred more than 10 times per year prior to 1970. Since 2012, the annual frequency of tides exceeding this height has not been less than 40 and in 2019 was greater than 80 for the first time on record.
Figure 4. Number of extreme tides occurring per year since record keeping the mid-1930s at the Fort Pulaski, GA tide gauge maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) near Savannah, Georgia. Graph produced by Jason Lee of the Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division using tide-gauge data from NOAA.
NUMBER OF EXTREME TIDES PER YEAR
This widespread trend has led to the popularization of the term “King Tide”, which commonly describes exceptionally high tides, is now used so often that it suggests the exceptional is becoming typical, (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal. pone.0170949). The potential for increased tropical storm and hurricane frequency and intensity due to climate change (https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2019/07/how-climate-change-is-making-hurricanes-more-dangerous/) means that planning for storm preparedness and resiliency must account for increased flood risks affecting formerly lower-risk elevations. Ocean acidification, another climate-change impact, is less studied in coastal Georgia, but has important implications for the future of shellfish populations and emerging prospects for commercialization of oyster aquaculture in the state (https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/ocean-coasts/ocean-acidification).
“Sea-level rise will radically redefine the coastline of the 21st century. For many coastal regions, projections of global sea-level rise by the year 2100 (e.g., 0.5–2 meters) are comparable in magnitude to today’s extreme but short-lived increases in water level due to storms. Thus, the 21st century will see significant changes to coastal flooding regimes (where present-day, extreme-but-rare events become common), which poses a major risk to the safety and sustainability of coastal communities worldwide.” Taherkhani, M., Vitousek, S., Barnard, P.L. et al. Sea-level rise exponentially increases coastal flood frequency. Sci Rep 10, 6466 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-62188-4
Numerous studies, tools, and guidance documents exist to inform planning and decision-making in response to concerns presented by climate issues. In 2018, the JIA completed a Carrying Capacity and Infrastructure Assessment that evaluated the risks to roads, water mains, sewer lines, and sewage lift stations associated with up to 3 feet of sea-level rise (https://www.jekyllisland.com/jekyll-island-authority/jekyll-island-carrying-capacity-infrastructure-assessment/). The GADNR has produced maps showing the predicted migration of tidal wetlands on Jekyll Island in response to sea-level rise (Appendix J).
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintains an easy-to-use online tool, the NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer (https://coast.noaa.gov/slr/#), which maps inundation at one-foot intervals up to 10 feet above current mean higher high water (MHHW). Georgia’s network of professionals working on climate and sea level rise issues is robust. Collaborations are emerging across academia, civil service, and the private sector exemplified by the collaborative Georgia Climate Project and two statewide Georgia Climate Conferences that have been held in recent years. At the Federal level, documents such as the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy provide a strategic framework for action. Several of the strategies listed below are adopted from this document (https://toolkit.climate.gov/tool/national-fish-wildlife-and-plants-climate-adaptation-strategy): Strategies:
1. Set and periodically update sea-level rise planning parameters for height of rise to be anticipated within a specified timeframe.
2. Revise the Jekyll Island Design Guidelines to require, prior to concept approval, that sea-level rise and coastal flooding resiliency analysis be provided and vetted through the Environmental Assessment Procedure (see Chapter 7), for any new development, re-development, or major infrastructure projects that could be impacted within the planning parameters. The EAP Review Team may accept an analysis derived from a prior project if the circumstances and project specifications are sufficiently similar. The JIA may draw upon resources offered by institutional partners, such as Georgia DNR, when conducting such analyses for its own projects.
3. Identify vegetation communities and priority species most at risk from climate change and sea-level rise.
4. Identify lands that can be made available to accommodate wetland and marsh migration due to sea-level rise.
5. Maintain awareness of and pursue innovative approaches, including nature-based engineering, to be implemented instead of traditional methods when long term costs and benefits are favorable, to sustain priority species and the habitats they depend upon.
6. Manage species and habitats for ecological resiliency in a changing climate.
7. Conserve habitat extent and diversity to support the adaptability of native wildlife and plant populations to a changing climate.
8. Contribute to advancing the state of knowledge about climate impacts and the responses of wildlife and plants to changing climate and associated extremes of weather.
9. Mitigate environmental threats and stresses that are not primarily climate-change driven to reduce cumulative negative pressures acting on native wildlife and plant populations.
10. Promote public awareness as well as individual and collective action to safeguard native wildlife and plants in a changing climate.
11. Serve as an innovative leader in Glynn County and coastal Georgia in preparation for and resiliency to climate and sea-level rise impacts.
Objective B – Implement a Comprehensive Fire Management Program Discussion: The Island is composed of a variety of naturally vegetated areas influenced by the presence, or absence, of fire. Fuel loads and fuel laddering create conditions that increase the likelihood of more frequent, and potentially more intense, fire within habitats like pine flatwoods and live oak hammocks. They also make safe application of prescribed fire more problematic. Although prescribed fire is often a desired management tool to use, other mechanical tools such as bushhogging, rollerchopping, or hydroaxing are often needed to “reset” the conditions for safe application of prescribed fire or decrease the height and density of natural fuels within areas where fire and its associated smoke are problematic. These techniques will be used with attention to their potential to compact soils, influence nutrient cycling and cause short-term impacts to wildlife communities. Ultimately, mechanical management, coupled with appropriate prescribed fire, will likely provide the best approach to reducing devastating fire risk and promoting desirable habitat conditions.
Comprehensive Fire Management will utilize prescribed fire only in situations that allow for the highest standards of safety and risk management for both staff and the public. Personnel involved in managing controlled burns or controlling wildfires will not be allowed to take on any situations that exceed their training level. If the Comprehensive Fire Management program calls for application of prescribed fire to an area, but a safe and effective burn does not prove achievable, then program goals will be adjusted accordingly. Appendix H outlines the Comprehensive Fire Management Program as envisioned at the time of this Plan update.
1. Create and implement a fire management program that identifies portions of the Island where fire will be actively sup- pressed vs. prescribed, fire control measures, desired timing and seasonality of prescribed fire, and mechanical management activities; implement prescribed fire and/or mechanical fuel reduction measures on an ongoing basis consistent with the timing and seasonality identified in the comprehensive fire management plan.
2. Establish a Geographic Information System (GIS) database for recent fires and fuel reduction management activities to document the date conducted, area burned from prescribed fire or wildfire, and/or area treated with mechanical fuel reduction measures.
3. Determine whether existing policies or ordinances need to be revised to accommodate the Island-wide fire management protocol.
4. Develop protocol for rapid response to wildfire ignition and processes to quickly evaluate if a fire needs intervention and to decide what nature of intervention is appropriate.
Objective C – Minimize Habitat Fragmentation/Loss Discussion: Over the life of the Conservation Plan, future development or redevelopment activities, recreation activities, and roadway improvements have the greatest potential to fragment habitat continuity or result in the loss of natural habitats. Proper siting, design, implementation, and operations may alleviate adverse effects of these activities. In 2014, the Georgia State Legislature codified changes to the JIA, enabling legislation that repositioned the Island’s development limitation. The total extent of developed lands allowable on Jekyll Island is now capped at 1,675 acres. In a favorable economic environment, the JIA has demonstrated that it can generate increasing revenues without expanding development to its potential legal limits. Strategies:
1. Use the management recommendations for the six Management Units described below, Conservation Priority Areas (CPAs, see Chapter 7), and other criteria associated with the landscape-scale evaluation in the Environmental Assessment Procedure (EAP) along with 2018 JIA Capacity Study products, to provide input regarding proposed land classification changes and updates to the Jekyll Island Master Plan.
2. Prevent new or expanded development from occurring in Conservation Priority Areas (CPAs) as defined in Chapter 7, or otherwise degrading CPAs.
3. Add lands designated for conservation and passive outdoor recreation, as identified in the proposed 2020 Golf Master Plan, to the CPAs.
4. Identify and pursue legal mechanisms designed to strengthen CPAs as a durable bulwark against overdevelopment or overexploitation of Jekyll Island’s most valuable green spaces at the expense of their public and/or ecological value.
5. Design green spaces within the footprint of lands classified as Developed, to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities and facilitate connectivity across the island for car-free mobility of visitors and residents.
6. Promote the business mindset within the JIA decision-making structure of doing more with less, by continuing to optimize revenue growth without expanding development, and even allowing for the contraction of the development footprint.
7. Update Jekyll Island Authority ordinances to protect natural resources and assess need for any new ordinances.
8. Implement the EAP review for any proposed new development or redevelopment, renovation or remodeled residential and commercial projects with potential for significant negative impacts to natural resources or the JIA’s ability to carry forward this Plan.
9. Adopt specific stormwater guidelines and integrate JIA policies and plans with the Georgia Coastal Stormwater Supplement to maintain appropriate freshwater/brackish inputs, water quality, and water quantity for wetland systems on or surrounding the Island (https://epd.georgia.gov/watershed-protection-branch/storm-water/georgia-epd-coastal-stormwater-supplement-stormwater).
10. Identify and act on opportunities to implement protective measures designed to reduce roadway mortality of wildlife.
Objective D –Manage Invasive exotic Plants and Animals and Dominant native Species Discussion: Invasive exotic species can radically alter vegetation structure and composition, the natural processes on which a particular vegetation type or wildlife species depends, and/or the health and viability of species affected by the exotic species. Minimizing the effects of exotic invasive species is dependent upon effective monitoring followed by focused, timely control efforts as well as policy and implementation actions to minimize activities that would create or maintain conditions favorable for undesirable population growth or behavior of pest species. Once populations are identified and mapped, future appropriate management efforts can be targeted to remove the species with minimal effects on other species in the area. Invasive plant species such as salt cedar, Chinese tallow, Chinaberry, and camphor tree can spread rapidly from seed dispersed by animals and tidal currents.
While re-infestation from on- and off-site propagule sources can be difficult to prevent, control at minimal levels can be effective with vigilant monitoring. Monitoring for new invasive animal species such as feral hogs and Cuban treefrogs or researching the ecological progression of a disease vector like the Ambrosia beetle can assist in proactively removing, controlling, or adapting to, incipient populations. Native species can also become nuisance species by affecting human health and/or comfort (i.e., mosquitoes, ticks), aesthetics and maintenance of developed areas (e.g., white-tailed deer browsing on landscape materials, raccoons in trash cans). Some native species, such as alligators or snakes, may be feared by some people due to perceptions about their inherent danger. While these potentially dangerous animals require certain precautions, their natural threats do not warrant active removal, but should be countered with proactive education, research, and management. On the other hand, native species such as raccoons and coyotes may negatively affect priority species such as nesting shorebirds and sea turtles to the degree that control measures need to be undertaken.
1. Sustain the qualitative monitoring program to identify the locations, extent occupied, and/or occurrences of invasive plant and wildlife exotic species on the Island and develop a GIS database of existing exotic plant and wildlife species locations for long-term tracking.
2. Strategically prioritize efforts with the goal of ecologically eradicating the most damaging plant invaders and controlling the spread of those that cannot be eradicated.
3. Continue to improve the efficacy of chemical treatment methods favoring a targeted, rather than broadcast, approach to application whenever possible.
4. Seek opportunities to restore historical native communities as a part of the long-term solution to invasive, exotic species control.
5. Monitor for exotic species found in the region that are not yet on the island and prepare contingency plans to proactively address if found. Early detection and rapid response to remove new infestations is key to success.
6. Continue to serve as an active partner in the Coastal Georgia Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CoGaCISMA).
7. Formalize mosquito control guidelines in coordination with Glynn County Mosquito Control to address human health concerns from mosquito populations, while minimizing collateral effects on non-target organisms. These guidelines should aim to minimize, and where possible eliminate, lethal or sub-lethal effects on any non-target species.
8. Continue to implement predator control efforts conservatively using humane methods to limit depredation of Wildlife Priority Species, control disease, and reduce risk of aggressive contact with humans.
9. Avoid being drawn into taking sides in polarized arguments about feral cat management, taking no categorical position— either in favor or opposed to— any particular methods of managing feral or unowned domestic cats.
10. Encourage and promote fostering, adopting, and sterilizing domestic cats, and keeping pet cats indoors.
11. Take legal and humane steps to prioritize preservation of animal health and life while not returning removed animals to the Island, in order to to prevent the establishment and growth of feral cat populations in areas where their presence would be particularly threatening for wildlife. These areas include the campground “bird sanctuary”, Conservation Priority Areas identified in this Plan, and generally all areas south of Ben Fortson Parkway consistent with sparse development impacts on this end of the Island.
12. Continue to implement education, training, and policies that prevent JIA employees from feeding wildlife.
13. Develop educational materials to inform residents and guests of the issues associated with feeding wildlife.
14. Prohibit use of open-top dumpsters for any materials containing or contaminated with food wastes, to prevent animal access.
15. Monitor the impacts of native species of plants and animals extending their ranges northward as a result of climate change.
Objective E – Minimize Hydrological Alterations and Restore Natural Hydrodynamic Conditions Discussion: Surface water alterations resulting from historical drainage or development projects, stormwater routing, and constrictions on tidal flow from culvert construction can have further effects on the hydrological conditions of natural systems. Understanding the relative role of groundwater reductions, in comparison to surface hydrology changes is necessary to evaluate potential hydrological enhancements for degraded wetlands. Groundwater withdrawal associated with industrial, commercial, and residential use, both locally and regionally, may be a factor in altered hydrological dynamics affecting wetlands on the Island. Strategies:
1. Establish a long-term hydrological monitoring program for wetlands, use data obtained from the monitoring program to identify impaired wetlands, and prioritize enhancements when funding becomes available.
2. Work with regional partners to assess current groundwater levels on and around the Island, determine their effect on wetland hydrology and evaluate opportunities and challenges for minimizing any associated ecological impacts.
3. Monitor salinity levels within freshwater wetland systems and ponds for saltwater influence.
4. Establish ongoing monitoring of surficial aquifer water quality and depth to water table.
5. Continue and improve the adoption and implementation of more advanced stormwater plans for new development and/or retrofit projects (i.e., low-impact development designs and green infrastructure) that capture stormwater discharge from impervious surfaces and encourage on site infiltration into the surficial aquifer, in accordance with the Coastal Stormwater Supplement.
6. Map the stormwater drainage infrastructure across the Island in order to understand the potential impacts to salt marsh water quality and hydrology.
7. Implement enhancements to culverts and control structures to remove impediments to natural tidal fluctuations where fragmentation has caused ecological degradation.
8. Continue to encourage the use of native plants and other non-invasive low-water-use plants within landscapes for existing residential, commercial, and civic sites as well as new development parcels.
9. Enforce local ordinances and state law regarding conservation of irrigation water from residential and commercial properties and JIA operations, especially during drought periods.
10. Consider the implications of climate-change-induced amplification of drought and precipitation extremes on wetland enhancement plans.
Objective F – Protect Priority Species Discussion: Many of the priority species for the Island occur in systems that are subject to some degree of regulation or long-term constraint, such as wetlands or beaches. While this does not eliminate potential impacts, the regulations and constraints can provide enforcement measures and/or decrease the risk of potential adverse long-term activities such as land conversion. However, continued vigilance is still required to ensure adequate protection is maintained. Additional management requirements may be needed for priority species occurring outside of these regulated systems. Strategies:
1. Monitor the status of priority species and the condition of the habitats upon which they depend, leveraging external research partnerships to increase knowledge of threats and stresses facing priority species populations.
2. Emphasize the implementation of management and restoration actions that support priority species and consider the effects on priority species with all management actions.
3. Coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce regulatory requirements of the Endangered Species Act, including designated critical habitat areas, for federally listed wildlife species.
4. Prevent habitat degradation or loss for all priority species.
5. Identify implementable and appropriate buffers to be managed and regulated to protect or enhance nesting habitat for birds listed in this Plan as Wildlife Priority Species.
