Wildlife & Habitat

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The island is a haven for endangered wildlife, such as bald eagles, loggerhead, green, and leatherback sea turtles; and migrating wood storks populate St. Vincent Island. Endangered red wolves have been brought to the island for a special propagation program.

  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle

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    Female loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta), a threatened species, come ashore nightly during the summer months to nest along the Gulf of Mexico beaches of St. Vincent NWR. The most common of Florida’s five marine turtle species, the loggerhead turtle can weigh up to 200-300 lbs. Current threats to marine turtles in northwest Florida include artificial beach lighting which can disorient adult and hatchling sea turtles.

    With the help of tireless volunteers, the Refuge conducts morning surveys from May-August to document marine turtle nests along the Gulf beaches. Nests are screened with small wire cages to protect the eggs from depredation by wild pigs, coyotes, or raccoons. In approximately two months, hatchling sea turtles emerge unaided and make their way to the warm Gulf waters. 

  • Red Wolf

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    Since 1990 St. Vincent NWR has been an island propagation site for recovery of the endangered red wolf (Canis rufus).  One breeding pair and no more than two subsequent annual litters of our native southern wolf roam freely on St. Vincent NWR.  Each red wolf is fitted with a radio telemetry collar which allows Refuge staff to determine their location.  These shy Refuge residents are tracked daily by Refuge staff or trained volunteers, where they are much more often "heard" than seen.

    For more red wolf information visit:

    USFWS Red Wolf Recovery Program http://www.fws.gov/redwolf/

    USFWS Red Wolf Recovery Program social media sites:




    Red Wolf Species Survival Plan http://redwolfssp.org/wp/

    Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge http://www.fws.gov/refuge/alligator_river/

    The Tallahassee Museum http://tallahasseemuseum.org/

  • Sambar Deer

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    In 1908, three sambar hinds and one stag were imported from the Old World to St. Vincent Island, which was still under private ownership.  Over one hundred years later, descendants of those Asiatic elk still roam the Refuge. A three day public hunt each winter helps to manage the population size of these large and long lived herbivores to reduce wetland impacts and competition with native white-tailed deer.

  • Salt Marsh


    The salt marshes surrounding Mallard Slough are some of the highest quality salt marshes remaining on the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. The salt ponds and tidal creeks provide foraging and nesting habitat for a variety of migratory waterbirds, fish, and estuarine animals.  Salt marsh specialists like the seaside sparrow are considered somewhat common on the Refuge while being rare or absent in many other marshes. Salt marshes also function as a nursery area for an incredible diversity of fish and other aquatic organisms. Prescribed fire helps to promote herbaceous salt tolerant vegetation.

  • Beach Dune


    St. Vincent NWR’s unspoiled barrier island provides over fourteen miles of high quality sand and shell beaches. The Refuge’s Gulf of Mexico high energy, fine quartz sand beaches provide habitat for numerous plant and animal species that are uniquely adapted to life in this harsh, salty, storm prone habitat. Throughout the spring and summer months, ground nesting shorebirds and seabirds lay eggs and rear young on Refuge beaches.  Signage and symbolic fencing help to educate and to guide visitors away from sensitive nesting areas. Marine turtles also lay eggs on Refuge beaches each summer.

    In the winter months, shoreline dependent birds that pass through or over winter on the Refuge such as the piping plover and the red knot, both threatened species, depend on this high quality natural habitat to forage and for necessary rest and roosting locations largely free from human disturbances.

  • Habitat Restoration

    Through the use of prescribed fire to mimic natural lightning caused fires, Refuge staff work to restore the unique barrier island forests to a more natural condition after decades of human caused alteration.

    The closure of unnecessary roads allows fire to carry across the landscape again to provide natural forest regeneration following previous clear cutting under private ownership. Growing season fires also help to promote wiregrass and other herbaceous groundcover regeneration in the pine flatwoods and aid in the control of nonnative invasive plant species. Ground nesting birds and rare plants benefit from properly timed prescribed fires that mimic periodic lightning caused summer wildfires.

    Past restoration of the dune and swale topography is reversing hydrologic impacts from past road construction and will once again allow for fish passage and more natural water flow across the island.