Resource Management


To help plants and wildlife, refuge staff uses a variety of habitat management techniques to maintain, recover or enhance plant and wildlife values.

Totaling 10,053 acres, Wassaw NWR includes a single barrier island, two smaller islands (collectively known as Little Wassaw Island), several small hammocks, and vast salt marshes. Habitat types include beaches with extensive, rolling dune systems, live oak and slash pine woodlands, and salt marshes. 

Wassaw supports a wide diversity of wildlife, including at least 257 species of breeding and wintering birds and an undetermined number of mammal, reptile, amphibian, and fish species. The refuge is also within the range of several listed threatened or endangered species. 

Unlike many of Georgia's sea islands, Wassaw has experienced little in the way of human influences. The island's forests were never cleared for timber, cotton, or cattle. Some prescribed burning is done for habitat management and wildfires due to lightning strikes have occurred. Privately owned for more than 100 years by a single family, much of the island remains in its original state.

Management Objectives

  1. Provide wintering habitat and protection for migratory birds.
  2. Promote resident and migratory wildlife diversity
  3. Provide protection and management for endangered and threatened plant and animal species.
  4. Provide wildlife education, interpretation, and recreation opportunities to the public.

Threatened and Endangered Species

The seven miles of undeveloped beach at Wassaw NWR provide important nesting habitat for Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles. Due to its extensive long-term data set, collected by the non-profit Caretta Research Project, Wassaw NWR is considered one of the most important index beaches for the subpopulation of turtles that nest there. Wassaw's beach also contributes to the recovery of piping plovers by providing critical winter habitat for the shorebirds.

Invasive Species Control

In recent years, invasive, exotic plants and animals have become a serious threat to national wildlife refuges throughout the United States. Each year, three million acres of land are lost to exotic, invasive species, and billions of dollars are spent battling their infestation. Chinese tallow tree, ambrosia beetle, and feral hog are species from another area – often from another continent – that have been introduced here, locally. They reproduce rapidly, have few predators, and have low food value for wildlife. These species are a constant problem for refuge managers.  Click here to learn more about what the Fish and Wildlife Service is doing to combat invasive species.

Prescribed Fire

Fire has shaped the local landscape for eons. Because of the Georgia Coast's long history of lightning and man-made fires, natural systems are adapted to fire and depend on frequent fire to remain healthy. Prescribed burning plays a natural role in local ecosystems and is a vital tool for managing public lands. The extraordinarily high plant species diversity of the coastal ecosystems is maintained by fire, which reduces competition from woody plants and recycles nutrients. One of the greatest benefits of prescribed fire is that it reduces “fuels” – the underbrush, branches, pine needles, leaves, and dead plant debris that have built up on the forest floor over time. If fuels are not reduced every few years, wildfires can become intense, hot, and destructive. Click here to learn more about fire management on the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex.