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Altamaha Basin > Hydrology > Water Quality > Environmental Threats > Human Impacts >
       Cultural Features > Coastal Habitats > Tributaries > Plants > Animals > Sapelo Island
Coastal Habitats > Beaches > Estuaries > Barrier Islands > Marshes > Uplands > Tides > Recreation
General Interest Site

The upland areas of Sapelo Island (and of many of the other barrier islands) include hammocks dominated by mature live oak, areas of mixed species maritime forest with an overstory of live oak and other species of oak interspersed with pine, areas dominated by pine which were planted during the R.J. Reynolds era, abandoned clearings in various stages of succession and areas of palmetto, pine and shrubs. Management practices in the upland areas include harvesting of pines to thin mature stands and controlled burning to control underbrush.  The effect of these management techniques on the marshes adjacent to the uplands has not been studied.  Although the impacts are indirect, the marshes adjacent to the SINERR uplands are affected by runoff and groundwater seepage.  These effects would be most important in areas where there is a pronounced elevation difference between marsh and upland, as along much of the eastern edge of the Duplin River watershed.

Several freshwater ponds are found on Sapelo Island, although only a few occur within the SINERR.  Almost any area with fresh or brackish water also has a resident population of alligators (Alligator mississippiensis).  The pond near the Marine Institute and the Reynolds Mansion has numerous small and a few large alligators which can be seen floating on the surface among the duckweed and emergent vegetation or on the banks of the small islands in the pond.  The alligators frequently move between freshwater areas and the salt marsh during the summer, particularly at night.  The upland and dune areas of the island are also populated by Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus adamanteus), while the cottonmouth moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) is sometimes found near wet areas. 

Numerous species of birds can be found in the various habitats of the SINERR and elsewhere on Sapelo Island.  The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), herring gulls (Larus argentatus), laughing gulls (L. atricilla) with their distinctive black heads, ring-billed gulls (L. delawarensis), and double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) are among the many birds one might see on the ferry ride to and from the island.  Willets (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), American oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus) and sanderlings (Calidris alba) are among the many species that frequent the beaches; black skimmers (Rynchops niger) can often be seen skimming the surface of tidal sloughs and near the water line at low tide.  Numerous heron species and egrets can be seen hunting for food along creek banks, in the marsh and in freshwater areas, with clapper rails (Rallus longirostis) being heard more often than they are seen.  It is not uncommon to see a flock of white ibis (Eudocimus albus) in the marsh, or an occasional wood stork (Mycteria americana), with a distinctive black edge on the underside of their wings visible when they fly.  Various hawk species, black and turkey vultures (Coragyps atratus and Cathartes aura, respectively), ospreys (Pandion haliatus) and, occasionally, bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) can be observed in the SINERR.  Yellow-crowned night herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) and American coots (Fulica americana) frequent the pond across from the Marine Institute.  During the summer, the painted bunting (Passerina ciris) is a spectacular sight as it flits among the shrubs and trees lining the road to the beach and elsewhere.

Several mammal species can be seen in the SINERR and elsewhere on the island.  Those most commonly seen are white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus virginianus), raccoons (Procyon lotor solutus) and opossums (Didelphis marsupialis).  Sightings of feral hogs are unfortunately becoming more common, as their population grows from the few that were introduced to the island in the early 1990s.  Armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) also began being sighted on the island during the 1990s.  Feral cattle, remnants of a herd once belonging to R.J. Reynolds, inhabit the north end of the island, and occasionally are seen on the south end.  They are reclusive and cautious, so that sightings are uncommon although signs of their presence--tracks and fecal matter--are more common sights.

More information on barrier islands