Ecological Management and Research on Little St. Simons Island
Little St. Simons Island stands out from other Georgia barrier islands in its relatively undisturbed character. The island has not experienced the farming, timber industry and building that most others have. There are very few places in the Southeast, and the entire east coast, where such an opportunity exists to encourage, with light-handed management, a matrix of natural communities typical of coastal barrier islands.
In 2007, Little St. Simons Island hired a full time ecological manager and established an Ecological Advisory Council to guide the implementation of an ecological and conservation management and research program. To date, a long-term ecological management plan has been developed and conservation practices have been implemented to protect the island’s plant communities and wildlife species. Additional projects include the construction of a living shoreline and on-island research of threatened wildlife species including rare bats, shorebirds and sea turtles.
The island’s applied research program provides an opportunity for LSSI to collaborate with conservation partners and educational institutions to contribute to a better understanding of the islands’ ecological processes, natural communities and rare species. Data gathered through research conducted on LSSI is aiding in developing further management guidelines and practices on the island and in the region. The island serves at times as an important reference site for research projects, as its matrix of intact natural communities are nearly unparalleled along the Southeastern coast. Visit our Ecological Projects page to learn more about some of the specific ecological management and research projects
Through the ecological management and research program, LSSI has worked to build and strengthen its conservation partnerships with The Nature Conservancy, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and other organizations working on the Georgia coast. With these collaborations, we plan to maintain and restore, as needed, the health of the island’s ecosystems and to establish the island as a model for thoughtful conservation management and education. To learn more about our conservation partners, visit our Ecological Resources page.
Ecological Management Staff
Ecological Manager, Scott Coleman
Scott is originally from Fort Gaines, Georgia and is a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Warnell School for Forestry and Natural Resources, with a degree in Wildlife. Scott began working at LSSI as a naturalist in early 2006 and his position evolved to ecological manager in late 2007. In his current role Scott works to maintain, enhance and restore the natural ecological communities and wildlife populations on the island. Working closely with the island’s Ecological Advisory Council, he has led the development of a 50-year conservation plan for Little St. Simons Island and is leading the transition of the island into a model for conservation management. His responsibilities include coordinating the island’s research, monitoring, restoration and natural resource management working with a wide range of public and private conservation partner organizations.
Scott is actively involved in the Georgia coastal conservation community serving on the boards of directors for One Hundred Miles, the St. Simons Land Trust and Coastal WildScapes, the steering committee for the Coastal Georgia Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, as the management coordinator for the Georgia Shorebird Alliance and on the Blue Crab and Shrimp Advisory Panels for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Scott lives on St. Simons Island with his wife Ann, son Daniel and daughter Mary Remington.
Ecological Coordinator, Kate Tweedy
Kate spent her youth observing herpetofauna and insects in the forest and streams surrounding her home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She attended Virginia Tech, where she analyzed population dynamics of Belizean ocelots and later developed a special interest in birds. She graduated in 2016 with a B.S. in Biology and a B.S. in Wildlife Conservation. Since then, she has worked with greater sage-grouse in Wyoming and completed ecological and historical conservation projects in a half-dozen eastern states.
She began working at Little St. Simons Island as the Shorebird and Sea Turtle Intern in March 2017. She transitioned to the Ecological Coordinator position in January 2018. In this role, she helps to plan and actualize conservation at LSSI. Most often, this means that she is monitoring the island’s rare species, coordinating with on-island researchers, and working with our naturalist staff to ensure that our guest program is complementary to the ecological conservation of the island.
When she isn’t surveying a wetland or birding around the island, Kate enjoys reading, painting, and photography.
Seasonal Ecological Management Staff
Shorebird Technician, Ana DeFilippo
Ana was raised in Jupiter, Florida, where she spent her weekends fishing and diving. She consistently volunteered to help clean up natural areas and beaches. Spending time outdoors was always a priority which led to her graduating from Florida Gulf Coast University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Marine Science and minoring in Geology and Biology. While attending FGCU, she was able to gain experience in water quality testing, analyzing data in the lab, and managing exotic and invasive vegetation species. After graduation, Ana began monitoring the Snowy Plover population on Sanibel Island in Florida.
