Thursday, June 3, 2010

Islands of the World #8: Cape St. George Island, Florida


Cape St. George Island, Florida(also known as Little St. George Island) is an uninhabited barrier island situated on Florida’s North Gulf Coast, south-southeast of St. Vincent Island, west of St. George Island and 8-10 miles south-southwest of the town of Apalachicola in Franklin County, Florida. It was formerly part of St. George Island, but was separated from the main island in 1954, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the ship channel known as Bob Sikes Cut.

History
Various Indian cultures occupied St. George Island for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of Europeans. Pottery fragments dating from A.D. 750 to 1450 occasionally are found on older portions of the island.

Throughout the 1830's Apalachicola became Florida's largest port due to the booming cotton industry. With such a large volume of ships entering and leaving Apalachicola Bay a lighthouse was necessary. In 1831 the Florida Territorial Legislature was awarded an $11,800 Congressional appropriation to build a new lighthouse. The first lighthouse was constructed at the west end of the island in 1833 near West Pass, which was the main entrance to the bay.

Due to the shape of St. George Island a second lighthouse was constructed at the southernmost tip to better guide ships. The second lighthouse only lasted three years due to poor construction and powerful storms. A replacement lighthouse was constructed in 1852 and stood over 500 yards inland from the Gulf. However, by 1990 beach erosion left the lighthouse vulnerable. The lighthouse finally succumbed to the weather and toppled into the water July 10, 2005. A new replica of the Cape St. George lighthouse was finished December 1, 2006 on St. George Island.

Pine trees on Cape St. George Island were "catfaced" used to make turpentine from 1910 through 1916. During World War II the island served as a practice gunnery range for B-24 bombers stationed in nearby Apalachicola. From 1950 through 1956 the pine trees were again harvested for turpentine. The old buildings of the turpentine camp are still in existence at the Government Dock.

Cape St. George Island was purchased in 1977 under the Environmentally Endangered Lands program to protect it from development and to contribute to the protection of Apalachicola Bay. It is now Cape St. George State Reserve. The reserve is managed by the Florida Department of Natural Resources, Division of Recreation and Parks in cooperation with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. The reserve's remoteness and wilderness qualities provide an opportunity to explore and enjoy a remnant of Florida's original natural landscape.

Geography
The island has extensive savannahs, old relic sand dune ridges and sand dunes and salt marshes. Ponds and marshes are found in the low swales between the old dune ridges. A small coastal hammock and black willow swamp can also be found.

Vegetation
Cape St. George Island is covered by several plant communities. Scrub and sea oats can be found on the newer dunes, Slash pine flatwoods are found in the low swales and savannahs. Scattered cabbage palmetto are found on overwash portions at the east and west ends of the island.

Wildlife
There are few mammals on the island due to the distance from the mainland, raccoons are the most common. However, birds are very diverse and abundant during migration in the spring and fall. In 1997 a population of Red Wolf was introduced to the island. The endangered peregrine falcon and bald eagle also nest there. Threatened loggerhead sea turtles nest on the beach during the summer, as do oystercatchers and the endangered snowy plovers. Cottonmouths are common in the ponds and marshes.

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