6. Integrate priority species protection into all planning processes and documents that pertain to natural areas and green spaces, including Conservation Priority Areas. MANAGEMENT 58
Objective G - Manage Implications from Outdoor Recreation and Education Discussion: The existing trail system provides access to a wide variety of recreation opportunities throughout the Island, as well as potential access locations for management activities. New trails will be conservative in extent and may only be added as deemed appropriate for management, educational or recreational purposes. Access to some trails may be permanently or temporarily restricted for management (e.g., fire breaks) or education (e.g., field programs) activities. The appropriateness of any proposed new trails will be evaluated using the EAP defined in Section 7 of this Plan to evaluate potential fragmentation, habitat disturbance, and edge effects that may result from the new trails. Strategies:
1. Develop a recreational trail map that includes the location and type of travel allowable (foot/bicycle) and associated guidelines for responsible trail use.
2. Determine the appropriateness of any proposed new trails, or attractions at the land/water interface, such as blue-trail landings or fishing facilities, using the Environmental Assessment Procedure (EAP) defined in Chapter 7
3. Evaluate, through EAP review, potential fragmentation, habitat disturbance, and edge effects that may result from proposed new trails.
4. Coordinate trail development/maintenance and facility design with fire-management goals.
5. Manage, avoid, and/or mitigate impacts to sensitive habitats and priority species from outdoor recreation and learning activities, including research.
5.2. CAUSEWAY AND BACK-BARRIER MARSH MANAGEMENT A causeway was built from Route 17 to join the Island to the mainland after the State of Georgia acquired the Island in 1947, but the bridges were not completed until 1954 due to an iron embargo during the Korean War. The construction of these roads resulted in the filling of numerous acres of salt marsh and dramatically altered the tidal hydrology of Jointer Creek while adding to the already extensive modification of the Jekyll Creek/River system and associated tributaries. Fill material also washed or seeped into the adjacent salt marsh, creating artificial high marsh along large stretches of the perimeter of the causeway. The causeway and associated salt marshes are excluded from acreage calculations associated with legal limitations on the development of the Island itself. However, the causeway and the associated marshes and hammocks, including some west of Route 17, are part of Jekyll Island State Park and as such are under the management authority of the JIA. Other entities with significant jurisdictional authority along the causeway include Georgia DOT, Georgia DNR (GADNR), and Georgia Power. JIA leases out lands within this part of the Park to the Emerald Princess casino cruise operation and to the Federal Aviation Administration. The Island’s guest information plaza and Georgia State Patrol post are located on the causeway. A wildlife observation deck is located near the guest information center and is a popular birding destination. In general, the causeway is a very significant feature for both the visitor experience and the ecological ramifications associated with its capability to facilitate access to the Island for animals and plants, as well as people. In addition, the causeway has the highest speed limit of any other road in the Park and therefore is a significant source of wildlife mortality, most notably for nesting diamondback terrapins. Long-term research on diamondback terrapins and other coastal species is being conducted on the causeway, including work by GSTC staff focused on rehabilitation of terrapins injured by automobiles and mitigation techniques to minimize terrapin mortality from automobiles. Management Priorities:
1. Minimize vehicle strike mortality of Wildlife Priority Species
2. Reduce immigration of exotic-invasive plants and animals
3. Prevent loss of elevation due to erosion or compaction of soils surrounding causeway
4. Promote habitat diversity
5. Maintain a safe and enjoyable experience for drivers and cyclists using the Jekyll Island Causeway that affords opportunities for appreciation of the natural beauty and abundance of wildlife evident upon arriving at Jekyll Island State Park
FIGURE 5. MANAGEMENT UNITS
Diamondback Terrapin Conservation Program: On average, 75 adult female diamondback terrapin deaths have occurred annually due to automobile-induced mortality on the causeway since 2017. Thanks to the ongoing terrapin conservation program led by the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC), mortality is down from an annual average of 131 deaths during the nine years prior to 2017. Research conducted in partnership with the University of Georgia has provided a strong foundation upon which to base mitigation actions.
Figure 6. Proportion of all hit-by-car (hit) diamondback terrapins relative to proportion unharmed (alive) terrapins documented on the Jekyll Island Causeway by the Georgia Sea Turtle Center since initiation of concerted diamondback terrapin conservation efforts in 2007
Proportion Hit Proportion Alive Strategies:
1. Update the JIA Causeway Vegetation Management Plan to reflect changes that occurred in 2019 and 2020 associated with the Georgia Power transmission line rebuild project.
2. Partner with Georgia Power to maximize ecological values, minimize maintenance burdens, and support a stable shoreline compatible with Georgia Power transmission line easement vegetation policies.
3. Continue monitoring and research to better understand the effects of the causeway and its management on priority species, especially diamondback terrapin, to inform strategies that mitigate risk of wildlife mortality due to vehicle strikes, and to evaluate the causeway’s function as a corridor for immigration/emigration and invasion.
4. Develop road-mortality mitigation strategies (design, engineering, and construction) to reduce the negative effects of the causeway on Wildlife Priority Species.
5. Continue implementing reduced mowing procedures during diamondback terrapin nesting season.
6. Pursue opportunities to promote native grassland habitat and awareness of its value in areas of the causeway that have been designated to be maintained free of trees/shrubs, either through Georgia Power policies or JIA vegetation management planning.
7. Continue implementing a zero-tolerance policy for invasive species on the causeway.
8. Prioritize human safety considerations along with wildlife protection in evaluating proposals or programs with the potential to affect traffic patterns and driver responses on the causeway. MANAGEMENT 62
5.3. SPECIFIC AREA MANAGEMENT The Plan area has been divided into six units composed of vegetation communities and land uses that exhibit similarities in location, management requirements or constraints, or ecological function. Each of the management units is comprised of multiple land uses and/ or vegetation types described in Section 4.0 of this Plan. As such, the acreages noted for each management unit may not correspond directly with the acreages noted for the land uses and vegetation types noted in Section 4.0. The six management units are: • Beach – Beach, primary dune, and early successional back dune/swale systems, • Holocene Maritime Forest – Naturally vegetated forested systems in the southern one-third of the Island along with pockets of freshwater wetlands • Salt and Brackish Marsh – Salt marshes, coastal creeks, and small-forested “hammock” islands • Pleistocene Maritime Forest – Pine and oak forests of the northern one-third of the Island, along with pockets of freshwater wetlands, • Golf Courses – The golf courses, forested systems within the golf courses, and the adjacent forested, freshwater wetlands • Urban/Parks – Residential and commercial leased land along with supporting infrastructure, the Historic District/sites, and all non-golf greenspace and parks The management and conservation of natural resources requires actions throughout the entire Island. As such, urban land uses such as the Golf Courses, Developed Roads, and Parks/Recreation are included within management units in the Conservation Plan. These land uses retain naturally vegetated habitats that benefit from management activities such as fire control and exotic species removal and provide habitat for a variety of resident and migratory species. In addition, these land uses abut larger areas of natural vegetation and can significantly influence the long-term quality and management actions for these larger natural systems. Urban land uses were designated into two separate Management Units based on existing conditions and anticipated long-term management requirements. The golf course unit is composed of the golf courses and various natural systems inside or adjacent to the courses that are affected by activities associated with golf, and Urban/Park includes residential, commercial, and roadway areas. With a Master Plan for the future of golf on Jekyll island progressing concurrently with this Conservation Plan Update, opportunities to substantially restore these natural systems are now anticipated. The descriptions that follow provide additional information about the vegetation communities and land uses found within each Management Unit, as well as the types of ecological and physical characteristics that provide the context for management recommendations. Specific management objectives and related priorities are described to address the unique soils and vegetation communities found within the unit. Lastly, strategies that implement the priorities are provided for each unit. The management strategies identified in the following have been summarized in Appendix F, which includes the text of each management strategy as well as an estimate of the general timeframe in which the strategy would be implemented. The general timeframes are broken down into four categories:
• Short-term - 1 to 3 years after the update to the Conservation Plan
• Mid-term - 3 to 8 years of the Conservation Plan implementation
• Long-term (remainder of the Conservation Plan duration or 8 to 2-plus years)
• Ongoing – tasks that repeat periodically throughout the life of the Conservation Plan
These timeframes provide a general framework in which the implementation of proposed strategies can be prioritized but are subject to change as funding and staffing become available and adaptive management requirements are implemented.
UNIT 1. BEACH Represented Communities This unit occurs primarily in the eastern half of the Island and mostly includes the South Atlantic Upper Ocean Beach and Sea Oats Temperate Herbaceous Alliance vegetative communities. However, the subsequent successional stages evolving from beach systems in the southern end of the Island are also included in this management unit, including the Atlantic Coast Interdune Swale and Live Oak – Yaupon Holly – (Wax-myrtle) Shrubland Alliance communities. Ecological and Physical Influences The vegetation types within this unit are significantly affected by several common ecological and physical factors, including:
• Erosion and Accretion – The movement of sand associated with the beach unit is highly complex and is influenced by the lunar and seasonal dynamics of tides and waves, storm events, and human engineering. In general, the northern beaches of Jekyll Island are more typically characterized by erosion while the central and southern beaches are more typically characterized by accretion,
• Wind – On-shore breezes contribute significantly to the formation of primary dunes adjacent to the open beach and can cause wind erosion in areas damaged by land uses
• Salt Spray – Salt spray from wave action generated during both general sea conditions and periodic storms affect the soil conditions, plant physiognomy and community diversity of all systems within the unit
• Inundation – The types (freshwater vs. brackish vs. salt water) of water inputs, depths and duration of inundation have significant influence on plant diversity and density in the back-dune systems
Objective 1A - Manage and monitor beaches to address erosion, accretion, storm events, and future sea-level rise Discussion: Maintaining a dynamic beach ecosystem that supports natural geophysical processes and accommodates visitor enjoyment requires careful, balanced, and adaptive management. Management Priorities:
1. Determine when management actions such as dune restoration and sand nourishment should be considered to sustain biological diversity.
2. Prepare for an increase in dynamic storm events/sea-level rise through native plant re-vegetation, dune restoration, and conservation of buffers.
3. Minimize soil disturbances in dunes, interdune swales, and successional vegetation communities along the youngest dune systems.
1. Establish a working group to formalize plans, timelines, and implementable steps to continue to protect and promote a natural dune system as the first order of beach protection from storm events and beachfront shoreline erosion. The group will consider impacts from human traffic/recreational use, revetments, authorized-vehicle driving, sea-level rise, sand supply and human alterations to sediment dynamics; maintenance and research needs and interests; and regulatory and financial limitations. The group should include, among others, a representative of the JIA, the public, a beach restoration specialist, and an expert on the ecology of the priority species that depend on these communities. In subsequent years, the group will meet annually and provide actionable beach management recommendations.
2. Conduct an Environmental Assessment Procedure (EAP) review to evaluate new crossings, infrastructure, or restoration projects that may be proposed in this unit.
3. Ensure that regular monitoring of beach/dune profiles and shoreline positions is occurring and that data/products are available for JIA use.
4. Prioritize protection and restoration of vegetation stands which shield interior vegetation from the impacts of ocean salt spray.
5. Maintain access to the most up-to-date and accurate maps and tools to identify areas to be affected by projected sea-level rise and incorporate this information into all JIA land-use planning products and processes.
Objective 1B – Protect wildlife species that nest, roost, or are full-time inhabitants on beaches Discussion: The Island is an important nesting site for sea turtles and a significant roosting and foraging area for beach-dependent birds such as red knot, wintering piping plover, and nesting Wilson’s plover. Recreational use of the beach, especially in the southern portion of the Island, has the potential to affect the viability and success of nests and disturb these and other species throughout the year. Management Priority: 1. Protect red knot staging areas, wintering piping plover, Wilson’s plover nesting habitat and sea turtle nesting habitat in beach and dune areas across the Island. Strategies:
1. Reduce authorized motor vehicle traffic from beaches south of southern water tower to minimum achievable levels while ensuring that responsibilities for public safety and stewardship of Endangered Species Act listed species are met.
2. Continue to concentrate public beach facilities and services between Oceanview Beach Park and Corsair Beach Park.
4. Continue policy of leaving natural beach wrack/debris in place to help build dune systems.
5. Continue beach elevation profile monitoring through partnership between GSTC and the Glynn County GIS department.
6. Continue active partnerships with Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative, Georgia Shorebird Alliance, and others to ensure that the habitat needs of beach-dependent priority species, including sea turtles, red knots, piping plovers, and Wilson’s plovers are well understood; key trends are monitored; and threats are managed, reduced, or eliminated.
7. Strictly enforce lighting ordinance measures for adjacent lands to prevent light impacts to sea turtles.
8. Implement the EAP review for any proposed new development, redevelopment, or major renovation of public, residential, or commercial projects that are proposed to be built near the beach and could impose negative effects on natural resources.
9. Identify any potential additions to Wildlife and Plant Priority Species lists that utilize the beach and warrant special protection and monitoring.
10. Work with JIA Marketing team and utilize beach ranger staff to continually and adaptively communicate conservation messages about protecting beaches, dunes, and associated wildlife.
3. Design conservatively when considering new or improved beachfront public facilities to sustain the current visitor experience and wildlife habitat value of the beach south of Corsair Beach Park, characterized by low visitor-density gaps between beach access points and minimalist beach convenience services.
UNIT 2. HOLOCENE MARITIME FOREST Represented Communities This unit occurs on the northern and southern ends of the Island and is composed primarily of the Maritime Live Oak Hammock vegetative community. Additional small-scale vegetation communities surrounded by the dry live oak hammock are also included in this unit, including: • Maritime Slash Pine Upland Flatwoods
• Southern Atlantic Coastal Plain Carolina Willow Dune Swale
• Red Maple – Tupelo Maritime Swamp Forest
• Coastal Salt Shrub Thicket
• Blackberry – Greenbriar Successional Thicket
• Sand Cordgrass – Seashore Mallow Herbaceous Vegetation
• Southern Hairgrass – Saltmeadow Cordgrass – Dune Fingergrass Herbaceous Vegetation
• South Atlantic Coastal Pond
• Successional Broom-sedge Vegetation
• Southern Atlantic Coastal Plain Salt and Brackish Tidal Marshes
Ecological and Physical Influences This unit is characterized by linear ridge and swale topography indicative of it’s relatively recent geologic origination from sand dunes formed along accreting shorelines. Although composed of a number of different habitat types, the dominant Dry Live Oak Hammock provides the matrix for the establishment of management requirements for the unit. Ecological, physical, and aesthetic influences for this unit include: • Fire - Whether prescribed or wild, fire would negatively affect canopy composition, age structure, and aesthetic due to fuel loads, • Canopy Regeneration - The (extremely slow) process of regenerating canopy species sustains the forest structure, and • Hydrological Alteration - Wetlands within the Unit have been affected by regional groundwater alterations and/or alterations to surface water flows. Objective 2A – Rare plant community and species conservation Discussion: In the southern component of this Unit, Carolina Willow Dune Swale community with large-flowered hibiscus is a unique wetland community for the Island. Other large-flowered hibiscus locations such as the margins of Cabin pond near the Convention Center are important populations for this species as well. The northern component of this unit hosts a unique shallow brackish wetland, that is dynamic but at times offers high quality habitat for waterfowl and other aquatic birds. Management Priorities:
1. Document existing conditions and specific requirements for Plant Priority Species and sustain or enhance these populations.
2. Manage trail access and roadway improvements around wetlands to limit alterations to the community.
3. Preserve the undisturbed nature of the forests and wetlands in the remote northern component of this unit.
1. Conduct an EAP review for any development, infrastructure retrofits, or trails occurring within 100 feet of the Carolina Willow Dune Swale community.
2. Incorporate the Carolina Willow Dune Swale community into the Island-wide hydrological monitoring program.
3. Conduct surveys of wetland habitat to monitor use by Plant and Wildlife Priority Species. MANAGEMENT 66
Objective 2B – Maintain habitat connections Discussion: This management unit exists in a relatively continuous block of diverse habitats extending north/south between Beachview and Riverview Drives and east/west between the salt marshes and beach. Protection of these continuous habitats will maintain the characteristic aesthetic of the southern end of the Island as well as maintain wildlife movement corridors in the area. Management Priority: 1. Protect the habitats between the two roadways. Strategy:
1. Evaluate any projects proposed to occur between the two roadways with the EAP process and maintain landscape-scale connections (both north/south and east/west) that currently occur.