As LSSI’s shorebird technician, Ana is responsible for the daily monitoring of American Oystercatcher and Wilson’s Plover nesting. In her free time she enjoys fishing, hiking, reading, and photographing wildlife.
Sea Turtle Technician, Robby Brannum
Robby grew up in Pelham, Alabama. His desire to learn about ecology and conservation stemmed from travel and vacations that introduced him to different ecosystems. He attended Mississippi State University and earned a B.S. in Biological Sciences with a concentration in ecological studies. As an undergraduate, Robby worked in the Christopher Brooks’ Ecology Lab, researching microbial influence on infestation patterns of prickly pear cacti by cactophagus moths. This work took him throughout the Sonoran Desert, to the sky island of Mt. Lemon, Arizona, and throughout the deserts and Hill Country of Texas. After graduating in 2017, Robby went on to teach introductory biology labs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. There, he was introduced to the world of sea turtle research by volunteering with the Thane Wibbels’ sea turtle lab. He helped on projects studying the mass-nesting behavior of the critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, and presented a poster on using non-invasive time lapse photography to quantify arribada nesting behavior at the 2019 International Sea Turtle Symposium.
As the Sea Turtle Technician, Robby patrols the beaches of Little St. Simon’s and monitors the nesting of Loggerhead and Green sea turtles. He also aides in educating the island’s guests on sea turtle biology and conservation. Outside of his ecological pursuits, Robby enjoys reading, drawing, and traveling the world to explore a multitude of different ecosystems.
LSSI has been working on a project to replace our old bulkhead with a more ecologically friendly form of bank stabilization – a living shoreline. The project is the third in a series of pilot projects of this type in Georgia. Several conservation partners are working with us on this, The Nature Conservancy, Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division and University of Georgia’s Marine Extension. We have also received some funding for the project from a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) grant.
Invasive Species Management
Non-native invasive species (invasives) have been identified as one of the greatest threats to habitat and wildlife conservation in the United States. They are a threat to LSSI’s ecosystems, in spite of the relatively undisturbed landscapes found here. A non-native invasive species is an exotic species that causes damage to native plants and animals. The ecological management team and other island staff actively manage and remove invasives in order to protect the island’s biodiversity and keep the natural habitats as healthy as possible.
Sea Turtle Monitoring
Little St. Simons Island’s seven miles of beaches are great habitat for nesting loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta). LSSI experienced a record nesting year in 2016 for Loggerhead turtles with 223 nests. This trend is reflected in state numbers which reached a record high in 2016
In March 2012, Abby Sterling transitioned from the naturalist staff to begin working on a research project for her graduate work at the University of Georgia. She had been a naturalist since 2008, and was excited to continue to work on Little St Simons Island and contribute to research which serves several purposes that have direct application to the island. Through this research, we have been able to continue our intensive monitoring of nesting shorebirds, focusing on American oystercatchers and expanding to monitoring Wilson’s plovers. Additionally, this project will ultimately provide guidance for focusing monitoring and management on nesting areas that are highly productive for these two species.
Norm's Pond Rookery
For years, a variety of wading birds have gathered at Norm’s Pond to nest. Wading birds typically look for islands surrounded by freshwater wetlands. These freshwater wetlands are home to American alligators, who act as the birds’ best defense against mammalian predators, such as raccoons. According to Tim Keyes, coastal bird biologist for Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Non-game program, there are 10 other nesting colonies, or rookeries, like this one on the coast. All of these colonies are monitored by GADNR at least twice a season by fly-overs and some are monitored additionally on the ground.
Fire is an important ecological management tool for a variety of habitats, returning nutrients to the soil and reducing woody vegetation and shrubs. Last week, we conducted a prescribed burn in the maritime shrub and grassland habitat between the beach, Bass Creek Road and Beach Road. With the help of local biologists from the local non-game division of Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Jekyll Island Authority, and the St. Simons Land Trust, the island maintenance staff and ecological management team ignited and controlled a low-burning fire on Tuesday, February 18th to prevent woody vegetation from encroaching on open grassy areas.
