About Us

Pinckney Island NWR, established December 4, 1975, was once included in the plantation of Major General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Pinckney was a Revolutionary War veteran, delegate to the Constitutional Convention and two-time presidential candidate in the early 1800s. Few traces of the island's plantation exist today. From 1937 to 1975, when it was donated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pinckney Island was privately owned and managed as a game preserve. 

The 4,053 acre refuge includes Pinckney Island, Corn Island, Big and Little Harry Islands, Buzzard Island and numerous small hammocks. Pinckney is the largest of the islands and the only one open to the public. Two-thirds of the refuge consists of salt marsh salt marsh
Salt marshes are found in tidal areas near the coast, where freshwater mixes with saltwater.

Learn more about salt marsh
and tidal creeks. A wide variety of land types are found on Pinckney Island alone: salt marsh, forestland, brushland, fallow fields, and freshwater ponds. These habitats support a diversity of bird and plant life. Wildlife commonly observed on Pinckney Island includes waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, neo-tropical migrants, white-tailed deer and American alligators. There are large concentrations of white ibis, herons, and egrets. 

Our Mission

Pinckney Island NWR, as part of the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex, will protect a unique network of bottomland hardwood forests, wetlands, grasslands, beaches, and aquatic habitats.  In the midst of a rapidly developing coastal environment, the refuge will lead the way in protection and management of highly diverse habitats.  The refuge will contribute to the long-term conservation of migratory and native wildlife populations, and the recovery of endangered and threatened species.   

When compatible, the refuge will offer quality, wildlife-dependent recreational activities.  In collaboration with partners, a wide range of interpretive and environmental education programs will be provided to diverse audiences.  Visitors will leave with an understanding that this place of incredible diversity and ecological importance is part of a larger network of protected lands within the National Wildlife Refuge System. 

Each unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System is established to serve a statutory purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its lands and waters. All activities on those acres are reviewed for compatibility with this statutory purpose. The purpose(s) of this unit is. . . “as a wildlife refuge and as a nature and forest preserve for aesthetic and conservation purposes without disturbing the habitat of the plant and animal populations except as such disturbance may be necessary to preserve the use of the real property for the purposes above mentioned” (Deed of Donation, December 4, 1975); and “for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds” (16 U.S.C. 715d, Migratory Bird Conservation Act) 

Our History

1736 – The islands that comprise Pinckney Island NWR were sold to Charles Pinckney, father of General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who was a commander during the Revolutionary War, a signer of the U.S. Constitution, and in 1804 and 1808, a presidential candidate. 

1800s – The Pinckney family developed the islands into a plantation, removing much of the maritime forest and draining and tilling the fertile soil in order to produce fine quality, long-staple Sea Island Cotton.  The plantation flourished until the Civil War when it was occupied by Union troops. 

1937 – After 200 years of Pinckney ownership, the plantation was sold to Ellen Bruce, wife of James Bruce, a New York banker who used the property as a hunting preserve.  Hardwoods and pines were planted, ponds were built to attract waterfowl and for irrigation, and 70 percent of the farm fields were placed back into cultivation. 

1954 – Edward Starr and James Barker purchased the islands and continued to manage them as a game preserve. 

1975 – The islands were donated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be managed exclusively as a national wildlife refuge and as a nature and forest preserve for aesthetic and conservation purposes. 

1985 – The refuge was officially opened to the public for wildlife-dependent recreation. 

Other Facilities in this Complex

Pinckney Island NWR is one of seven refuges administered by the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex which is headquartered at the Savannah NWR Visitor Center in Hardeeville, South Carolina.