Objective 2C – Habitat management and enhancement Discussion: Several of the wetland systems occurring in this Unit exhibit signs of hydrological alteration, including transitional vegetation encroachment and limited inundation/saturation. Pine flatwoods systems that would benefit from fire occur as small pockets within an otherwise infrequent to rarely burned matrix of live oak hammocks. Management Priorities:
1. Maintain or enhance the hydrology of historical wetland communities within the unit.
2. Sustain native canopy diversity and age distribution for oak-dominated areas and allow succession to occur in pine flatwoods.
3. Assure that negative effects of development/altered habitat areas within the Uunit do not compromise the quality of native habitats through the spread of invasive species, increased risk of wildfire, influx of untreated stormwater runoff, etc.
4. Incorporate the trail network as part of fire control features.
5. Limit hiking/biking to within identified trails to restrict entry into wetlands and sensitive upland areas.
1. Limit fires within the unit to maintain oak canopy.
2. Implement prescribed burns within pine flatwoods and herbaceous wetlands if effective small-scale units can be established consistent with fire management goals.
3. Develop a GIS database documenting connections and culverts under Riverview Drive that may impair tidal flow into historical salt marshes within the unit.
4. Implement culvert modifications in conjunction with road improvement projects to improve tidal flow and wildlife passage under South Riverview Drive.
5. Provide signs, fences, trail markers, and other structures to limit pedestrian use to established trails.
UNIT 3. COASTAL MARSH Represented Communities This unit occurs in the western half of the Island and is composed primarily of salt marsh systems, including creeks and ecotones, associated with the Southern Atlantic Coastal Plain Salt and Brackish Tidal Marsh vegetation community. Additional small-scale vegetation communities in this management unit include:
• Red-cedar – Live Oak – Cabbage Palmetto Marsh Hammock,
• South Atlantic Coastal Shell Midden Woodland,
• Coastal Salt Shrub Thicket,
• Sand Cordgrass – Seashore Mallow Herbaceous Vegetation, and
• Southern Hairgrass – Saltmeadow Cordgrass – Dune Fingergrass Herbaceous Vegetation.
Ecological and Physical Influences This unit is composed of broad areas of salt marsh flats as well as smaller fingers of salt marsh that occur adjacent to tidal creeks and extend interior into the Island. The shell midden and salt shrub thicket vegetation types occur as islands within the greater salt marsh context and have been included in this unit. Ecological, physical, and aesthetic influences for this unit include:
• Tides - The extent and duration of daily tidal inundation are significant influences on vegetation zonation
• Periodic Storms – Inundation, salt spray, wave energy, and high winds associated with can alter structure and diversity of these systems
• Salinity – Salinity levels driven by differential evaporation rates and/or freshwater inputs influence vegetation structure and diversity
• Inundation Depth – The depths and duration of inundation have significant influence on the community types within the salt marsh
• Flow Constrictions - Physical impediments to water movement provided by structures, roads, fallen trees, or other features can result in altered salinity and inundation levels, thereby affecting vegetation composition
Objective 3A – Maintain/improve salinity levels and water quality for salt marshes Discussion: Development activities in adjacent uplands can result in alterations to surface sheet flow and result in concentrated areas of stormwater discharge that alters the freshwater/brackish water balance. These stormwater discharges may also carry altered nutrient loads, which affect water quality of the discharge and can alter species composition. Management Priorities:
1. Continue to evaluate water quality of current discharges into tidal wetlands/waterways.
2. Minimize or remediate new point-source freshwater discharges directly to tidal wetlands/waterways.
1. Evaluate, document and monitor new and existing freshwater discharge locations for potential effects on salinity levels, water quality and inundation regimes. 2. Integrate GADNR EPD Coastal Stormwater Supplement to the Stormwater Management Manual into Jekyll Island Design Guidelines and/or local ordinance. 3. Retrofit existing stormwater discharges into salt marshes based on data obtained from the monitoring program. 4. Enhance, re-route or remove existing freshwater discharge points to restore historical salinity levels. 5. Promote use of bioswale systems and route existing stormwater discharges to bioswale retention where feasible. MANAGEMENT 68
Objective 3B – Restore historically altered salt marsh areas Discussion: The salt marshes around the Island have been affected by historical alterations including culverts, impoundments, creek armoring and fill deposition. Salt marsh fingers in the interior of the Island maintain tidal connections through culverts under roadways throughout the Island. These culverts and roadways can restrict the free flow of tidal waters and may affect residence time and salinity levels. Impoundments, including the areas near the causeway entrance and adjacent to the trail system in the north end of the Island, were created to provide open water areas from historical salt marsh for wildlife use and hunting purposes. The bike trail on the northern portion of the Island passes through salt marsh habitats and may affect tidal exchange between the bisected portions of the marsh. Historical spoil deposition from dredging and development activities resulted in the deposition of fill on historical salt marsh in the southern portion of the Island. Although the fill areas are now vegetated with rarer coastal shrub thicket communities, the piles may have altered tidal creek configuration in this area, thereby affecting tidal exchange within the marshes. Management Priorities:
1. Restore and enhance tidal flow and appropriate ecological functions to fragments of the former First Creek system, prioritizing restoration of Fortson Pond followed by Cabin Pond.
2. Evaluate feasibility of establishing a salt marsh mitigation bank based around the large tidal lake on Oleander Golf Course, which was once the tidal headwaters of First Creek.
3. Enhance salt marsh habitats through improved tidal flow and hydrologic patterns in historically impounded areas in the central portion of the Island.
4. According to priority and funding opportunities, optimize culvert sizing for compatibility with historical tidal flow patterns; consider converting culverts to bridge spans if possible.
5. Retrofit trails and service roads as needed to improve tidal exchange.
1. Identify and document hydrological regimes, wildlife uses, and potential downstream impacts for historically impounded salt marsh areas in the central portion of the Island and develop restoration/enhancement plans to increase tidal flow and wildlife habitat availability; initiate restoration/enhancement of impounded salt marshes as funding becomes available or through mitigation projects.
2. Evaluate ecosystem function and habitat value or lack thereof in historically ditched saltmarsh.
3. Retrofit undersized culvert locations in association with road improvements, mitigation projects, or as other funding becomes available to provide improved tidal exchange for salt marshes in the Island’s interior. Interior locations include the marshes between Riverview and Beachview Drives in the southern portion of the Island south of the Island entrance and marshes immediately north of the Ben Fortson Parkway/Causeway entrance.
4. Implement culvert replacement to increase tidal connections under Crane Road.
5. Assess the effects of sea-level rise on tidal connections to interior portions of the Island and develop restoration/enhancement procedures for addressing the impacts. Consider the subtle but important distinctions in salinity as marshes transition from freshwater to brackish to salt marsh.
Objective 3C – Maintain coastal shrub thicket and shell midden communities Discussion: The shell midden communities include unique habitats for that are home to several rare plant species. The coastal shrub thicket primarily occurs over historical dredge spoil deposition and is susceptible to exotic plant invasions, particularly by salt cedar and Chinaberry. Regardless of the artificial origins of these habitats, their value for priority species contributes substantially to biodiversity. Both areas are highly productive for marsh rabbits and other small mammals, which in turn support eastern diamondback rattlesnake and bobcat populations. Management Priorities:
1. Manage access to shell midden communities to limit potential impacts to priority species.
2. Control invasive plant species.
3. Evaluate potential positive and negative impacts of prescribed fire application in these communities.
Strategies: 1. Do not create new access or encourage additional outdoor recreation/education use of shell midden communities.
2. Work with Georgia 4-H Camp Jekyll staff to mitigate impacts associated with educational programs utilizing the shell midden on the causeway.
3. Collaborate with CG-CISMA to develop practicable and achievable methods and a timeline for addressing salt cedar invasion.
4. Test and evaluate the benefits of prescribed fire in the coastal salt shrub thicket on the north end of the Island adjacent to the airport.
UNIT 4. PLEISTOCENE MARITIME FOREST Represented Communities This unit occurs in the northern third of the Island and is primarily composed of two vegetation communities: Maritime Slash Pine Upland Flatwoods and Maritime Live Oak Hammock. Additional small-scale vegetation communities within the matrix provided by these forested upland communities include: • Southeastern Florida Maritime Hammock • Outer Coastal Plain Sweetbay Swamp Forest
• Loblolly-bay Forest
• Red Maple – Tupelo Maritime Swamp Forest
• Blackberry – Greenbriar Successional Shrubland Thicket
• Sawgrass Head
• Urban/Developed (water towers) Ecological and Physical Influences This unit is comprised of large blocks of forested systems (both upland and wetland) in the northern area of the Island. Although portions of this unit were used for agriculture from the late 1700s through the mid-1800s, canopy species and structure have re-established and reflect historical conditions (closed canopy, pine with mixed-oak dominance). Large portions of this unit exhibit fire-dependent or fire-resistant plant species that are suggestive of relatively frequent fire in the historical past. Small pockets of urban uses, primarily consisting of water tower and/or well locations, have been included within the unit. Ecological, physical, and aesthetic influences for this unit include: • Characteristic Canopy - The existing canopy provides a characteristic look for the Island • Fire Fuel Loads - Fuel loads within the majority of the unit pose a risk for catastrophic fire that would radically alter the canopy structure and aesthetic contribution of this community • Salt Spray – Salt spray and tidal inundation affects diversity and vegetation form in portions of the unit near coastal creeks and beaches by limiting establishment and survival of salt-sensitive species • Hydrological Alterations - Wetlands within the unit have been negatively affected by regional groundwater alterations and/or alterations to surface water flows
• Invasive Fungal Species - Laurel wilt has significantly altered the structure, and composition of the understory shrub/sub-canopy through loss of red bays
Objective 4A – Sustain large, diverse landscape connections Discussion: This unit predominantly consists of the largest block of forested uplands on the Island, with some saltwater marshes, freshwater wetlands, and infrastructure associated with urban/development uses embedded within. The ecological legacy of historical land uses, including agriculture, forestry and wetland modification, is more significant in this unit than elsewhere on the Island. Protecting the integrity (connectedness) of the Pleistocene Maritime Forest community, as well as most of the natural communities on Jekyll Island, is important for ecological and management reasons. Sustaining landscape connections allows movement of wildlife without risk of mortality from cars and disturbance from humans and supports the flow of genetic information between populations of plants. Protecting large blocks of forest minimizes edge effects, particularly from invasive, exotic plants, and reduces disturbance from noise and lights.
Management Priorities: 1. Prevent invasive plant incursion. 2. Enhance understanding of plant community population dynamics and stressors. 3. Maintain landscape connectivity between this unit and the golf course, western salt marshes, and the northern Holocene maritime forest habitats. 4. Implement a comprehensive fire management program in pine-dominated stands within this unit with an emphasis on safety and operational sustainability.
5. Prevent unauthorized vehicle traffic and create managed opportunities for outdoor recreation/education access to appropriate areas in the interior of this unit.
1. Evaluate any projects proposed in the unit with the EAP process with the priority to maintain landscape-scale connections (both north/south and east/west) that currently occur and that protect the natural communities in the northern end of the Island.
2. Identify actionable information in products of the 2016-2020 UGA study that investigated multiple
stressors in maritime forest communities and implement actions to mitigate stressors threatening this community.
3. Carry out and evaluate a relatively small-scale prescribed fire in the least challenging burn block available in this unit to assess whether the benefits of mid- and under-story plant management outweigh the expense of implementing the burn and the risk of killing trees.
Objective 4B – Wetland enhancement Discussion: Historical wetlands within this Unit exhibit signs of hydrological alteration, including growth of transitional/upland vegetation on the margins of the wetland. The Sawgrass Head exhibits significant blackberry and dog fennel growth interior to the wetland, while roadways in the northern portion of the Unit have altered freshwater exchange from the Outer Coastal Plain Sweetbay Swamp Forest into the salt marsh extension. Many of the canopy trees in the loblolly bay wetland have fallen and/or exhibited subsidence around the bases. Groundwater withdrawals, surface-water alterations from ditches, and culvert sizing under roads may all play a role in the apparent hydrological alterations. Natural cycles of drought and rainfall are also a factor to be considered and accounted for in considering restoration and management options. Management Priority:
1. Evaluate the effects of ditches in and outside of the unit on the hydrology of wetlands.
1. Monitor natural recruitment of desirable wetland canopy vegetation within the loblolly bay community and Outer Coastal Plain Sweetbay Swamp Forest areas; plant replacement canopy trees if monitoring indicates recruitment is not sufficient to re-vegetate the canopy and the natural hydrology can be restored.
2. Assess the long-term need for the portion of “ditch road” that separates the northern end of Indian Mount Golf Course from the adjacent loblolly bay wetland; study potential benefits of enhancing hydrological connections between the two systems while promoting retention of freshwater.
3. Map existing ditches in the unit and adjacent golf course and identify effects on surface water discharge/drainage. In coordination with golf course maintenance needs, identify priorities for ditch modification, or abandonment, to enhance retention and detention of stormwater runoff to support wetland hydrology, pollutant filtration, and groundwater recharge, and to mitigate tidal flooding of freshwater wetlands.
4. Monitor surficial groundwater levels in association with any major freshwater wetland restoration project and, if needed, limit nearby withdrawals from the surficial aquifer to sustain wetland ecosystem functions.
5. Plan for wetland restoration opportunities anticipated to result from golf course land use changes.
Objective 4C – Habitat management Discussion: Large portions of the live oak hammock in this unit exhibit few saplings of the characteristic canopy species in the understory. Coupled with the laurel wilt effects on red bay occurrences, the young tree source for canopy replacement after a stand-altering event is limited. Extensive areas of pine flatwoods occur, many of which exhibit fire-dependent or resilient species. Management Priorities:
1. Address fire management comprehensively through stepwise program development.
2. Begin the effort to sustain or enhance canopy diversity and age distribution of both oak and pine habitats over the long-term.
3. Develop forest health response protocols in the event of canopy loss due to fire, pests, or disease.
Strategies: 1. Address fire management through a comprehensive fire management program that addresses firebreak locations, management unit sizes and control measures, communication protocols for adjacent residents, wildland-urban interface burn issues, use of natural features such as wetlands as control features, and prescribed fire locations.
2. Strategically expand reforestation efforts beyond high-visibility areas to include naturally forested areas with canopy gaps and limited regeneration of representative canopy species (e.g. live oak).
3. Selectively and sensitively remove dead canopy tree biomass, following tree die-offs exceeding approximately one acre, to reduce fuel loads; replant with appropriate native species.
4. For targeted live oak reforestation or larger-scale maritime forest restoration, utilize and refine the custom decision support tool (developed through JIA-funded research carried out by the University of Georgia) to consider the age of juvenile live oak trees to plant, understory vegetation control, and herbivore exclusion..
5. Identify high-priority sites to implement deer exclusion to facilitate plant diversity enhancement and/or desired canopy tree recruitment, particularly in associationwith reforestation/restoration efforts.
6. Create and maintain native grass-dominated communities in order to restore grassland species diversity to the Island and to enhance small mammal productivity in support of predator populations.
