Time to sing a celebratory tune in honor of a certain island that is, literally, one of a kind.
The Friends of St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge will be hosting a birthday bash July 6 on the island.
There is a catch for all those who wish to celebrate: please RSVP.
A key reason the island remains as pristine as it is, its small but significant remove from the mainland, will require folks who wish to enjoy the birthday to let the Friends of St. Vincent Island know in advance.
And, folks, there is going to be plenty of logic to that RSVP.
From 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. ET that Friday, the island and its Friends will host a summer picnic (lunch on the grill) including a half-mile loop walking tour through forest to sugary beaches (and serious shell searching) and, after a wander over some dunes, to the normally off-limits Point to view nesting and resting shore and water birds.
There will also be a host of exhibits and activities along the way.
However, the caveat is the transportation over to the island.
It is just a short jaunt by boat and the Friends will have a barge leaving every half hour from the Indian Pass boat ramp.
Space on each barge load is limited to 40 passengers, though, so the Friends of St. Vincent are kindly asking all birthday attendees to register in advance at the citizen support organization’s website: www.stvincentfriends.com.
The celebration and the transportation are free, just sign up in advance.
St. Vincent Island is a “jewel”, according to the late herpetologist Dr. Joe Collins, a 12,490-acre barrier island, just over a quarter of a mile into the Gulf of Mexico that is about as Old Florida as one can get in this region.
Heck, maybe the state, given the rate of growth in Florida.
The island was added to the National Wildlife Refuge System in 1968.
Collins spent 15 winters surveying the St. Vincent Island populations of snakes and lizards.
He was the co-author of “A Pocket Guide to Snakes of St. Vincent Island Wildlife Refuge” which was published in 2011.
For Collins, St. Vincent was a “herpetologist’s paradise”: there are just not many barrier islands without land access.
“It provides the kind of isolation that ensures the long-term well-being of its flora and fauna,” Collins wrote in an academic paper in 2012.
“And that isolation permits the kind of long-term biological research so sorely needed to provide current information for use in wildlife management programs across the southeastern United States.”
Collins surveyed the diversity, distribution, abundance and habitats of amphibians, reptiles, turtles and crocodilians on the island.
In any given year, he and his merry band of students and fellow researchers found everything from newts and salamanders to a host of snakes, skinks, frogs, toads and turtles.
One afternoon, while riding through the island, he and a reporter came upon an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake in the middle of the road.
Collins joyfully got out to greet the critter; the reporter stayed behind to, um, protect the truck.
But that is St. Vincent, still wonderfully wild.
The diversity of life that Collins and his band documented over the years was astounded even the director of the North American Center for Herpetology.
“Our work on the island has convinced my colleagues and me that St. Vincent Refuge is one of the most valuable jewels in the National Wildlife Refuge System,” Collins wrote in 2012.
And, of course, Collins was only surveying those things which could be characterized as icky and slither in the dark.
The island has also long been home to a program to breed red wolves, which were declared extinct in the wild in 1980.
There are also the Sambar deer, a behemoth imported from India a century ago by an American tycoon who wanted to turn the island into an exotic hunting reserve.
The Sambar, similar to elk in stature and weighing as much as 750 pounds, have thrived on the island; each year, the state organizes a limited hunt for the trophy deer.
The island is also a key stopover for a host of migratory birds and home to a number of shorebirds, from gulls to oystercatchers.
St. Vincent was purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 1968 for $2.2 million and U.S. Fish and Wildlife repaid the cost from Duck Stamp sales and the refuge was established.
St. Vincent offers nearly 20 miles of beach.
There are miles of hiking and biking trails, the remnants of a small settlement on the island and three freshwater lakes of rare beauty not to mention the abundant wildlife.
The island is quite old, with the earliest documented visitors to the island dating to the year 240 when Native American inhabited the island.
Joseph Donoghue, a Florida State University geology professor, excavated on St. Vincent and calculated the island was at least 5,000 years old.
“The island is an ecological marvel,” said Eddie Eckley, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological specialist who was once a wildlife tracker on St. Vincent.
Come celebrate the birthday. Just RSVP.