Muhly Grass Monitoring
Muhly or sweet grass (Muhlenbergia filipes) grows throughout much of the southeastern United States, and is most widely known from the barrier and sea islands of Georgia and South Carolina. It’s often found growing along the edges of the islands, along the uplands adjacent to the salt marsh and in some cases forming relatively vast grasslands just inland from the primary dunes near the beach. Historically muhly grasswas used by Native Americans and the Gullah-Geechee people as the primary component of sweet grass baskets. This cultural art form is continued by descendants of the Gullah-Geechee and their beautiful baskets can be bought at places like Sapelo Island and Savannah in Georgia, and St. Helena Island and around the Charleston area in South Carolina.
Winter Bird Surveys
Approximately 280 species of birds utilize the habitats on Little St. Simons Island over the course of a year, and just over 200 of these species spend the winter here. This includes some of our resident birds that are with us year-round, as well as others that nest further north but migrate south to coastal Georgia for the winter. Our relatively mild winters and variety of natural environments result in abundant food resources and areas of cover to support this multitude of bird species. We have a particularly high diversity of shorebirds, waterfowl and birds of prey during the winter months.
Black Rail Surveys
Black Rails are a highly secretive marsh bird about the size of a mouse. These birds can be found in Georgia marshes, although they are a rare species. Due to their small size, Black Rails prefer shorter vegetation in the high-marsh like Distichlis spicata and Salicornia sp. Due to habitat loss, Black Rails are considered “Near Threatened” by the IUCN, and on the National Audubon Society’s “Watchlist” as a declining species. Very little research has been conducted on Black Rails, so there is much to learn about these birds.
Since 2010 Little St. Simon’s Island has been teaming up with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to monitor bat populations using AnaBats. As a bat is foraging, it emits a high-pitched “feeding buzz” inaudible to the human ear. An AnaBat is a device that detects and records these sounds. Each species emits calls at a unique frequency, which has allowed researchers to determine the species that are present on the island. Of the sixteen species in Georgia, Little St. Simon’s Island is host to six of them.
Little St. Simons Island Ecological Advisory Council
In 2007, the island established an Ecological Advisory Council to guide the creation and implementation of an ecological management plan. The council is made up of biologists and conservationists with on the ground experience in coastal Georgia ecosystems. The council works closely with the ecological manager and other staff to recommend best management practices, putting the conservation of the island’s habitats and species first. The council also works to determine research and monitoring priorities and review research proposals and to connect LSSI with other researchers and experts in the field of conservation management.
Christi Lambert, Chair
Christi Lambert is the Marine and Freshwater Conservation Director for The Nature Conservancy in Georgia. Working with the Conservancy since 1991, Lambert has led a wide range of programs and projects throughout Georgia and has built strong partner relationships that have resulted in significant conservation successes. Her first major project was to launch the Altamaha River Bioreserve as a national science and community-based landscape-scale watershed initiative. Over the past two decades, she has played an integral role in the protection of more than 125,000 acres of coastal and riverine lands through acquisitions and easements. She is also focused on restoration and management, invasive species abatement, ocean planning, outreach and community partnerships. Lambert has been a leader in the development and communication of practices that are compatible with conservation and community. Working with agencies, landowners, academia and communities, she is developing methodologies, constructing and monitoring living shoreline pilots along more than 1,000 linear feet and informing policy to increase the scale of habitat restoration and enhancement for the health of habitat and people.
Christi presently serves on the Little St. Simon’s Island Ecological Advisory Council (chair and founding member), Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Advisory Council (past chair), Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve Advisory Council (chair), Cannon’s Point Advisory Board and Conservation Task Force, and Coastal Wildscapes Advisory Council. Christi has served on the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, Governor’s Coastal Comprehensive Development Planning Advisory Council, Governor’s Joint House and Senate Comprehensive Water Study Committee, Altamaha-Oconee and Ocmulgee Basin Advisory Council, Coastal River Basin Water Management Committee, Jekyll Island Conservation Planning Team, Coastal Forester’s Association (past chair) and the McIntosh County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. She was instrumental in the founding of partner organizations including Altamaha Riverkeeper, McIntosh Sustainable Environment and Economic Development Initiative, and the Altamaha River Cooperative (a collaborative of forest products companies, landowners and agencies).
A native Georgian, Christi studied biology and chemistry at Shorter College and Berry College and ecology and geography at the University of Georgia.