UNIT 5. GOLF COURSES Represented Communities This unit occurs in the central third of the Island and is composed primarily of the facilities associated with the golf courses on Jekyll Island and are mapped as golf course land-use type. Naturally-vegetated forested systems occur in small patches throughout the golf courses as do wetlands, ponds, and streams associated with the drainage infrastructure. Some of these features are remnants of historical wetlands and include Plant Priority Species such as loblolly bay, pond pine, and buttonbush. The margins of this management unit include small aggregations of naturally vegetated uplands composed of Maritime Live Oak Hammock and/or Maritime Slash Pine Upland Flatwoods. Ecological and Physical Influences The forested systems interspersed within the maintained fairways, roughs, greens, tees, and stormwater systems of the golf courses provide a mosaic of habitat types and conditions in the central portion of the Island. Although some of these forested areas are “islands” of canopy within the golf course, larger forested blocks occur around the margin of the golf courses, some of which have landscape connections to habitats within other management units. These forested communities provide valuable habitat within and adjacent to the golf courses and should be managed as a natural resource. Many of the forested systems exhibit significant fuel loads, which can pose increased risk for wildfire that would radically change the composition, structure, and aesthetic of these systems. Canals, lakes, and other water alterations within the golf courses have changed hydrological patterns within the central portion of the Island and may be affecting and affected by the hydrological regimes of adjacent wetlands. All courses are currently certified through the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf. Ecological and aesthetic influences for this unit include: • Characteristic Canopy - The existing canopy provides a characteristic look for the golf course and a recognizable aesthetic for the Island • Fire and Fuel Loads - Fuel accumulation within most of the unit can pose a risk for catastrophic fire that could radically alter the canopy structure • Hydrological Alterations - Canals and ponds have reconfigured how water flows through the unit and across the Island and contribute to freshwater run-off into adjacent salt marshes • Water Quality - Maintenance practices and stormwater treatment ponds affect water quality leaving the unit and flowing into adjacent wetlands
Objective 5A – Restore disturbed habitats Discussion: Systems within the unit would benefit from fuel load reductions consistent with the comprehensive fire program. Ditches occur on and adjacent to the golf courses that serve important functions for golf maintenance, but may affect surface hydrology of wetlands in adjacent units. The anticipated opportunity for ecological restoration of substantial acreage currently occupied by golf has potential to earn high-profile commendation from Jekyll Island stakeholders and supporters of ecological restoration. Should this opportunity occur, it can be expected to leverage partnerships and attract renewed interest in diversified outdoor recreation on Jekyll Island.
Golf Courses 794 ac.
1. Identify and pursue opportunities for ecological restoration of disturbed habitats that contribute to long-term ecological health of the Island.
2. Identify hydrological alterations, including groundwater impacts and ditching, and pursue opportunities for wetland restoration and/or enhancement.
3. Manage land currently within Oleander Golf Course with prescribed fire to reduce fuels, increase herbaceous cover, maintain herbaceous wetlands, and enhance ecological productivity.
1. Coordinate fire management within the golf course unit with the comprehensive fire management program for the Island.
2. Identify and pursue opportunities to create wildlife corridors preserving the integrity of modern golf design and maintenance practices.
3. Implement ecological restoration projects through budgeted funding, fund raising, mitigation opportunities, or volunteer projects. Large-scale restoration and conservation land management associated with any future changes in the layout of golf should go through a structured planning and design process.
4. Recreate natural landscape features to accommodate a diverse array of native species that complement the conservation goals of adjacent natural lands, favoring establishment of native-grassland systems where appropriate.
5. Establish mechanisms for sustaining these investments in public greenspace and ecological infrastructure over a multi-decadal timeframe.
6. Achieve consistency with the Georgia Chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association Best Management Practices for Water-use Efficiency in association with any major golf course renovations.
Objective 5B – Manage the golf courses in a resource-compatible way Discussion: The golf courses provide a significant open space within the central portion of the Island. Pesticide and fertilizer use on the courses can have direct or indirect effects on plant and wildlife populations in the natural areas adjacent to the courses if improperly applied. Excessive nutrients can affect water quality of downstream freshwater wetlands and salt marshes. All of the courses have received certification from Audubon International as Cooperative Sanctuaries, which mandates benchmarks for chemical use reduction and safety. Furthermore, JIA’s professional golf course maintenance staff is highly trained and experienced in best management practices to prevent waste and collateral damage from chemical and fertilizer applications. Management Priorities:
1. Maintain a natural resource-compatible integrated pest management and maintenance program for golf course operations.
2. Evaluate and pursue opportunities to improve stormwater quality, reduce discharge quantity to tidal wetlands, and enhance wetland hydroperiod.
3. Identify and pursue opportunities to incorporate natural features within the golf course unit into educational programs and conservation-oriented monitoring and research.
4. Maintain awareness of potential for conservation-oriented activities to affect, positively or negatively, the game and business of golf, including golf course maintenance. Actively communicate with golf course staff accordingly.
1. Continue implementing the Watershed Protection Plan, which monitors freshwater discharge points from the golf course unit and is a mandatory element of compliance with Georgia DNR Environmental Protection Division requirements.
2. Identify and implement improvements to the stormwater system to enhance water quality, timing, and discharge rates into offsite wetlands.
3. Address dual challenge to maximize retention/detention of stormwater runoff and nutrient filtration while providing for appropriate turf management conditions on the courses.
4. Continue advancing irrigation reduction measures and water recapture/re-use approaches.
5. Continue to recertify Cooperative Sanctuary status through Audubon International (https://auduboninternational.org/acsp-for-golf/) for all golf courses.
6. Achieve consistency with the Georgia Chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association Best Management Practices for Water-use Efficiency in association with any major golf course renovations.
Objective 5C – Protect wildlife and enhance habitat Discussion: Wading bird rookeries commonly occur within this unit. The Island’s alligator and freshwater turtle populations are heavily dependent on this unit. Maintenance operations and future modifications to the courses should be designed to minimize potential impacts on rookeries. Restoration enhancements outlined in Objective 5A should also improve habitat values of the lake systems for wildlife by creating habitat types currently limiting or absent from the Island. Management Priorities:
1. Manage human/wildlife interactions within the golf course to minimize the risk of negative interactions with wildlife and maximize positive outdoor recreation experiences.
2. Control non-native plant species that may invade course edges and natural areas between holes, such as camphor tree, Cherokee rose, Chinese Tallow, Chinese privet, chinaberry tree, and lantana.
3. Restore native plant community structure and species composition on golf course out-of-play areas, reducing the frequency of maintenance but preserving the ability to actively manage these areas.
1. Monitor and protect wading bird rookery habitat from alteration and human disturbance that could reduce its potential to support successful nesting.
2. Pursue opportunities for enhancing waterfowl habitat by establishing appropriate densities of native emergent and submerged vegetation within ponds, where compatible with golf play and maintenance.
3. Monitor water quality and wildlife use in artificial ponds and modified wetlands to support future restoration and habitat enhancement efforts.
4. Maintain and/or improve water quality to improve habitat for native aquatic species.
5. Increase awareness of the effects of feeding wildlife, especially alligators, on animal behavior and health, as well as human safety.
6. Evaluate the opportunity for beneficial use of dredged material from Jekyll Creek to modify the salt marsh/open water balance of the large lake on the Oleander Golf Course for either wetland mitigation banking purposes or waterfowl habitat enhancement.
7. Work with golf course maintenance staff to enhance native plant diversity in out of play areas.
8. Continue to implement and expand upon prescribed fire management for natural areas within and adjoining the golf course.
UNIT 6. URBAN/PARK Represented Communities This unit occurs throughout the Island and is composed of the non-golf course portions of the Urban/ Developed communities, including residential lots, educational facilities, parks and open space, the Historic District, commercial land uses, and roads. Small areas of naturally vegetated forested uplands occur within this unit on the margins of some residential and commercial areas, while disturbed or altered undeveloped (or previously developed) lands are also included. Ecological and Physical Influences Although the various development land uses are the dominant component of this unit, relatively small areas of naturally vegetated communities (land that is leased but not built upon), engineered bioswales and dunes, canopy trees and native-plant landscaping, contribute to the ecological function of the Island. Protection and management of these smaller-scale natural features can buffer conservation lands and maintain habitat or structural connectivity between habitat patches. Building practices, landscape practices, and operations can also reach beyond the margins of the development use, supporting or detracting from ecosystem functions in natural areas. Ecological, physical, and aesthetic influences for this unit include: • Vegetation Alterations - These effects may include introduction of exotic species, creation of wind gaps that introduce salt or sand movement inland, habitat fragmentation effects, and hydrological alteration • Water Quality and Flow - Water quality and salinity of wetlands (both freshwater and tidal) can be affected by direct inputs of stormwater discharge, constrictions to water movement such as berms, control structures, or culvert constrictions, and inundation patterns that are different from historical conditions because of timing, temperature, or nutrients • Integration to Overall Island Operations - Management priorities and actions for this Unit require significant coordination with other departments and JIA plans and processes pertaining to on the Island, such as the Master Plan, Environmental Assessment Procedure (EAP), Design Guidelines, and various operational functions Objective 6A – Minimize footprint of development uses on conservation lands Discussion: The ecological impact of development can extend beyond the physical footprint of structures and facilities. Pollution, in the form of chemicals, trash, sediment, noise, or light, can extend into adjacent natural areas affecting biology and ecology. Development expansion and increased visitation can amplify these threats, leading to habitat degradation, loss, or fragmentation, especially when additional roadway and stormwater infrastructure is required. Urban/developed areas often the origin of exotic species invasions and wildfire ignition. Management Priorities: 1. Minimize the introduction of invasive exotic species within developed landscapes through the JIA design review process, Environmental Assessment Procedure (EAP, Chapter 7), and community outreach.
2. Minimize fragmentation of, and deleterious edge effects on, natural habitats by future development and roadways.
3. Investigate wildlife/people interactions to evaluate health and safety hazards, as well as population and health effects impacting wildlife.
4. Promote use of native and locally sourced landscape materials.
5. Support the monitoring and enforcement of all laws and ordinances in place to protect environmental values on Jekyll Island. Support the development and/or revision of ordinances to this effect.
6. Communicate and partner with commercial entities and community groups to promote a common culture of conservation and sustainability and sense of unified stewardship across the Island.
1. Utilize management recommendations for Management Units, Conservation Priority Areas (CPAs) and criteria associated with landscape-scale evaluation in the EAP to provide input to updates to the Jekyll Island Master Plan that identify the parcels most appropriate for development or redevelopment compliance with statutory limitations on subdividing and improving not more than 1,675 acres of the land area of Jekyll Island.
2. Implement buffers for CPAs identified in the EAP when designing and constructing development/redevelopment projects.
3. Negotiate revised or new lease agreements that preserve the ecological value of habitat features on leased parcels to support the Parkwide Management Objectives articulated in this chapter.
4. Negotiate revised and new lease agreements that contribute to the advancement of the institutional sustainability goals outlined in Chapter 6 of this plan as well as sustainability targets that may be established by the JIA in future planning.
5. Implement the EAP review for any proposed new development or redevelopment, renovation or remodeled residential and commercial projects that could negatively impact CPAs.
6. Adopt specific stormwater guidelines to maintain appropriate freshwater/brackish inputs, water quality, and water quantity for wetland systems on, or surrounding the Island.
7. Evaluate practicalities of passing a new ordinance that would require new development, construction, and major renovation to utilize Green and Sustainable Technology and, where appropriate, achieve certification through LEED, Green Globe or other environmental certification programs.
8. Continue implementing public outreach and education to promote awareness of human-caused wildlife threats, such as roadway mortality and feeding, and the individual decisions that can reduce these threats.
9. Update design guidelines to integrate design requirements of the Coastal Stormwater Supplement.
10. Monitor and consistently enforce the beach lighting ordinance.
11. Prevent unauthorized alterations and penalize damaging uses of non-leased lands, such as clearing and walkway construction, especially pertaining to designated CPAs and associated buffers.
Objective 6B – Restore and enhance areas that benefit Island ecology Discussion: This unit includes degraded natural lands and development uses that occur as small “islands” within other management units. Parks and recreation facilities include a variety of lands ranging from intensive active recreation fields to passively used, relatively natural areas. Roadways throughout the Island include culverts and drainage features, or lack thereof, affecting tidal flow and/or freshwater hydrology for wetlands in adjacent units. Management Priorities:
1. Incorporate ecological restoration of disturbed/altered systems within or immediately adjacent to management units 1 through 4 that contribute to long-term ecological health of the Island into JIA strategic and budgetary planning.
2. Encourage recreational and educational uses that meet the needs and interests of diverse user groups.
3. Evaluate the condition of culverts and drainage features and seek opportunities for hydrological enhancement of freshwater and coastal wetlands, prioritizing the most degraded systems, such as Fortson Pond.
4. In landscape applications, encourage the use of native plant species and discourage the use of invasive non-native species.
Strategies: 1. Develop and maintain a restoration database that documents the locations and characteristics of old and new disturbances and completed restoration projects.
2. Promote diversification of active outdoor recreational and nature-oriented educational facilities within existing urban/developed land footprint.
3. Continue to increase use of native species in planting palettes for lands adjacent to management units 1 through 4 as designated during the Design Guidelines review process.
4. Maximize stormwater retention on the Island to sustain wetland ecology and enhance surficial aquifer recharge.
5. Revise ordinances to accommodate well-maintained and proportional native plant landscaping in residential areas.
5.4. MONITORING A successful management plan requires adaptation to changing environmental conditions, new techniques and relevant research. Understanding the aspects of management that are successful requires monitoring and frequent evaluation with comparison to reference sites and desired future conditions. Many of the components of this Plan cite the specific needs for monitoring (e.g., priority species, water quality, exotic species, hydrology). The level of effort assigned to monitoring often depends on the level of funding and staffing and should be balanced to avoid overinvestment in monitoring, which causes “analysis paralysis”. The JIA conservation program should always be poised to act in a precautionary and informed manner in the interest of its mission to protect and enhance biodiversity. Investments in monitoring and research are essential, but care should be taken to prevent these programs from consuming resources to the extent that they could unduly delay active management and restoration to sustain species or enhance habitat. Monitoring programs will need to be strategically instituted and adapted over time. The objectives from Section 5 above were used to create an outline for monitoring that can be expanded to meet specific needs and budget/funding practicalities. Ongoing and planned monitoring activities are listed in Appendix J as related to the Management Strategies presented in this chapter. In general, the strategies for implementing monitoring should include:
• Develop and implement a strategic monitoring program for natural resources of the Island. Include quantitative evaluation of factors such as fuel load, exotic and invasive species occurrences, water quality, wetland hydrology, erosion and/or human disturbance to dunes, vegetation structure and diversity, and priority species population indices
• Use effective monitoring tools ranging from photo-documentation to quantitative vegetation plots to long-term research studies that may result in publication of pee-reviewed articles
• Maintain, organize, and manage all data files to facilitate quality control, timely analysis, and product development to provide information to decision-makers as well as institutional and stakeholders from the general public
• Assess the results, costs, and benefits of monitoring on a regularly scheduled basis and utilize results and products to support JIA stewardship, and to inform ongoing implementation of and updates to the objectives, priorities, and strategies in the Conservation Plan
Objective: Minimize Habitat Fragmentation/Loss Monitoring Framework:
• Identify and document impacts of barriers to movement on wildlife, such as roadways, through documentation of locations of roadkill and reduced wildlife movement permeability, types of species affected, and times of year in which the movement disruption/kills occur.
Objective: Implement a Comprehensive Fire Management Program Monitoring Framework:
• Establish a GIS database to document prescribed and unintentional fires to capture the date, location of area burned, and acreage burned.
• Establish a fuel load monitoring program to determine the need for fuel reduction measures, which would include monitoring duff thickness, fuel loads by fuel type, and fuel structure (e.g., needle drape).
Objective: Manage Exotic, Invasive, and Native Nuisance Species Monitoring Framework:
• Monitor the locations, extent occupied, and outcomes of control efforts, for exotic, invasive plant and animal species.
• Through collaboration with CG-CISMA, monitor the spread of exotic species found in the region but not yet on the Island and prepare contingency plans to proactively address if found.
• Monitor behaviors and impacts of native wildlife species that potentially conflict with human activities and priority species conservation.
Objective: Assess regional and local groundwater dynamics to better understand factors effecting ecological systems on Jekyll Island as well as contributions of Jekyll Island withdrawals to regional groundwater dynamics. Monitoring Framework:
• Convene a meeting with regional partners to assess current groundwater levels on and around the Island, determine their effect on wetland hydrology, and create a plan to minimize the impacts.
