St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge is showing its age and that is a positive for the island one researcher once called a “jewel.”
Turning 51 in National Wildlife Refuge years this month, the island has faced down more than its share of challenges since its golden anniversary last summer.
There was, of course, the arrival in October of Category 5 Hurricane Michael which swept away much of the island’s infrastructure, including a total loss of primary dune systems and acres and acres of downed trees.
Recovery was impacted in December by the shutdown of the federal government, which forced the cancellation of annual hunts, the Christmas Bird Court and wagon tours of the island.
“And yet our Refuge is still a place where red wolves thrive, sea turtles nest and migratory birds and butterflies refuel,” said Susan Cerulean, president of the Friends of St. Vincent Island.
“Even as we watch the impacts of the storm’s devastation continue to unfold the staff and volunteers are jumping in to help the island heal.”
Via the St. Vincent Island Shuttle, hundreds have visited the Island, new walking tours are being mapped out and partnerships with Florida Audubon and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will help protect shorebirds.
The Friends brought representatives from the offices of Florida’s two senators to the island to see the storm impacts and raised more than $8,000 during the annual fundraiser rescheduled to April after Michael.
Overall, the state of the wildlife on St. Vincent is ticking up.
For the first time in several years, there is a 2019 litter of red wolf pups, providing the Island, for the first time in some years, with multiple generations of endangered red wolves.
In addition, turtle nesting is strong with 54 loggerhead turtle nests and three green turtle nests as of July 4.
The nesting season still has roughly 5-6 weeks to go.
In addition, bird species are “doing well” in the wading rookery, with Snowy and Great Egrets, Tricolor and Little Blue Herons, Anhinga and Glossy Ibis among the nesting birds.
On the beaches, species already nesting include Snowy Plovers, American Oystercatchers, Least Terns and Black Skimmers.
Fishing is open on the Refuge lakes provided license and limits are adhered to and the permits for the Oct. 31-Nov. 2 public archery hunt go on sale Saturday online at myfwc.com/hunting.
A giant pine
Jim Floyd, a forestry specialist and members of the Friends board recently found a giant slash pine in the forest on St. Vincent.
The tree is so large it is in contention for runner-up to the National Champion Slash Pine; it is just eight points shy of second place, though it is not tall enough to reach first, despite its diameter.
The estimate of its height is 72 feet; the Friends are having it accurately measured.
If it measures 80 feet tall it will be registered in the American Forestry Association’s “Big Tree Register” and become the Florida runner-up as champion slash pine.
Shoreline erosion study
Researchers from Florida State University have been working to quantify rates of shoreline erosion on the Island.
Erosion was proceeding at a steady pace prior to the hurricane, but the storm caused a large amount of retreat, particularly on the Gulf side of the Refuge (see photos).
Dune and tree loss was also severe on the southern side of the island.