Kathy Chapman, biologist, expresses the view of U. S. Fish and Wildlife on Linger Longer's initial town center proposal at the Jekyll Island Authority and Linger Longer Communities Public Input Session

November 14, 2007,
Jekyll Island Convention Center

Kathy Chapman representing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
Coastal Sub-Office, Brunswick, Georgia

The Fish and Wildlife Service respectfully wishes to comment on the proposed development on Jekyll Island State Park regarding the effects on fish and wildlife resources.  We have reviewed the plans that were provided on the Rediscover Jekyll website and understand that the plans go far beyond the expected replacement of derelict motels to provide visitors a place to stay while visiting the State Park.

From a fish and wildlife perspective, the beach and dune systems of Jekyll Island are the most important habitats to protect and restore.  Because of the susceptibility of Jekyll Island to tropical storms and hurricanes, it is imperative that the remainder of the natural habitats on the island have protection from the sea.  The dunes in the area of the proposed development have been lost or degraded in the past and are basically large boulders covered with sand.  These areas should be restored to dynamic dune fields to reduce the erosional forces of powerful storms and replenish lost sand from these storms.  This is the most cost effective way to protect the State-owned island.  This is a necessary first step for the long term health of the barrier island.  Allowing the natural accretion and erosion of a natural beach and dune field system will lessen the need for costly nourishments and re-nourishments of sand to protect any proposed development.  Artificial replenishment of sand is damaging to wildlife habitats. 

The placement of sand initially smothers the benthic invertebrates that migratory birds depend upon for feeding to fuel their migrations.  The beach is often hardened by renourishment and may have other detrimental effects on the beach habitat. Two federally listed species depend on Jekyll Island having a healthy beach and dune system.  The loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) and the piping plover (Charadrius melodus) depend on the beach habitat on Jekyll Island. 

On the south end of Jekyll Island, 1.7 miles of the shoreline is important enough to be designated as Critical Habitat for the piping plover.  Although the piping plover “winters” along the Georgia coast, it can be found here most of the year, except during nesting.  Because of the precarious situation of these species due mainly to man’s alteration of coastal habitats, further encroachment and alteration of their habitat can be detrimental.

Sea turtle females are particularly sensitive to light sources in deciding whether to approach the beach for nesting.  Sea turtle hatchlings can become disoriented by light sources visible over the dunes and by an artificially brightened horizon.  They may lose their directional cue of a lighter horizon toward the sea and die of dehydration or be eaten by predators.  Multistory buildings with lights for security, aesthetics, and lit windows in houses and buildings could cause problems for this species. There are “sea turtle friendly” types of lights that would alleviate some of the problems with outdoor light sources.  However, the total amount of light and types of lights to be used on the entire development would need to be determined. Piping plovers would need to have undisturbed areas to feed and rest along the beach on Jekyll Island.  The development plans would most likely change the distribution of people and pets along the beaches of Jekyll Island.

Prior to 2006, Jekyll Island was designated as an “otherwise protected area” in the Coastal Barrier Resources System, which is a Federal law. However, the protection of this system for fish and wildlife resources was removed and these areas were excluded from the System for most of the area involved in the proposed development.  This was approved by Congress and affects the area fronting the beach on Jekyll in the Linger Longer development area. From reviewing the development plans, the “Village” would be a densely developed area with a mix of multi-story buildings with the majority of the land area covered with roofs, paved areas, and landscaped lawn areas.  It appears that this development will encroach on previously undeveloped lands and use undeveloped land as stormwater treatment areas and recreation areas. 

There appears to be a net loss of wildlife habitat from Linger Longer plans as opposed to replacing outdated motels, as was originally planned.  Many of the “parks” appear to be turf grass and palm trees and hardscape interspersed among the buildings.  These areas will have little value for wildlife, particularly thousands of migratory birds, which use the Georgia coast as a migratory pathway between nesting and wintering grounds.  Because of the large scale of this proposed development and the subsequent increase in human population of Jekyll Island, certain wildlife species will need to be controlled to accommodate the increased human population on the island.  It does not appear in the plans that a carrying capacity for humans or wildlife populations has been determined for Jekyll Island.  An island has a limited supply of necessary resources to support life.

We do support the use of LEED certified building standards and EarthCraft certification for coastal communities.  We encourage the onsite treatment of stormwater that requires no flow to other sites, particularly to native wildlife habitats.  We encourage the use of porous concrete for all necessary hardscape roads or parking areas.  It should be understood that all porous type roads, parking areas or walkways do need periodic maintenance to continue to function and absorb stormwater.  The long term maintenance of these stormwater systems will need to be addressed and who will be responsible for these.

In closing, the proposed plans would be a superb design for a less sensitive location than the beach front of a barrier island that serves as important habitat for many forms of wildlife.  Perhaps we should pay attention to where the “Captains of American Industry” of a former era built their homes which are still standing – on the inland, sheltered side of the island.