Before joining the staff of the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences in Massachusetts in February, 2011, Brad Winn worked for the state of Georgia for 17 years as a Biologist and Program Manager for the coastal office of the Nongame Conservation Section of the Department of natural Resources.
As Program Manager he oversaw a wide range of research, monitoring and management projects focused on protecting, and recovering depleted populations of native wildlife and natural communities of Georgia. Some of the most significant projects included monitoring the integrity of the North Atlantic right whale calving grounds, managing the recovery of the local loggerhead turtle population, protecting and managing sandbar-island nesting sites for seabirds and shorebirds, monitoring the recovery of the American Wood Stork, overseeing Swallow-tailed Kite nesting studies, and mapping and classifying all of the natural communities of Georgia’s coastal counties.
With Manomet, Brad is taking all he learned while in Georgia, and is applying it to projects focused on shorebird conservation within the entire Atlantic Flyway. Shorebirds as a whole are in poor shape world-wide, but Brad and others at Manomet are pursuing opportunities to turn some negative population trends around with strategic efforts in habitat protection and management.
Dorset has lived and worked in the marshes and waters of coastal Georgia for over 30 years. His career started on Cumberland Island working as a technician for Susan Bratton (NPS) and eventually as the team leader of the long-term loggerhead sea turtle tagging project. After returning to Athens he worked shortly under Eugene Odum and Jim Cooley of the University of Georgia (UGA) Institute of Ecology . He later transferred to the apiculture research unit (honey bee research) of the UGA Dept. of Entomology under Al Dietz and then to the Dept. of Zoology, working on assessments of growth rates in young-of-the-year drum fishes in the brackish marshes of the Ogeechee River Basin.
Dorset served for several years as an extension agent for the UGA Marine Extension Service, where he developed the requirements and techniques for establishing a hard clam aquaculture fishery in Georgia’s coastal waters. For the past 14 years he has served as both a senior marine biologist for the GA DNR, and Research Coordinator for the SINERR.
His professional interests include tidal restoration projects, sea level monitoring, developing and planning Living Shorelines: control and detection of marine and terrestrial invasive species, coastal conservation spatial planning and ecosystem assessment.
Dorset has authored or coauthored over 40 peer-reviewed scientific and technical publications and serves on a number of advisory boards and committees in the coastal region.
Dorset’s personal interests include hunting, fishing and energy-efficient residential construction. He lives in the community of Cox with his wife Diane and has four children Hunter, Aoki, Nanae and Motoki.
Jacob Thompson has worked as a coastal ecologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Nongame Conservation Section for the past seven years. During this time, Jacob has helped lead a coastal habitat mapping and assessment project resulting in detailed landcover maps and a greater knowledge of the natural communities of the Georgia coast. His current responsibilities include prioritizing vegetation monitoring activities for state lands, conducting surveys for high priority habitats and plant species, and coastal land protection.
Jacob holds a B.S. Degree in Biology from Valdosta State University and a M.S. Degree in Biology from Georgia Southern University. While in graduate school, Jacob began his career with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources working as an intern at state natural areas and helping conduct surveys for rare plants. After completing his Master’s, he was hired as a research technician in the Plant Ecology Lab at Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway, where he worked on a coastal plain depressional wetland biodiversity project.
Throughout his career, he has worked on and led several research and monitoring projects, including studies on pollinator behavior, herbivore and invasive plant impacts on rare plants, vegetation classification, herpetofauna monitoring, and plant population and community response to management. Besides serving on the LSSI Ecological Advisory Council, he is an active member of the Cannon’s Point Conservation Task Force and helped create a management plan for Cannon’s Point Preserve on St. Simons Island. Out of these different experiences, Jacob takes the most pride in working to protect ecologically valuable lands on the Georgia coast.
Jacob lives in Kingsland with his wife Amy, four year-old son Carter, and two year-old daughter Claire.
Research on Little St. Simons Island
Through the process of developing an Ecological Management Plan, we have worked with our Ecological Advisory Council to develop priority research questions. These priorities are questions that we hope will guide future management on Little St. Simons Island and in other parts of our region. In a few cases, LSSI takes the lead role in conducting the research, but with most research projects the island works closely with other organizations and research institutions taking the lead to develop projects that work to answer some of these questions. With its intact ecological communities, LSSI provides a unique platform for research.
