Recommendation 4-F: Showcase Jekyll Island’s unique plant communities and extraordinary ecosystems; ensure that they are not negatively impacted by human contact or commercial development

Like the other Georgia barrier islands, Jekyll Island State Park has freshwater wetlands in its interior, the result of natural erosion/deposition of the islands and the conversion of saltwater beach sloughs into freshwater systems.  Within the freshwater wetlands of the Park are at least three stands of a beautiful and unique flowering plant, the swamp mallow, or giant aquatic hibiscus.  In the Park, the hibiscus grows alongside Carolina willow trees and dotted smartweed plants, composing a plant community that botanists have described as unique to the Park.  The giant hibiscus, with bright pink and red blossoms nearly a foot across, grows only in ecosystems that have standing water present during at least some of the year.  This hibiscus is considered critically imperiled in Georgia (which means that its habitat has been reduced to five or fewer sites in the State).  The Park Authority should provide visitors with visual access to these gorgeous flowers, without allowing visitation to damage the plants' chances of thriving in the Park, and make it clear that no real-estate development will ever impinge upon the hibiscus' ecosystems.

A second special and unique freshwater plant community has been described within Jekyll Island State Park, the combination of aged, 40+ feet-tall red maples with a subcanopy of woodwardia ferns.  This plant community harbors freshwater crayfish within its sediments.  The maple/fern/crayfish community is located in the central part of the Park, not far west of the Convention Center, and is therefore especially susceptible to negative impacts of real-estate redevelopment.  The Park Authority should take steps to ensure that no negative impacts eventuate, and that the Park's visitors have a chance to view this ecosystem without damaging it.

- By Dr. Steven Y. Newell, Professor Emeritus, University of Georgia/former Director of Marine Institute at Sapelo Island [synewell@yahoo.com], and Mindy Egan, Co-Director, the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island [degan@igc.org]