• Incorporate the Carolina willow dune swale community into the Island-wide hydrological monitoring program and monitoring inundation levels, seasonality of inundation, and duration of inundation.
• Monitor natural recruitment of desirable wetland canopy vegetation within the loblolly bay community and Outer Coastal Plain sweetbay swamp forest areas.
Objective: Protect Wildlife Priority Species Monitoring Framework: • Monitor, in collaboration with resource partners, the status of priority species and the conditions of the habitats on which they depend.
• Monitor nesting use and success and protect nesting areas for priority species.
Objective: Protect Wildlife Species That Nest or Roost on Beaches Monitoring Framework: • Monitor beach-dependent priority species in coordination with key external partners. Objective: Manage and Maintain Beaches to Address Erosion, Accretion, Storm Events, and Future Sea-level Rise Monitoring Framework:
• Ensure that regular monitoring of beach/dune profiles and shoreline positions is occurring and that data/products are available for JIA use.
• Identify the areas most likely to be affected by projected sea-level rise and monitor the vegetation composition and structure, hydrology, and the occurrence of exotic species.
Objective: Maintain/Improve Connectivity and Water Quality for Salt Marshes Monitoring Framework:
• Identify all locations where stormwater infrastructure facilitates flow between freshwater wetlands, brackish wetlands, and saltmarshes.
• Evaluate how existing stormwater infrastructure contributes to or detracts from wetland ecology throughout the salinity gradient.
• Continue to evaluate water quality of current discharges into tidal wetlands/waterways.
Objective: Manage the Golf Courses in a Resource-compatible Way Monitoring Framework:
• Evaluate the effects of ditches in and outside of the unit on the hydrology of wetlands.
• Map and monitor existing ditches in the unit and adjacent golf course and identify effects on surface water discharge/drainage.
• Monitor wildlife use and wildlife issues reported within the golf course unit.
• Monitor natural resources addressed in Audubon International certifications for periodic recertification requirements.
• Develop and monitor metrics of success for restoration efforts.
Objective: Minimize Footprint of Development Uses on Conservation Lands Monitoring Framework: • Conduct baseline assessments before and after development implementation significant changes to development uses to assess effects on vegetation composition and structure, exotic species occurrences, and wildlife use. • Monitor water quality, infiltration rates, and/or other surface water characteristics of impervious surfaces and associated drainage infrastructure. • Monitor wildlife use and compatibility issues within developed lands. • Monitor the enforcement of all laws and ordinances in place to protect environmental values on Jekyll Island. Support the development and/or revision of ordinances or other legal mechanisms, including those that: - Prevent unauthorized landscape modification of non-leased lands, especially within Conservation Priority Areas.
- Revise ordinance language to balance accommodation for native plant friendly landscaping with modern standards for residential neighborhood aesthetics and fire safety.
- Prevent the unauthorized collection, harm, and/or removal of native wildlife and plants from the Park.
- Prohibit the use of rodenticides that are potentially lethal to rodent predators including multiple Wildlife Priority Species.
Reporting Periodic reports that document the results of monitoring efforts conducted on the Island are helpful both to provide a snapshot of the results of ongoing management and provide long-term trend information that can guide adaptive management efforts. Reporting types may vary depending upon the type of monitoring activity that occurs, although some level of periodic reporting should occur for most monitoring types. Potential reporting types and frequencies that may be useful for the Park include:
• Monthly updates provided to the JIA Board to document ongoing work conducted by staff, partners, and volunteers
• Annual or more frequent data updates placed on websites for public and researcher review
• Published papers or presentations at professional societies of ongoing work conducted on the Island
• Public education and stakeholder involvement through field programs, local, regional, or national presentations, and citizen science
• Periodic reports in community forums
Other reporting approaches may also be suitable for work conducted on the Island and the type and frequency of reporting will need to be considered based on staffing, volunteer levels, and funding requirements.
INSTITUTIONAL SUSTAINABILITY 6.0. INTRODUCTION Increasingly, organizations everywhere from big corporations to local governments are aware of the externalized environmental footprint of their operations and supply chains. This awareness is often reflected in well-budgeted corporate sustainability programs; brand-profiles that highlight green initiatives; and high-profile commitments to meeting targeted, time-specific reductions in metrics of sustainability, such as carbon emissions or waste production. Often, these efforts are responsive to stakeholder demand and may be voiced by consumers or voters. The first iteration of this Conservation Plan, as implemented from 2012 through 2020, was primarily focused on protecting or enhancing native biodiversity through professional conservation management of land, wildlife, and people, while supporting outdoor recreation and education. None of the original 2011 Conservation Plan chapters, nor any other Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) official plans and studies, have explicitly addressed the need to manage and reduce the broader, regional to global, environmental implications of the whole range of human activities within Jekyll Island State Park. Today, the JIA aims to be a local, regional, and national leader in financially self-sustaining conservation and public service. In preparing for new challenges in the arena of sustainability, Jekyll Island can draw from the experiences and strategies of major corporations, local governments, and college campuses that have set goals, overcome obstacles to progress, and made substantial and widely applauded gains. Over the past decade, commercial infrastructure on Jekyll Island has been revitalized, and in the process, the JIA has reimagined its own brand and institutional identity. Concurrently, the JIA has moved decisively to position itself as a proactive steward of Jekyll Island’s past, present, and future. This has been reflected in the financial commitment to the Authority’s stewardship functions, including historic resources preservation, conservation, and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, all of which contribute to educating the public about the resources they strive to protect. This rebirth has been a driver of greater consciousness of Jekyll’s impacts, both positive and negative, on surrounding communities. In general use, applications of the word “sustainability” can be highly variable. Financial sustainability, for example, is vital to Jekyll Island. The phrase “institutional sustainability” is used in this report as an adaptation of the more commonly used “corporate sustainability”, befitting of the JIA as a business-oriented government entity and conveying an aspiration to eliminate externalized costs to the environment and society. Externalized costs are byproducts of doing business that are not paid for with dollars but rather, impose a cost borne by the community at large in terms of environmental or social impacts. Ultimately, while the JIA must operate on a balanced budget that sustains operational expenses and emergency reserves with revenue generated from the Island, the Authority exists to serve the public interest and strives for continuous improvement in doing so. The aspiration to eliminate externalized costs is consistent with the JIA Mission and Vision and will lead the JIA to set challenging goals that enhance both operational efficiency and the quality of the Jekyll Island experience. For the purposes of this plan, “institutional sustainability” entails the following areas of focus, which have conservation implications affecting Glynn County, the State of Georgia, the Southeast region of the United States, and beyond, for which lasting solutions will require decades of sustained, adaptive focus and collaboration. Energy responsibility Material waste reduction
• Reduce carbon emissions
• Reduce waste to landfill
• Reduce aquifer withdrawal
• Enhance energy efficiency
• Optimize recycling and reuse
• Enhance water-use efficiency
• Expand renewable energy
• Promote waste consciousness
• Capture, retain, and use rainwater and greywater
Successfully advancing each of these areas of focus will call for dedicated funding, staff time, and strategic planning well beyond the scope of this chapter. This chapter is intended to provide a springboard and initial framework from which to proceed.
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6.1. ENERGY RESPONSIBILITY In Chapter 5 of this Plan, Park-wide Management Objective-A is “Adapt to anticipated impacts of climate change and sea-level rise while minimizing carbon emissions associated with Jekyll Island State Park.” The institutional sustainability focus on energy responsibility is tightly linked to this objective. Without a focus and sustained progress on energy responsibility, carbon emissions arising from human activity associated with Jekyll Island will continue to contribute to externalized impacts that compromise the primary focus of the Conservation Plan – preserving the natural heritage of Jekyll Island for the people of Georgia. Conversely, by transitioning to renewable energy and continuing to invest in energy efficiency, financial advantages can be realized through direct payments and savings due to reductions in energy use, as well as through incentives. Significant work has already occurred that contributes to energy responsibility. During the revitalization of the commercial infrastructure of the Island, new facilities were built with energy and water efficient appliances. These efforts are best exemplified by the LEED-Silver certified Convention Center that opened in 2012, built on the site of the old Jekyll Island Convention Center, the remains of which were incorporated into the crushed concrete base for the new building. The full-service Westin hotel that supports the Convention Center also achieved LEED Silver certification, and the Jekyll Ocean Club hotel has achieved the base-level certification through the Georgia Peach Program. In 2019, a one-megawatt solar farm was built on the Island, repurposing part of a decommissioned, capped landfill. The renewable energy produced by this facility is connected to the Georgia Power grid, meeting an electricity demand conservatively equivalent to more than 100 Jekyll Island homes. The solar farm is owned by a private company that leases the land from the JIA, creating a new revenue stream from disused, developed lands that would otherwise not be financially productive. Over the 30-year lifetime of this lease, the Authority will receive more than $732,000 in lease payments. Since 2017, in partnership with Tesla, a total of 38 electric car charging stations have been installed on the Island, 24 of which are available for general public use. This availability of charging stations is unmatched by other beach destinations in the region, enhancing the attraction of Jekyll Island with the growing market segment of e-car users, and contributing to reduced emissions. To advance energy responsibility, the Authority will accomplish the following, culminating with setting targets for reducing emissions and achieving carbon neutrality.
• Establish an institutional structure to guide development and creation of a Comprehensive Carbon-neutrality Plan (CCP) and outline a framework for identifying carbon sources and sinks attributed to the operation of Jekyll Island State Park.
• Complete a greenhouse gas emissions inventory, accounting for attributable sources as well as sinks, and designate a baseline level from which to measure reductions. • Finalize the CCP with a goal of achieving carbon neutrality and designating milestone years for specific reductions below baseline.
6.2. MATERIAL WASTE REDUCTION Like climate change, plastic pollution is a global problem that undermines conservation goals. Whether through direct litter, incidental loss, or leakage from the waste stream, plastic accumulates in waterways and is transferred to the ocean, breaking down over time into microplastics – particles smaller than 5mm. In the coastal and marine environment, plastic pollution is commonly referred to as marine debris. Marine debris harms wildlife, including high profile species such as sea turtles, marine mammals, and birds, through entanglement in discarded consumer waste or derelict fishing gear, and through ingestion of items from plastic bags to microplastics. Jekyll Island has long prided itself on its clean beaches and park spaces, making it a natural endeavor for the Jekyll community to contribute more to solving plastic pollution and marine debris problems than to creating them. Substantial efforts already undertaken in this focus area include the Georgia Sea Turtle Center’s (GSTC) Marine Debris Initiative which has utilized a smartphone app developed at the University of Georgia to collect data about marine debris on and around Jekyll Island. These results indicate that cigarette butts are the most commonly littered item on Jekyll Island. JIA has also invested in a complete overhaul of the service-ware and to-go containers offered at McCormick’s restaurant, operated at the golf clubhouse, to reduce the waste footprint of this facility. Special events likewise present substantial opportunity for improvement to reduce waste, and specific events have been critically evaluated on their performance in this area. At least two other waste streams that are prevalent on Jekyll Island also present compelling opportunities to advance the material waste reduction focus area. These are food waste and construction and demolition (C&D) debris. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 20% of the volume of municipal landfill waste comes from food. However, the logistical challenges of getting surplus food to people who need it are substantial. Industrial-scale composting also has potential to reduce food waste on Jekyll Island and support landscaping operations, but not without the heavy lift and associated sacrifices associated with substantial capital investment and ongoing expenses. In the United States, C&D debris tonnage is more than twice the amount generated by municipal solid waste (USEPA). With the increasing use of plastic materials in construction of interior finishes, small, hard-to capture plastic debris can escape and become plastic pollution. In 2015, the JIA adopted an ordinance to control styrofoam pollution arising from the use of exterior insulation and finishing systems in construction and renovation. Viable recycling and reuse opportunities are available for some materials, from carpeting to concrete. Efforts during the recent period of economic revitalization on the Island to process concrete, asphalt, and dirt from demolition sites has been both financially productive and supportive of green building certifications. Materials that in the past would be taken to a landfill as waste have been recovered or recycled. Examples include: over the course of back-to-back hurricanes, turning 78,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris into wood chips; processing three acres of concrete construction debris into $204,000 worth of base stone for use on building pads, roads, and trails; and screening and sorting fine material from construction debris to recover 600 cubic yards of soil. Community buy-in is essential to any waste reduction effort. The Jekyll Island community generally demonstrates an interest in and openness to waste reduction efforts. Recently, the community group Jekyll Goes Green emerged with promising potential to spearhead promotion of broader acceptance, engagement, and innovation within the business community. In the hotel industry, corporate commitments to phase out single-use plastics from companies like Marriot and Hilton are shifting expectations for hotels under their flags. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 disrupted the societal momentum away from single- use plastic, and the aftermath remains to be determined. To advance material waste reduction, the Authority will accomplish the following, culminating with setting targets for reducing waste:
• Complete an initial baseline assessment of material waste sources and management on Jekyll Island
• Create a JIA cross-departmental working group to develop priority goals informed by the initial baseline assessment, evaluate ongoing data needs, identify areas of greatest opportunity for waste reduction and corresponding benefits, and make recommendations for strategic investments to build JIA capacity for waste reduction and management
• Develop a plan of action for material waste reduction, with a goal of establishing milestone years for specified waste reduction below baseline
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6.3. WATER CONSERVATION Water conservation is currently the most advanced of the three focus areas, with well-established baselines and a regulatory framework in place through State-permitted aquifer withdrawals and rigorous monitoring for the public water supply. The 2018 Jekyll Island Carrying Capacity and Infrastructure Assessment concluded that the Island’s public water system, originating from five Floridan aquifer wells, is operating at about 57% of its permitted withdrawal capacity. The data indicate a sharp drop in water use, beginning in 2006 and sustained through 2017. This shift to substantially lower use corresponds with multiple factors, and it’s unclear which is most influential. First, around this time, in response to guidance from the State during an extreme drought period, the JIA began allowing leaseholders to install irrigation wells to tap water from the Miocene, or Brunswick, Aquifer for commercial properties, and from the surficial aquifer for residential properties. Prior to this, all lease-holder irrigation was from the treated public water supply. This transition of irrigation demand away from the public water supply to free-access irrigation wells was driven by a statewide political interest in reducing withdrawals statewide from the sensitive, and heavily used, Floridan aquifer. Additionally, in the 2006 to 2009 timeframe, many of the older hotels on Jekyll Island closed. During the subsequent economic revitalization of the Island, hotels, convention, and shopping facilities were rebuilt or underwent major renovations with updated appliances and fixtures meeting modern water efficiency standards. While it’s unclear whether there was a dominant factor, between the transition to shallower wells for irrigation and widespread upgrades to water efficient appliances, the demand on the Island’s public water supply was substantially and lastingly reduced, as was revenue associated with that demand. Two reasons are commonly recognized in support of conserving Floridan aquifer water. One arises at a State level due to the implications of largescale withdrawals for agriculture in Southwest Georgia and the interplay between these withdrawals, freshwater discharge, and flow levels in the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, Flint (ACF) watershed in Southwest Georgia and portions of Florida and Alabama. The other is related to saltwater upwelling/intrusion into the Floridan due to industrial withdrawals, largely for paper mills, in coastal Georgia. Both issues are physically, ecologically, and politically complex. The JIA contributes to a collaborative study and advisory group focused in this issue in the Brunswick area. Another conservation issue for the Floridan is not commonly recognized, especially in Coastal Georgia. The Floridan extends under large portions of Central and North Florida as well as South Georgia. In South Georgia’s coastal area, the Floridan is deep underground below layers of confining rock, but in large portions of Central and North Florida, the aquifer is exposed at the surface and sustains globally unique and ecologically rich freshwater springs that are astounding natural wonders. Many of these springs are in decline due to a complex array of stresses. One of the most significant of these is reduced spring flow, which is contributed-to by Floridan withdrawals in Coastal Georgia, including those on Jekyll Island. Opportunities to advance the water conservation focus area should concentrate on further reducing Floridan withdrawals over time by decommissioning the use of any Floridan aquifer wells that are not integral to the permitted public water supply, such as Floridan wells for golf course irrigation. Investing in the infrastructure to support reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation will be essential to realizing this goal. Even so, care must be taken to avoid compromising the sustainability of shallower aquifers by diverting demand off of the Floridan aquifer. The shallower Miocene/Brunswick and surficial aquifers, their resilience to use, and connectivity between these and the Floridan, is insufficiently understood in coastal Georgia. The condition of the surficial aquifer has the most direct implications for the ecology of Jekyll Island. Investments in further study are called for to evaluate the degree to which the surficial is affected by the condition of deeper aquifers and its resilience to use during periods of draught. Modern approaches to landscape design that replace turf grass and exotic plants with drought-resistant native plants can substantially reduce irrigation demand, and in some instances can reduce bottom line maintenance costs. However, naturally landscaped areas in public spaces and on leased lands should be maintained at a level of care that sustains and balances ecological and aesthetic value. To advance water conservation, the Authority will accomplish the following:
• Complete a comprehensive groundwater withdrawal inventory defining the amount of aquifer water use attributable to JIA, residential and commercial entities, from what source aquifers, and for what purposes.
