LITTLE BIT OF BARRIER ISLAND HABITAT REMAINS INTACT
by Whit Gibbons
April 13, 2008
on the bottle in my room said the drinking water "comes directly
from our deep water wells and is as clean . . .[or] cleaner than bottled
water." Guests were encouraged to take a bottle to "help you
continue your conservation practices at home." The note and bottle
were from the "LSSI Family and Staff."
the abbreviation for Little St. Simons Island, one of the Golden Isles
of the Georgia coast. The islands in an idyllic setting rise above the
ocean and the miles of swaying salt marsh grasses immortalized by Sidney
Lanier's poem "The Marshes of Glynn." But nowadays, among the
islands amid the marshes of Glynn County, only privately owned Little
St. Simons looks anything like what Sidney Lanier wrote about in 1878.
The others are heavily developed commercially. Only LSSI has a conservation
outlook that extends to the entire island.
acres of LSSI salt marsh, sand dunes, and maritime forests have five guest
cottages built almost a century ago, but no tawdry hotels of concrete,
steel, and glass. No asphalt, golf courses, or malls. In fact, the effort
to keep LSSI as natural as possible extends to an island policy that no
more than 30 guests are ever allowed on the island at one time.
us from the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Lab spent a
couple of days on LSSI last week to conduct animal surveys. Island naturalists
are trained to give bird-watching and other nature tours for guests. Scott
Coleman, ecological manager, invited us to visit and provide a general
accounting of what reptiles and amphibians were on the island. Among our
greatest treats was seeing a type of reptile none of us had ever before
surveys turned up the expected snakes--eastern diamondback rattlers and
black racers--and several kinds of lizards, including green anoles and
skinks. We found alligators in virtually every freshwater pond on the
island, living side by side with enormous slider turtles. In fact, the
largest slider turtles in North America have come from sea island freshwater
ponds where large alligators live.
we waded into wetlands in an extensive forest of ancient oak trees and
magnolias. Here we listened for, and heard, the frog species we expected
to find on a barrier island. Nearly all coastal islands have toads, leopard
frogs, and treefrogs, whereas few have bullfrogs or spring peepers. We
also saw several alligators, which we were able to walk up to in shallow
water without their being startled, presumably because they rarely see
humans and did not feel threatened.
dramatic herpetological find was in a coastal dune grass habitat where
we caught a truly rare species--the island glass lizard, a magnificent
creature with a pale yellow body and an eye-catching black stripe down
each side. Glass lizards are legless with a long tail, and they look superficially
like a snake. This one's body measured seven inches, but its tail was
almost two feet long! The tails of island glass lizards seldom break the
way those of the more common glass lizards do. We were able to handle
and photograph this particular individual without its even trying to escape.
John Jensen of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources who had joined
us for the survey noted that the specimen was the first island glass lizard
found in Georgia in more than a decade and the largest one he had ever
seen. I felt good when we returned this extraordinary looking lizard to
its home and let it crawl away.
two lines of Sidney Lanier's famous poem pertain to the natural mysteries
of the region: "And I would I could know what swimmeth below when
the tide comes in / On the length and the breadth of the marvellous marshes
more interested in what crawleth on land above the tide and alongside
those marvelous marshes rather than on what swimmeth below. But on Little
St. Simons, both habitats offer much of interest for an ecologist or a
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