If you are interested in research on LSSI, please contact our ecological manager, Scott Coleman, for more details on research priorities and the proposal schedule. firstname.lastname@example.org
We depend on our partnerships with other conservation organizations for numerous ecological management, research, and outreach projects. Our partners have been the leads or collaborated with us on efforts that we have participated in. They have provided technical expertise, financial resources, man hours, equipment and more. The coastal Georgia region is fortunate to have so many dedicated organizations and people working on shared conservation goals. Below is a list of organizations and entities that we have collaborated with.
On Little St. Simons Island, a profound commitment to conservation and preservation is a way of life, touching every facet of the Island and guiding its daily operation.
Vastly different from most other barrier islands along the Atlantic seaboard, Little St. Simons Island remains virtually undeveloped. While guests enjoy accommodations and services of the highest caliber, the devotion of the Island’s owners and staff to maintaining the natural ecological state of the Island remains foremost. Daily guest activities are led by naturalists and are designed to encourage an appreciation for and understanding of the island and its ecosystems.
Little St. Simons Island is now keenly focused on the years to come, aggressively engaging in a host of eco-sensitive initiatives aimed at preserving the Island’s primeval setting in perpetuity. (Click here to visit our Ecological Management page to learn more).
It begins the moment guests set foot on Little St. Simons Island where ornamental plants on the grounds of the Lodge compound have been removed and replaced with indigenous varieties. And it continues with the three daily meals prepared by the kitchen that include vegetables, fruits and herbs grown in the Island’s organic garden.
Other examples of the Island’s commitment to sustainable-use ecotourism that limits impact on the Island’s environment include:
- Compost vegetable scraps and paper to grow soil for our garden
- Recycle plastic, aluminum, glass
- Provide guests with reusable water bottles
- Reuse paper for notepads
- Recycle batteries, tires, oil
- Repurpose wood and building materials
- Living shoreline- upcycled materials from old bulkhead, recycled oyster shells
- Recycle old linens and towels to use as rags.
- Participate in “Clean the Earth” a program that recycles unused bath soap and distributes it in third world countries
- Switched to long-lasting compact fluorescent light bulbs in most light fixtures.
- Many buildings have had icynene spray insulation added
- Installed geothermal climate control in several of the buildings
- Use an electric lawnmower
- Maintenance and Housekeeping adjust heat/ac and turn off lights in vacant guest rooms
- Boardwalk lights on timers.
- Turn off pool filters from 6 pm to 6 am
- Have added skylights in many buildings.
- Installed on-demand tankless water heaters in many of our buildings.
- Use a solar powered 12V electric fence in garden.
- Replace appliances with Energy Star-rated machines when they reach the end of their lifespan.
- Rain barrels are used at the beach gazebo and in front of the Lodge to collect water.
- Educate staff on importance of water conservation and to report leaks immediately.
- Adjust toilets to reduce amount of water per flush (replace toilets with ones that feature a dual flush or reduced gpf).
- Water plants and gardens only when necessary, use rainwater captured by our rain barrels.
- Landscape with native plants which require less watering.
- Keep roads and walkways un-paved to decrease the amount of runoff flowing into creeks and rivers.
- Water-saving front loading washers in the laundry
- Low-flow shower heads in all showers
- Serve fresh vegetables and fruit from our organic garden.
- Tupelo honey directly from apiary
- Bird-friendly coffee distributed from Americus, GA
- Oysters and clams from McIntosh County (same watershed)
- Sweetwater (local Georgia beer) kegerator reduces waste in terms of bottles
- Buying natural bath soaps in bulk.
- Purchase paper products that have a high percentage of recycled matter.
- Decorate with flowers from our garden
- Clean with microfiber towels; reducing the need for chemicals. (They work especially well on windows using only water on one; then drying with another dry/clean microfiber.)
- Use mostly biodegradable, earth-friendly cleaning products.
- Purchase low VOC or no VOC paints
- Support local suppliers
- Replace walkways and decks with recycled plastic boards (“Trex”), which lasts longer than wood.
- Use e-mail instead of paper mail for guest correspondences
- Converted the swimming pool cleaning system from chlorine to saline.