• Based on the results of the Inventory, establish monitoring goals and evaluate need for limitations on aquifer withdrawals that are not metered and billed with the public water supply, for each category of user. Promote awareness of existing outdoor water use regulations and revise code of ordinances to allow for well-maintained native plant landscaping.
• Document reduction in irrigation water use due to golf acreage reduction anticipated in associated with implementation of a Golf Course Master Plan.
• Pursue funding to design and construct new infrastructure that will allow for re-use of treated wastewater for golf course irrigation, reducing need for irrigation from deep aquifer wells.
ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT 7.0. ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT PROCEDURE AND CONSERVATION PRIORITY AREAS Initially implemented in 2012, the Environmental Assessment Procedure (EAP), has been applied to 19 projects, including hotel new construction and major renovation, residential planned-development construction, marina dredging, solar-energy development, park and trail projects, a major education facility rebuild, and JIA programs and services. The influence and benefits of these efforts are tangibly evident in the resulting projects. Trees have been saved, habitat has been restored, impermeable surfaces have given way to permeable ones, green stormwater infrastructure has been created, a hotel footprint was shifted further from the beach, dumpsters have been replaced with compactors to protect wildlife and a 25-foot freshwater-wetland buffer precedent has been set. A legally protected wildlife corridor was established within the leased boundaries of a residential planned development project. Bobcat kits and an adult eastern diamondback rattlesnake, both priority species, have been documented using the corridor habitat, which would have otherwise likely have been developed. The EAP has been positioned as integral to moderating development pressures and preventing the over development of Jekyll Island. While the EAP is referenced throughout this plan, the language in this chapter shall serve as the definitive guidance on its implementation.
All proposed projects that have significant potential to degrade natural systems within Jekyll Island State Park must undergo an EAP review to assess the potential environmental impacts. Each proposed project must demonstrate that it does not compromise the ability to conserve and restore Jekyll Island’s natural communities and species diversity, or compromise JIA interests in providing public outdoor recreation and education or achieving JIA institutional sustainability goals.
The EAP functions in coordination with the Jekyll Island Master Plan and the Jekyll Island Design Guidelines. In addition to projects, The EAP framework is adaptable to apply to any program or policy that could otherwise compromise natural resources, while the design guidelines review process is intended only to address development projects that involve the construction or renovation of buildings and associated site elements. The EAP is conducted first, and the final EAP report is transmitted to the Design Review Group. The EAP and the design guidelines review processes are outlined below. Together, the EAP, the design guidelines, and the Master Plan will function in concert as guardrails protecting against overdevelopment and inappropriate development. The unifying goal of these plans and processes will be to ensure that the combination of natural and constructed elements endowing Jekyll Island with its unique and increasingly rare character as a coastal habitat, community, and travel destination are upheld and enhanced without diminishment. Environmental Assessment Procedure 1. Primary Guiding Document: Jekyll Island Conservation Plan
2. Core Review Team:
i. the JIA Director of Conservation or designated second (EAP Lead)
ii. one additional representative from either the JIA Conservation Department or the JIA Georgia Sea Turtle Center
iii. the JIA Director of Landscaping and Planning
iv. one additional participant representing JIA administration or operations
v. a natural resources professional not affiliated with the JIA
vi. a Jekyll Island resident
vii. at least two additional individuals not affiliated with the JIA to be appointed by the JIA Executive Directorr
* Individual EAP participants are intended to vary from one project review to the next. In consultation with the Executive Director, the EAP lead may make substitutions to the core review team and invite additional staff or partners to participate. The EAP lead will strive to ensure that sufficient topical expertise and institutional knowledge are brought to bear, and to maintain a balance of JIA to non-JIA participants. Under no circumstances will individuals financially or otherwise associated with a development proposal serve as EAP participants, nor will individuals associated with businesses competing within the same market as those interests involved in the development proposal.
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3. Participant Role: Participants will be expected to familiarize themselves with any materials provided in advance, attend and participate in the meeting(s), and review and provide comment on the draft EAP report(s). 4. Meeting: The EAP Review Team will meet at least once. More meetings may be called if justified by the complexity of the project, if the project changes substantially in concept or scope following the first meeting, or if initial participation is deemed insufficient. 5. Evaluation: The initial step of the EAP will determine whether there are any foreseeable environmental impacts that would result in a recommendation for major conceptual revisions or a determination that a proposed project is inherently incompatible with the Jekyll Island Conservation Plan. Such a recommendation must be justified based firmly upon specified, irreconcilable inconsistencies with fundamental goals and objectives of JIA environmental stewardship specifically identified in JIA Board approved planning documents, including the Conservation Plan. Any legal constraints on the JIA’s ability to reject or approve a project must be considered. For projects that have no such “fatal flaw,” the evaluation will identify specific required conditions of a favorable EAP determination and recommendations for specific design and operational elements that could enhance the project further. 6. Reporting: The EAP Review Team will report its findings to the JIA Executive Director and, when also engaged, the Design Review Group. The EAP report will identify required conditions of a favorable determination and specify any modifications to a proposed project that may be necessary to, at minimum, avoid conflict with the goals of the Conservation Plan. Optimally, the outcome will be a project that contributes to the Plan’s goals and JIA’s Mission as it relates to stewardship of natural and cultural resources. Reports may be amended or reissued to address project changes and subsequent EAP deliberations. 7. Publishing: A notice will be posted to the JIA website when an EAP has been initiated to include a brief summary of the project under review. The final EAP report, along with any attachments, will be posted on the JIA website. Relationship of the EAP to the Jekyll Island Design Guidelines The Jekyll Island Design Guidelines, last updated in 2014, lays out a stepwise design process for consideration of development projects that require a JIA Board vote to advance. The Design Review Group, composed of JIA staff as assigned by the Executive Director, formulates staff recommendations to inform votes on project advancement by the JIA Board of Directors. The objective of the Design review process is to uphold standards of project design and construction on all leased lands within the Park and ensure alignment with the Jekyll Island Authority Mission. Some projects, such as residential remodels, typically call for engagement of the Design review group independently and are not typically subject to Board review. Other projects, such as recreational trail or wildlife viewing facilities, call for engagement of the EAP independently but do not engage the design review process. Projects that engage both processes, call for their integration in concert. This is typical of new residential development, commercial development, or major renovation of commercial properties. In these cases, the design review is positioned as the governing process and as a vehicle to communicate the conditions of EAP Review Team support to developers. The EAP report influences staff recommendations to the JIA Board in advance of required JIA Board votes associated with development projects, thereby giving additional weight to the EAP’s conditions of support. In the case of proposals for commercial development or new residential development, the design review process is the means by which JIA requires submission of materials, such as design schematics, that are made available to inform the EAP review. As stated in the strategies listed under Section 5.2, Park-wide Objective A, of this Plan, upon revision of the design guidelines, language should be added to explicitly allow for the requirement, prior to concept approval, that a sea-level rise and coastal flooding resiliency analysis be provided and vetted through the Environmental Assessment Procedure. Such analyses should be required in cases where the average elevation of the land within the project area would be subject to flooding within sea-level rise planning parameters specified in the Jekyll Island Master Plan. An analysis derived from a prior project may be acceptable if the circumstances and project specifications are sufficiently similar. The JIA may draw upon resources offered by institutional partners, such as Georgia DNR, when conducting such analyses for its own projects. Prior to the revision of the design guidelines, the Design Review Group is nonetheless empowered to require submission of resiliency analyses on a case-by-case basis.
ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT PROCEDURE (EAP) STEP-BY-STEP SUMMARY 1. Typically, the JIA Director of Conservation (DOC) will identify that a proposed project calls for EAP review and communicates this to the JIA Executive Director. (Anyone may petition either the JIA Executive Director or DOC for an EAP review of a proposed project). 2. The JIA Executive Director approves the DOC to proceed with carrying out an EAP, and the JIA website is updated to specify that an EAP review is in progress along with a summary of the subject matter under review. 3. The DOC, in consultation with the Executive Director, identifies the specific individuals who will be assigned (internal) or invited (external) to serve as EAP participants. 4. An EAP meeting is scheduled and advance materials pertaining to the project under consideration are shared with EAP participants.
• For projects necessitating creation of a new lease agreement or requiring re-negotiation of lease terms on an existing lease, EAP review will commence prior to the concept approval phase of the design review process. • For projects that are conceptually compatible within the terms of an existing lease agreement as stated, EAP Review will commence at the design development phase of the design review process. • For projects that do not involve lease agreements, and for those projects for which the scope falls outside the design review process, the EAP review will commence at the concept phase of project development.
5. At least one meeting of EAP participants is held • The need for multiple meetings is determined by the DOC in consultation with the Executive Director based on project complexity or changes in concept/scope following the first meeting. 6. EAP participants collaboratively determine if the group will deem the proposed project to be compatible with the Jekyll Island Conservation Plan, conditionally compatible, or inherently incompatible.
• EAP participants do not vote on a determination of compatibility. If the group fails to reach a consensus determination, this will be recorded in the resulting EAP report and divergent positions will be described. • Determinations of compatibility must consider the relationship of the project to Conservation Priority Areas (CPAs) along with any landscape-scale impacts and local, site-scale impacts, as defined in this chapter.
7. The JIA Conservation staff, led by the DOC, prepares a draft EAP report summarizing the deliberations of EAP participants and the conclusions of their meeting(s), including any required conditions of a favorable EAP determination along with recommendations to further improve environmental outcomes. 8. The draft EAP report is distributed to EAP participants for review and comment. 9. The DOC reconciles input received from EAP participants on the content of the draft report. 10. The draft EAP report is posted to the JIA website and public comment on the draft is accepted via online submission for 10 business days. 11. The DOC reconciles input received from the public on the content of the draft report. 12. The DOC transmits the updated draft EAP report to the Executive Director, along with any input from EAP participants or the public in response to the draft. 13. The Executive Director and DOC discuss the report and the Executive Director may propose modifications pertaining to how the content of the report is communicated and presented or how stakeholder input was addressed.
• If the Executive Director objects to the determination of compatibility, or required conditions of a favorable assessment, he/she must call for additional EAP deliberations to attempt to reconcile these matters.
14. With the approval of the Executive Director, the EAP report is finalized, and posted to the JIA website. 15. The guidance provided in the EAP report is communicated, via the design review process or official memorandum, to those parties responsible for implementing it. 16. JIA staff monitor approved projects and can intervene through appropriate channels, up to and including legal remedy, should the required conditions of favorable EAP review fail to be properly implemented.
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7.1. CONSERVATION PRIORITY AREAS Conservation Priority Areas (CPAs) are designated with the intent to conserve Jekyll Island State Park’s most valuable natural assets — those most essential to advancing the Conservation Program Mission and achieving JIA’s overarching Mission to “maintain the delicate balance between nature and humankind”. CPAs include the Park’s most ecologically rich and productive natural areas, open spaces that are essential to preserving the unique character and experience of Jekyll Island, and features, such as dune topography and wetlands that buffer the Island from erosion and flooding. Meeting the local needs of the Plant and Wildlife Priority Species identified in this Plan requires the sustained ecological integrity of these areas. Conservation Priority Areas (CPAs) include:
• Priority Vegetative Communities (defined below), as amended in the 2020 Plan update
• Any naturally vegetated land lying between the beach and leased parcels, roads, public structures so-designated public beach parks, not otherwise included as CPAs
• All saltwater, brackish, and freshwater wetland systems
• Wading bird rookeries, and high-value wading-bird rookery habitat
• Federally designated Critical Habitat for wintering piping plovers
Buffers required by existing state and federal regulations are considered minimal; CPAs warrant buffers larger than these minimum requirements. Buffer requirements will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the Director of Conservation in consultation with the EAP Review Team and the Design Review Group. Buffers are to be determined based upon:
• The vulnerability of the CPA
• The potential for introduction of invasive exotic species
• The potential for hydrological impact
• The potential for introduction of sediments/pollution
• The potential for disturbance/impacts to wildlife
• The potential for sea-level rise to expand the CPA
• The nature of the project under review
Sanctioned activities in CPAs and associated buffers must not significantly impose upon the viewshed of a nature-dominated landscape, degrade the ecological integrity of the natural system or its habitat value for priority species, or reduce the erosion/flood protection afforded by natural features. EAP-vetted outdoor recreation and environmental education along with, minimal constructed elements in support of these activities, can be compatible with CPAs, so long as design elements needed to effectively minimize disturbance are implemented. Likewise, management activities associated with natural/cultural resources, public safety, or infrastructure, are not intended to be prohibited in CPAs. However, such activities will be subject to more careful supervision in the CPA context and may call for EAP review if significant negative impacts are possible. Temporary disturbances that may result from maintenance activities interacting with CPAs will require the approval of the Director of Conservation, the Executive Director, or their designee.
FIGURE 7. CONSERVATION PRIORITY AREAS
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The magnifications below highlight important examples of additions to the Conservation Priority Areas (CPAs) beyond what was included in the initial, 2011 Conservation Plan.
• The Wading Bird Rookery CPA designation is increased from 6 acres in the 2011 Plan to nearly 23 acres to reflect shifts in roosting and nesting behaviors. The additions include a 50’ minimum buffer around each area of habitat. • The largest single expansion of the CPAs on the island adds 733 acres of large, interconnected blocks of Maritime Oak Forest, including globally rare vegetative communities that are essential to this Plan’s Wildlife Priority Species. • Verified by extensive ground-truthing, 111 acres are added to the Freshwater Wetland CPA designation. This reflects a more comprehensive knowledge of the freshwater ecosystems of the island.
• The Beach and Interdunal Swale CPA designation has been expanded landward to include an additional 572 acres, reflecting the critical importance of naturally vegetated systems in shoreline protection. • The expansion includes those lands seaward of Beachview Drive, the “Beach Prairie”, backing the active dune system, which provide a rare experience of unobstructed ocean views along the beachfront. This area also offers exciting opportunities for ecological restoration of native maritime grasslands.
• Additional Coastal Marsh Hammock areas have been added in recognition of the habitat value these areas offer for priority species, including both natural and novel ecosystems.
