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National Wildlife Refuge

Photo collage of Wassaw's unspoiled beach, wooded uplands and the colorful painted bunting.
Barrier island located off of the Georgia coast
near the city of Savannah, Georgia
Chatham County, GA   
E-mail: savannahcoastal@fws.gov
Phone Number: (843) 784-2468
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
The seven miles of undeveloped beach on Wassaw NWR provides superb nesting habitat for threatened loggerhead and endangered leatherback sea turtles. The magnificent painted b
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Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge

Wassaw Island, one of Georgia's coastal barrier islands, was designated a National Wildlife Refuge on October 20, 1969. Unlike many of Georgia's Golden Isles, little development and few management practices have modified Wassaw's primitive character. The 10,053-acre refuge includes beaches with rolling dunes, maritime forest, and vast salt marshes. The refuge is bordered by the Wilmington River and Wassaw Sound on the north, the Vernon River and Ossabaw Sound on the South, and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. Salt marsh and tidal creeks separate the refuge from the mainland and Skidaway Island to the west.

Refuge visitors may enjoy recreational activities such as birdwatching, beachcombing, hiking and general nature studies. The 20 miles of dirt roads on Wassaw Island and seven miles of beach provides an ideal wildlife trail system for hikers. Birdwatching is particularly fruitful during the spring and fall migrations.

The island supports rookeries for egrets and herons, and a variety of wading birds are abundant in the summer months. In summer, telltale tracks on Wassaw's beach attest to nocturnal visits by the threatened loggerhead sea turtles which come ashore for egg laying and then return secretively to the sea.

Getting There . . .
Wassaw NWR is accessible only by boat. Both Wassaw and Pine Island are open to the public during daylight hours - other upland areas are closed. Transportation to the refuge must be arranged by the visitor. Several local marinas in the Savannah area (skidaway Island and Isle of Hope) and a public boat ramp adjacent to the Skidaway Island bridge can serve as launching sites for trips to Wassaw.

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Management Activities
The primary management goal is to protect the barrier island, adjacent hammocks and salt marsh in their natural state. Prescribed fire is used to reduce the danger of wildfire from lightning strikes during the summer. Burning also promotes a greater diversity of herbaceous vegetation on the forest floor.

Another of the active management programs is for nesting sea turtles. From May to September nightly patrols are conducted under a cooperative agreement with a local science foundation. Nests are screened to deter predation and moved to higher ground if turtles nest below the high tide line. Detailed nesting data is taken including number of nests, nesting success, and the number of hatchlings.

Deer hunts (both bow and gun) are conducted to maintain herd health and keep the herd within carrying capacity and are scheduled in the fall and winter months.

Various wintering waterfowl surveys and shorebird surveys are conducted on the refuge throughout the year. Refuge staff conduct numerous bird surveys, including point counts, and assist with long term research on migratory birds, particularly the painted bunting.