Bird rookery now protected as part of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
Shell Point, Florida — St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge celebrated the acquisition of Smith Island by the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge at the refuge’s pavilion overlooking beautiful Apalachee Bay. It was an auspicious day, with pelicans sailing in front of participants as if to add their approval of the event. This small island, 20 acres or so, is about 90 percent saltmarsh, with the remainder containing a handful of small trees and bushes. High tide is about three feet above mean sea level, and the island is free of docks, roads, utilities or buildings. This makes it an ideal habitat for nesting pelicans, shorebirds and wading birds. The bird rookery on the island has hosted as many as 1,500 nests there each season.
The acquisition took almost four years and involved support from longtime refuge volunteers and friends, John Whitton and Elinor Elfner, the Friends of St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, and Florida Audubon. A significant donation of half of the property came from the Apalachee Land Conservancy. The refuge also recognizes the Alpha Langston Sumner family for their willingness to sell their interest in Smith Island.
With this acquisition to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, this coastal bird rookery will be protected for future generations of egrets, herons, gulls, shorebirds, and brown pelicans. A plaque on an etched limerock boulder, prepared by refuge staff member Dallas Beckett, graces the Shell Point public beach walkway to remind visitors of this ecological gem.
Robin Will, supervisory refuge ranger
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