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Priority Vegetative Communities, a subset of the Conservation Priority Areas, were chosen for various reasons. Prior to the initial, 2011 adoption of this plan, Staff from Georgia DNR conducted detailed vegetative mapping on the Georgia coast and on Jekyll Island in particular. These detailed observations provided an understanding of the rarity of certain natural communities on Georgia barrier islands. Several of these communities were chosen as priority because they are globally rare, others were chosen because they are uncommon or rare on Georgia barrier islands. As referenced in Figure 3 (Page 23), the Vegetative Communities Map, these include:
17) Southern Hairgrass - Saltmeadow Cordgrass - Dune Fingergrass Herbaceous Vegetation
10) Southern Atlantic Coastal Plain Carolina Willow Dune Swale
2) Southeastern Florida Maritime Hammock
4) South Atlantic Coastal Shell Midden Woodland
7) Outer Coastal Plain Sweetbay Swamp Forest
8) Loblolly-bay Forest Other natural communities were selected as priority because they are barrier island freshwater wetlands. These communities are somewhat more common on barrier islands but represent important habitats to barrier island wildlife that need a freshwater source. These include:
9) Red Maple - Tupelo Maritime Swamp Forest
20) Sawgrass Head
18) South Atlantic Coastal Pond
The following communities are typically associated with the beach and dune system. Where these communities are contiguous with the beach, they make up the Beach Community Association and, as early successional, open-canopy habitats, support some of the island’s most productive and diverse ecological assemblages. Due to the productivity of these habitats for small mammals, their predators, including bobcats, snakes, and raptors, are particularly reliant on them.
11) Atlantic Coast Interdune Swale
12) Live Oak - Yaupon - (Wax-myrtle) Shrubland Alliance
15) Sea-oats Temperate Herbaceous Alliance
22) South Atlantic Upper Ocean Beach The 2020 update to the Conservation Plan adds Maritime Live Oak Hammock (1) to the Priority Communities due to the high Global Rarity Rank (G2) of this vegetative community and the threats it faces from development across the coastal Southeast United States (https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.687074/Quercus_virginiana_-_(Pinus_elliottii_Sabal_palmetto)_-_ Persea_borbonia_-_Callicarpa_americana_Forest). Retaining and protecting large contiguous expanses of Maritime Live Oak Hammock, such as those that exist on Jekyll Island, is important for conservation of the associated biodiversity. This addition does not include Maritime Live Oak Hammock that falls on land classified in the context of Georgia law limiting the extent of development on Jekyll Island as Developed at the time of adoption of this Plan update.
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In a few cases, CPA designations overlap with leased property, which is categorically classified as Developed land. For example, beach, dune, and interdunal swale are established on the southeast corner of the Days Inn leased property. Forested lands between the active sand dune system and leased parcels associated with the Hampton Inn property and the Ocean Oaks subdivision have been added to the CPAs. In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration leases a marsh hammock on the causeway harboring South Atlantic Coastal Shell Midden Woodland. The terms of lease agreements are therefore pertinent to these Conservation Priority Areas. The JIA will seek to negotiate additional protections in these circumstances, through amended, revised, or restated lease agreements, or through land transfers. Pending implementation of a 2020 Golf Master Plan, this Conservation Plan may be amended prior to its next update to designate additional CPAs within areas currently occupied by golf course. 7.2. LANDSCAPE-SCALE IMPACTS The landscape-scale evaluation is intended to assess potential impacts from projects that could have relatively large-scale or farreaching effects on natural resources of the Island. This Plan creates a strategy for conservation that prioritizes protection of large blocks of the remaining natural areas. Proposed projects that would impact substantial areas of undisturbed natural lands, further fragment management units, significantly alter wetland hydrology, or compromise the ability to adapt to climate change and sealevel rise would be considered landscape-scale impacts (i.e., a proposal for a new roadway that would result in unrecoverable loss or degradation of a Conservation Priority Area, as identified in this chapter.) Some potential projects could have less dramatic impacts at the outset, but over time they could cause an impact to a broad array of natural resources, and therefore be inconsistent with conservation objectives on the Island. At the landscape scale, proposed activities on Jekyll Island must have no impacts to:
• Historical fire patterns – A proposed development project that would preclude the use of fire as a management tool across the pine-dominated communities in the north end of the Island would be considered an incompatible, landscapelevel impact. Similarly, much of the Island is vulnerable to stand-altering fires, and the Comprehensive Fire Management Program provides an approach to limit exposure to this threat. Any proposed project that would interfere with Island-wide objectives for managing fire would be considered an incompatible landscape-scale impact.
• Genetic flow of native species across the Island – Proposed development projects that would further separate the Island into genetically isolated fragments would be considered an incompatible landscape-level impact.
• Wildlife movement patterns – Fragmentation impacts could cause changes in wildlife movement that could be deemed inappropriate. Any project that would significantly reduce or eliminate the potential for wildlife movement from one area of the Island to another would be incompatible with the objectives of this Plan.
• Beach dynamics – Many of the Wildlife Priority Species listed in Chapter 4 depend on the Beach, Dune, and Interdunal Swale communities. Disturbances from proposed projects that could disturb the nesting, wintering, or migratory stopover of shorebirds, or nesting sea turtles could be deemed a landscape-scale impact that would result in a rejection of the proposed project as incompatible with the objectives of the Conservation Plan. Further, development projects must not jeopardize the long-term integrity of natural dune systems as the first order of beach protection from storm events and erosion across the Island. Projects that fail to provide appropriate and reasonable accommodations, to prevent retreating shorelines from leading to the loss of natural dune systems, would be incompatible with the objectives of the Conservation Plan.
• River, marsh, or marine hydrology or flow patterns – Landscape-scale impacts to hydrology would be those that would have far-reaching or systemic impacts to the function of existing wetland systems, or systems that have a predictable/ achievable prospect of becoming wetlands in the foreseeable future either through restoration or due to sea-level rise. Direct or indirect impacts will be considered. These projects would not be acceptable or compatible with the objectives of the Conservation Plan.
• Freshwater (surface and groundwater) hydrology – Freshwater wetland systems are a relatively rare feature in the barrier island landscape with an outsized role in ecosystem function and diversity. As such, any unmitigated loss or degradation of predominately natural freshwater wetlands will be considered a landscape-scale impact that is incompatible with the objectives of the Conservation Plan.
• Population viability of native plants and animals – Viable populations of plants and animals remain so through the ability to withstand short-term and long-term perturbations such as weather extremes, disease, or predation pressure, roadway mortality, and habitat transformations associated with climate change. Projects which would be expected to jeopardize the ability of otherwise stable populations of plants and animals to withstand environmental stressors would be considered an incompatible, landscape-level impact.
• Adaptability to sea-level rise – The ability of vegetation communities to move and reestablish themselves across the landscape over decadal timeframes in response to sea-level rise will contribute to the resiliency of ecosystems and their biodiversity. Development projects which would significantly reduce the capacity of uplands to accommodate colonization by plant communities associated with brackish wetlands and saltmarsh, within designated sea-level rise planning parameters, would be incompatible with the objectives of this Plan.
7.3. LOCAL/SITE-SCALE IMPACTS The review of local/site-scale parameters is intended to assess potential environmental impacts that may have influence on one or more ecological communities in the vicinity of the proposed project. Potential design changes or alternative locations for proposed projects that could cause significant local/site-scale natural resource impacts must be considered, and, if necessary, the project may be deemed inherently incompatible. An EAP review will specify project modifications required for a favorable EAP determination of compatibility. Recommendations that go beyond the essential requirements will also be provided. An example of a local-scale impact would be one in which changes in wetland hydrology could, over time, impact wetland function in an adjacent marsh. Site scale impacts could result in loss of native vegetation, or the growth of exotic species that could reduce biological diversity near the proposed project. The potential must be considered for incremental impacts or secondary impacts that could ensue from proposed activities. Requirements and recommendations provided in the EAP report may go beyond design elements to address considerations including construction management and aspects of operations pertaining to conservation, such as waste and lighting. At the local/site scale, proposed activities on Jekyll Island must avoid, or minimize if unavoidable, impacts including, but not limited to:
• Natural resource management activities – The objectives outlined in Chapter 5 provide the basis for maintaining or restoring natural systems on the Island, and their success should not be compromised by future development proposals. The approach to management is built on a concept of managing relatively large tracts of natural lands. A proposal for a new development parcel that would segment, or fragment natural communities would be considered incompatible.
• Preservation of historic and archaeological resources – Proposed activities should avoid disturbance of known historic or archaeological resources and conduct a phase 1 archaeological survey for sites that have not been previously assessed unless deemed by JIA Historic Resources Division staff to be unlikely to contain significant resources. If phase 1 surveys discover significant resources, conditions of project advancement will be coordinated directly through the Historic Resources staff in coordination with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the JIA Design Review Group. The EAP Review Team will defer to the senior staff person overseeing the JIA Historic Resources Division to determine when resources are sufficiently valuable to warrant protection, requirements for interagency coordination, and applicability of any state or federal laws in this arena.
• Natural hydrology and existing drainage basins – Alterations to historical drainage patterns have been conducted on the Island in the past, and opportunities for restoration of these impacts are suggested in several chapters of this Plan. Additional impacts to surface or groundwater flows, or proposed projects that would preclude the implementation of restoration activities to improve the function of freshwater or saltwater wetlands would be considered unacceptable local impacts.
• Water quality, with particular consideration of nutrients in receiving waters – Proposed development projects must provide a landscape management plan that will prevent high-nutrient discharge and a plan for treatment of other stormwater constituents that could degrade water quality, such as heavy metals, sediments, oil and grease, and pesticides and herbicides.
New development, construction, and renovation will be strongly encouraged to utilize Green and Sustainable Technology and, where appropriate, achieve certification through LEED, Green Globe, Georgia Peach or other environmental certification programs. Proposed development projects that do not include environmental certification must provide an explanation to the Design Review Group as to why certification is not practicable.
• The structure, composition and abundance of native plant and animal communities – Proposed development projects must minimize impacts to natural communities. These impacts could be direct, such as new development on a tract of existing natural lands. Or they could be indirect, such as when the development on one parcel causes a shift in vegetation structure or composition on an adjacent parcel as a result of the spread of exotic plants, changes in exposure to sunlight, or alterations in wind, salt or fire patterns. Though it is assumed that new development will cause the loss of some natural vegetation, these losses should occur along the edges of tracts of natural communities (and management units), not fragment existing systems, and minimize the footprint of disturbance, both direct and indirect.
• Wetland function and extent – Saltwater, brackish, and freshwater wetlands are identified as CPAs, and impacts upon them should be avoided.
• Local movements of wildlife – Proposed development projects that are likely to fragment otherwise intact natural systems would be expected to impact local movements of wildlife. Such projects should be avoided, or their affects minimized by specific design elements.
• Protected species habitat – Select habitats used by priority species are mapped as CPAs in Figure 7 (Page 90). These habitats should not be impacted by proposed development projects in any way that would compromise their capacity to support priority species. ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT 94
7.4. REGULATORY CONTEXT Several other Jekyll Island Ordinances are considered in the EAP review. Likewise, the State of Georgia’s Coastal Marshlands Protection Act and Shore Protection Act provide protection of tidal marshes and sand dunes, beaches, sandbars and shoals that are particularly important natural resources on the Island. Because of the presence of several federally listed species of wildlife (e.g., loggerhead sea turtle, green sea turtle, piping plover, wood stork), the Endangered Species Act is also germane to this review, as is Section 404 of the Clean Water Act because of the extent of federally-jurisdictional wetlands. The federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act discourages development by restricting federal expenditures and assistance, such as flood insurance, within designated areas. These acts and ordinances have their own specific requirements that must be adhered to, and they may also inform the EAP review. Each act or ordinance may provide specific measures to avoid and minimize environmental impacts. The EAP review will assure that necessary permits or approvals required under existing regulations and ordinances have been obtained, including: 1. Jekyll Island Ordinances including but not limited to: • Jekyll Island Land Development and Use Regulations • Beach Lighting Ordinance 2. Tree Protection Ordinance
3. Coastal Marshlands Protection Act
4. Shore Protection Act
5. GADNR EPD Coastal Stormwater Supplement to the Stormwater Management Manual
6. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act
8. Coastal Barrier Resources Act
7. Endangered Species Act
Jekyll Island Ordinances https://www.jekyllisland.com/jekyll-island-authority/ordinances/ Coastal Marshlands Protection Act http://rules.sos.state.ga.us/gac/391-2-3?urlRedirected=yes&data=admin&lookingfor=391-2-3) Shore Protection Act https://law.justia.com/codes/georgia/2015/title-12/chapter-5/article-4/part-2/ Endangered Species Act http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/esact.html Section 404 of the Clean Water Act https://www.epa.gov/cwa-404/overview-clean-water-act-section-404) Coastal Barrier Resources Act https://www.fws.gov/CBRA/
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EDUCATION & RECREATION 8.0. NATURE-BASED EDUCATION & OUTDOOR RECREATION Two important and intrinsically linked components of the Conservation Program Mission are nature-based education and outdoor recreation. Investment in these components is vital to the public’s understanding and appreciation of Jekyll Island now and in the future. Those who experience nature-based education and outdoor recreation in Jekyll Island State Park carry knowledge and memories with them wherever they go in the world and in life, compounding and spreading awareness of the Jekyll Island story as they travel and interact with others. Many who experience Jekyll Island in their youth will return and contribute their talents and skills to the ongoing stewardship of the Park. Nature-based education and outdoor recreation can be either self-directed or organized around groups and can be offered free to the public or in the form of paid programming. Jekyll Island accommodates private-sector outdoor recreation and eco-tourism businesses and has been the beneficiary of public investment in one of Georgia’s flagship youth environmental education facilities, Camp Jekyll, which is operated by Georgia 4-H. Given these dynamics, a key strategic role for the Jekyll Island Authority to play regarding nature-based education and outdoor recreation is to pursue and coordinate a diversified portfolio of offerings. From a business standpoint, it is well understood that the Island, as a tourism and group business destination, should offer a wide range of hotel, retail, meeting space, and food-service options and price points. Likewise, nature-based education and outdoor recreation assets and programs should be diversified to appeal to a wide range of audiences, interests, and abilities. Diversity begets stability – a principle that, like Jekyll Island, intersects ecology, economy, and society.
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8.1. NATURE-BASED EDUCATION Jekyll Island has a long history of providing an outdoor classroom for environmental education. Since 1983, the University of Georgia Extension and Georgia 4-H have been connecting children to Georgia’s coastal environment. In 2016, the site of the original Jekyll Island 4-H center underwent a $17 million State-funded rebuild to create a state-of-the-art youth facility, Camp Jekyll, that serves over 13,000 youth annually from across the state. Georgia 4-H also operates Tidelands Nature Center, which teaches visitors about coastal, estuarine, and marine fish, wildlife, and ecosystems. Tidelands offers kayak tours of the tidal saltmarsh and estuarine environment to individuals and small groups. The JIA’s Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC) provides learners of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to develop an awareness, knowledge, and commitment to practice environmental stewardship, conservation of ecosystems, and sustainable practices using sea turtles as a flagship species. The GSTC participates in volunteer engagement, community outreach, professional training workshops, and K-12 programming. Annually, reservation-based K-12 programming serves roughly 3,600 youth while reservation-based group tours serve about 2,700 participants in addition to 110,000 general admissions visitors. Ticketed educational programs for adults and families are offered through behind-the-scenes tours, evening and sunrise nesting beach walks, and immersive programs that engage visitors in sea turtle research and monitoring. The GSTC contributes to collegiate and graduate-level education through veterinary externships and collaborations with academic researchers. Likewise, the JIA Conservation Department also contributes to collegiate and graduate-level education through internships and collaborations with academic researchers. The Conservation Department currently offers two ticketed educational programs to the public, Ranger Walks and Gatorology. Ranger Walks involve a short, guided hike highlighting maritime forest and saltmarsh ecology and featuring views of an active bald eagle nest. Gatorology informs visitors about the ecology and behavior of American alligators and how to share their habitat safely. Each program has been reaching approximately 300 people per year. Youth, community, and professional groups often request customized field programs or presentations that are accommodated whenever possible to share the unique story of conservation on Jekyll Island specifically and a conservation ethos more broadly. The JIA makes its GSTC and Conservation Department staff available to deliver educational presentations to community and environmental groups, college classes, and professional meetings.
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In 2019, Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum was fully renovated and completely reimagined through the support of donors to the Jekyll Island Foundation. The all new exhibits highlight Jekyll Island’s natural history, in addition to its human history. Currently, the Mosaic’s ticketed programming is oriented more towards interpreting the human history of the Park. The GSTC has coordinated a series of free lectures hosted at the Mosaic centered around ecological studies and natural sciences. In 2020, the Conservation Department’s “Ranger Walks” program will embark from the Mosaic facilities with an eye towards future opportunities made available by the anticipated repurposing and restoration of the neighboring golf course holes to natural green space following the Golf Course Master Plan. Strategies:
• Continue coordinating touch points across the educational spectrum from early childhood to adult education.
• Pursue partnerships that increase and enhance opportunities for lower-income and minority individuals to be aware of and included in nature-based education in Jekyll Island State Park.
• Increase and enhance outdoor and nature-based learning spaces and facilities to provide safe programmatic access for individuals of all abilities. Apply the EAP to review and refine these projects, minimizing any potential for environmental harm.
• Educate and inform Jekyll Island residents, visitors, and staff about the harms and hazards of feeding wildlife.
• Pursue green infrastructure, nature-based engineering, and sustainable practices as an opportunity to lead by example while making space for professional education and increased public appreciation of these technologies and approaches.
• Continue collaborating with academic institutions to support research that informs conservation management on Jekyll Island.
• Continue partnering with AmeriCorps to provide national service opportunities that benefit the community and offer growth potential for a diverse assemblage of early career professionals.
• Increase and enhance nature-based education programs delivered through Mosaic, The Museum of Jekyll Island.
• Develop and deliver annual trainings and evaluations founded in current and sound educational practice, theory, and research for interpreters and educators to ensure quality educational experiences and cohesive island-wide messaging.
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8.2. OUTDOOR RECREATION Current outdoor recreational pursuits within Jekyll Island State Park are generally well managed, but the options are somewhat limited. Traditional outdoor pursuits that have long been part of the Jekyll Island experience include beach activities, golf, tennis, cycling, running/walking, and limited horseback riding. Additionally, the nearshore and estuarine waterways surrounding Jekyll Island support fishing, kayaking, standup paddleboarding, kiteboarding, and boating. Birding, wildlife watching, sightseeing, and photography are popular across the Park and surrounding waters. Two strategic opportunities stand out for proactive change in JIA’s approach to the outdoor recreation arena. These include:
1) Carefully planned enhancements to improve access to the interior of the island,
2) Anticipating and planning for generational change in outdoor recreation activities of future users/stakeholders
The interior of Jekyll Island, particularly its northern half, is largely unknown territory for most visitors to the Island. The area contains approximately 800 contiguous acres of intact maritime forest. This forest is regionally, nationally and globally significant due to the increasing rarity and ecological value of maritime oak-hammock communities. More than 400 acres are composed of Maritime Live Oak Hammock and Southeastern Florida Maritime Hammock, both vegetative communities that have been assigned a G2 GlobalRarity Ranking by NatureServe, indicating “imperiled” status. This unique natural asset is currently interlaced with approximately eight miles of dirt service roads that occupy a minimal footprint and serve a few critical components of Island infrastructure. The dirt roads are not currently maintained for public use, but with careful design, management, and monitoring, vetted through EAP review, they could accommodate a unique visitor experience through this unique habitat. The JIA has demonstrated its ability to conscientiously improve access for outdoor recreation and education with small projects such as the improvements to the Horton Pond area in 2015, the Camp Jekyll wetland overlook in 2016, and the Horton Pond to Horton House connector trail in 2018. By demonstrating care for these areas and designing more appropriate facilities around visitation needs and environmental considerations, enhanced access can be provided while also reducing impacts. This is particularly true in areas that are already impacted by visitor use pressure without the benefit of planning, design, and management.
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The outdoor recreation experiences available on Jekyll Island today are to some degree a legacy of public interests and demands of days past from user demographics that have evolved and will continue to evolve. Understanding that, the JIA should look ahead and endeavor to forecast and prepare accordingly. What sorts of outdoor recreation activities, not currently in the mix on Jekyll, will demographics associated with Generation-X be interested in from a barrier island travel destination when they get to retirement age? As changes are made that affect the land-use footprint on the Island, such as the current Golf Master Plan project, opportunities should be identified to diversify both passive and active outdoor recreation offerings while protecting Jekyll Island’s unique character as a limited-development public land holding. Strategies:
• Work with the JIA Marketing Department to conduct a survey designed to gather information about generational change with respect to outdoor recreation expectations and interests.
• Continue to plan for and invest in improving Park-wide points of interest, or “nodes”, to expand outdoor recreation alternatives that relieve visitation pressure on beaches and bike paths. Apply the EAP to review and refine these projects, minimizing any potential for environmental harm.
• Provide for welcoming and safe programmatic access for individuals of all abilities and backgrounds.
• When developing new project concepts, prioritize:
- Connectivity improvements that support the ability to explore the Island by foot or bicycle with less need for car travel
- Opportunities for ecological restoration/management and wildlife habitat enhancement in conjunction with improved outdoor recreation infrastructure
- Opportunities for JIA-ticketed eco-tourism / “edutainment” programming
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HUMAN RESOURCES , FUNDING & PARTNERS 9.0. HUMAN RESOURCES The objectives of the Conservation Plan are ambitious and will continue to require sustained effort with dedicated staff. The addition of institutional sustainability to the mission in the 2020 Plan Update will likewise call for investments of time and money. The JIA Conservation Department, established in 2012 with the creation of the Director of Conservation position reporting to the Executive Director, will continue to be accountable for leading the overall implementation of this plan. However, its successful implementation will not be possible without strong support from Authority leadership and across the JIA organization and its affiliates including: veterinary expertise provided by the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC); logistical support from the Operations Department; communications support from the Marketing team; cultural and historical information provided by the Historic Resources staff; and funding support for special projects from the Jekyll Island Foundation. The Director of Conservation’s continued active engagement with the JIA’s executive leadership and with the JIA Design Review Group will be essential to ensure that conservation of natural resources is considered in all significant administrative actions, operational decisions, and projects. Jekyll Island Authority’s Conservation Department The Director of Conservation serves as the voice for the conservation mission in JIA senior- leadership and executive team decision making. With guidance from the JIA Executive Director, the Director of Conservation is the spokesperson for conservation issues in communications with the JIA Board, other natural resource agencies and organizations, and the general public. The Director leads the Environmental Assessment Procedure (EAP) review team and prepares EAP reports. He or she oversees all other personnel within the Department and is accountable for the quality, productivity, and growth of the program. The Conservation Land Manager is primarily responsible for systems-level monitoring and management of Jekyll Island’s natural areas. This position also serves as watershed manager for the Island, including monitoring water quality, pond/lake management, wetland restoration and enhancement, monitoring the population trends of wetland and water-dependent species, and invasive plant control efforts. The Wildlife Biologist is primarily responsible for monitoring terrestrial wildlife population trends, mitigating human-wildlife conflict, terrestrial habitat restoration and enhancement, managing the Wildlife Response Hotline, managing external research interests, and promoting academic engagement. The Wildlife Biologist and the Conservation Land Manager work together to advance implementation of the Comprehensive Fire Management Program. The Park Ranger Program, led by the Lead Park Ranger and supported by part-time Park Rangers (currently three), is the day-to -day public face of the Jekyll Island Conservation program, serving as a visible ambassador of JIA stewardship on beaches and park spaces around the Island to communicate information, rules, and regulations that support conservation goals. The Lead Park Ranger also coordinates development and implementation of public programs, currently including Ranger Walks and Gatorology, which provide entertaining outdoor education opportunities promoting awareness and responsible enjoyment of nature. The JIA AmeriCorps program is grant-funded and coordinated by the GSTC, which created the program for Jekyll Island and oversees its implementation. Currently the Conservation Department hosts three AmeriCorps Member positions at any given time of the year with one position serving for a year and two positions rotating every six months. The six-month positions focus on wildlife monitoring in the spring and summer and invasive plant control in the fall and winter.
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Two other departments of JIA are primarily focused on the stewardship functions of conservation, preservation, and education. These are the GSTC and the Historic Resources Department, which houses Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum. Within the JIA administrative staff, the Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Director of Marketing and Communications, Director of Human Resources, and General Counsel, are key figures along with the JIA Executive Director, in assisting and empowering the Director of Conservation to advance this Plan. The Jekyll Island Foundation (JIF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization affiliated with the JIA and dedicated to supporting conservation, preservation, and education on Jekyll Island. The JIF has its own governing Board. The JIA also has close working relationships guided by contracts and agreements with the operators of the Convention Center and Camp Jekyll. The Convention Center is operated by a commercial venue management and services company. Camp Jekyll is operated by Georgia 4-H, the youth development program for University of Georgia Extension. Contracts will continue to be needed to meet the objectives of this Plan when funds are available and the technical or time demands of a project are not optimal for accomplishment with staff only. Future directions called for in this plan update, particularly the addition of Institutional Sustainability to the Plan Mission, as outlined in Chapter 6, will require funding. The Georgia Sea Grant State Fellowship program will be considered as a potential avenue to support program development by providing early career professionals from Georgia graduate degree programs to serve as Fellows. Transitioning from Fellowship driven progress to a dedicated sustainability staff position, will be an important step as soon as funds can be identified. The initial phase of Conservation Plan implementation and program growth on Jekyll Island, 2012 – 2020, required building a program, with the bulk of growth allocated towards staffing and equipping the program. Maintaining a strong staff, supporting their professional growth, and ensuring they are well equipped with the necessary tools to do high quality conservation work safely, will continue to be important. As the Conservation Department takes on more project management and maintenance responsibilities associated with restoration opportunities outlined in this Plan and the Comprehensive Fire Management Program, attention will be given to additional staffing needs.
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9.1. FUNDING The JIA embraces the idea that the successful conservation of natural resources on the Island is fundamental to promoting, marketing, and showcasing the Island to bring in more people and more revenue for Park operations. One of the primary objectives of this Conservation Plan is to identify the actions needed to sustain or improve the natural resources that draw guests to the Island while balancing the needs of humans and protecting the environment. Over the fiscal period from 2013 – 2019, the JIA experienced a 58% growth of operating funds from $19 million to $30 million.. Over the same period, the JIA Conservation Department budget was increased 339%, from $110,000 to $483,000. This targeted investment in conservation was accomplished strategically with a sustained focus on programmatic growth through allocation from the Island’s parking fee – the entry toll to access the Island. Since 2014, a 28.6% annual increase in visitation to the Island has directly supported the growth of the Conservation Program. Allocating a significant proportion of gate revenues to advance goals outlined in the original iteration of this Plan has been a sustained priority of JIA leadership. The Conservation Department budget has been positioned to fulfill a core responsibility of the Authority along the lines of public safety, maintenance or administration – a systemic need, inherent to the operation and stewardship of Jekyll Island State Park. Nonetheless, all parts of the Authority are encouraged to generate revenue when strategic opportunities to do so are identified. The Conservation Department has been successful in generating revenue or leveraging JIA funding by: acquiring Federal and State grant and bond funding; attracting private donations in partnership with the Jekyll Island Foundation; leveraging the resources of other organizations in collaborative partnerships; creating a 30-year lease agreement for the solar farm; developing two types of ticketed Ranger programs for guests; and contributing substantially to the management of film/TV location scouting, review, and selection, which often leads to site use fees paid to the JIA. While the core JIA funding of the Conservation Department has become elemental to the institution, supplemental grant funding and partnerships will continue to be important to accomplish discretionary projects. The JIA strategically plans for future capital investments but deciding when to move forward on any particular project is subject to competing demands from across the Authority’s diverse facilities. A conservation project, such as an ecological restoration effort, may be a desirable goal that justifies a line item on a capital planning list. However, the urgency of other projects that have direct and immediate maintenance, safety, or business-enterprise implications will often be prioritized for limited capital funds. Due to this logical dynamic, external resources help balance the scales, facilitating the advancement of conservation projects. Most grant programs come with match requirements and partnerships are reciprocal. Provided the required JIA commitment is achievable, and the funding is significant, externally supported conservation efforts, especially those that have already been identified in capital planning, will have an easier path to approval and will therefore happen more frequently.
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9.2. PARTNERSHIPS An extensive array of existing relationships contributes to natural resource protection within the Park. Leveraging this naturally evolving list will add to the effectiveness of the Plan. Organizations listed here include: partners that have overlapping jurisdictional responsibilities with the JIA, partners that actively allocate resources to projects that directly support the objectives of this Plan, partners that organize steering committees or advisory groups on which JIA conservation staff serve, partners that have recently been involved in a formal agreement with the JIA pertaining to conservation work, and institutions that host professional colleagues who have recently engaged with the JIA in specific collaborative projects pertaining to the objectives of this Plan. Below is a list of current partners and prospective partnerships: Jekyll Island-based • Georgia 4-H at Camp Jekyll and Tidelands Nature Center • Jekyll Island Banding Station (JIBS) • Jekyll Island Foundation Local and Regional • Butterflies of the Atlantic Flyway Alliance • Coastal Georgia Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area • Coastal Regional Commission • Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative • Georgia Shorebird Alliance • Glynn County State and Federal • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission • Georgia Department of Natural Resources • Georgia Department of Transportation • Georgia Forestry Commission • Georgia Public Service Commission • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration • University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant • US Army Corps of Engineers • US Fish and Wildlife Service • US Geologic Survey Non-Governmental Organizations • Audubon International • Georgia Audubon, including Coastal Chapter • Georgia Conservancy • Keep Golden Isles Beautiful • Loggerhead Marinelife Center • Manomet, Inc. • The Nature Conservancy in Georgia • The Rattlesnake Conservancy
Academic Institutions • College of Coastal Georgia • Duke University • Florida Atlantic University • Georgia Southern • Loma Linda University • Penn State Beaver • Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study • University of California, Davis • University of Exeter • University of Florida, including: - Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research – Cooperative Marine Turtle Tagging Program • University of Georgia, including: - Integrative Conservation Ph.D. Program (ICON) - Skidaway Institute of Oceanography - New Materials Institute • University of North Florida Private Sector • Cherry Street Energy • Filtrexx • Georgia Power Company • Little Saint Simons Island Professional Development Programs • Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders • Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership Prospective partnerships to create or renew • Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Georgia • Coastal Wildscapes • Georgia Climate Project • Georgia Environmental Finance Authority • Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway • The Coca-Cola Foundation • University of Central Florida • US Green Building Council
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9.3. CONTRIBUTING STAKEHOLDER ORGANIZATIONS Coastal Georgia benefits from the efforts a strong contingent of advocacy groups that work tirelessly to engage and inform the public on conservation and sustainability issues. The goals of these organizations intersect with the interests with the JIA in their active commitment to the preservation and protection of Jekyll Island’s unique character and environment. • Altamaha Riverkeeper • Center for a Sustainable Coast
• Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island
• One Hundred Miles • Glynn Environmental Coalition • GreenLaw • Jekyll Goes Green • Satilla Riverkeeper
• Southern Environmental Law Center
• Surfrider Foundation, Georgia Chapter
9.4. TECHNICAL AND STAKEHOLDER ADVISEMENT The JIA Conservation Department values and relies upon external professional knowledge and perspectives as an indispensable supplement its internal expertise. The outcomes envisioned by this plan will be better achieved and more deftly realized with the support and advisement of a diverse array of leaders and professionals. While some organizations are well suited to benefit from a standing advisory body, the JIA is in a different and fortunate position. Due to Jekyll Island’s high profile, ease of access, and attractive Convention Center, most conservation and sustainability leaders across Georgia and beyond are quite familiar with Jekyll Island. This creates a large pool of prospective advisors, that is primed to understand the issues the island is facing and are pre-oriented to the local context of conservation decisions. Standing, broadly tasked advisory groups are necessarily limited by the expertise of their selected composition, however astute, and can often face challenges associated with burnout and clarity of purpose. The JIAs strategic approach to soliciting technical and stakeholder council is better served through the liberal utilization of topical, ad hoc advisory groups custom tailored to maximize value in support of this Plan. This practice is favored in consideration of the abundance of high-quality participants available and the wide-ranging nature of issues and projects associated with conservation at Jekyll Island State Park.
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