A possibly contentious consideration of a new lighting ordinance on Jekyll Island didn’t occur at the Jekyll Island Authority board meeting Tuesday, and instead was postponed at least partially because of objections raised by the state Department of Natural Resources.
JIA Director of Conservation Ben Carswell said DNR Wildlife Resources Division Director Rusty Garrison sent him a memo last week expressing reservations about aspects of changes to the 10-year-old ordinance, changes that the board heard at its last meeting in March.
Carswell said that the JIA staff, along with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, drafted those changes to better reflect model standards from Florida and improve consistent management and enforcement of the ordinance.
“We take this input from DNR very seriously,” Carswell said. “Georgia DNR is our most important and closest partner in conservation on Jekyll Island. We wholeheartedly support the agency’s good work and frequently tap the expertise of the wildlife conservation staff in the Brunswick office.
“That’s why I’m coming to you with the recommendation on this particular issue that the beach lighting ordinance is absolutely important for conservation of sea turtles on Jekyll, and can also be very challenging to enforce and comply with. That’s OK — we are not in any way trying to weaken the ordinance, but for it to continue to be successful with new beachfront redevelopment projects in the pipeline, we must make sure that it can be applied consistently and will stand up to any challenge.”
Carswell said between Tuesday’s meeting and the next board meeting June 18, staff will convene a small working group of people from DNR and “key stakeholder representatives” to better inform DNR and make further adjustments to the ordinance.
The board also took a look at two more ordinance modifications that would specify where visitors can and cannot park in the early morning hours, and where and when people can sleep on the island.
As the overnight parking ordinance presently stands, no one is allowed to park a motor vehicle, trailer or camper on public areas of the island overnight. The ordinance would change this prohibition to specifically between 2-5 a.m.
The proposed sleeping ordinance would be entirely new. It states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to camp or sleep on the streets, beaches, parks, parking lots or other public areas, whether in automobiles, trucks, campers, recreational vehicles or other vehicle, or in equipment designed and intended for the purpose of camping.
“Such activity may be permitted in public areas specifically set aside and designated for camping by the authority.”
In a report to the board, Carswell delivered news of expansion of Wilson’s plover nesting behavior. In an attempt to conserve the shorebirds, staff rope off areas of Jekyll beaches to help the plovers nest relatively undisturbed compared to traffic on other areas of the beach.
So far this year, Wilson’s plovers showed they’re building on their nesting area expansion from last year, with six nests found outside the roped-off area by May 15. By that time, there were 19 total nests observed, three of which hatched, with JIA conservation staff banding six chicks.
Work is also ongoing to determine the detection probabilities of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. The study involves plots of 0.25 km square around “radio telemetered individuals” and surveying those plots to find the known snake again, along with others. Data from the project is to better-establish population estimates for the eastern diamondback rattlesnake around different island habitats, which hadn’t been done previously.
Lizzie King, a UGA assistant professor of ecosystem ecology and management, discussed aspects of an ongoing effort to study environmental stressors on Jekyll’s live oaks, a goal of which is to figure out methods to preserve the canopy.
Carswell said, in introducing the project, “The multiple stressors piece of that is important, it’s what makes our study unique and smart. There is no shortage of information out there in the scientific and management literature describing how high densities of deer, such as we have on Jekyll Island, can have negative effects on native plant diversity and forest regeneration. On a broad scale, there’s really no doubt about that.
“But, we didn’t bring Lizzie on board to back us up by re-answering a simple and kind of tired question we already knew the answer to. The question that we’ve asked her to investigate is more interesting, more novel and potentially more useful. That question is, what are the most important things shaping the diversity and dynamics of the native plant community on Jekyll, and where do deer impacts stand relative to those other forces?”
In her third annual report to the board, King wrote, “Sea level rise, climate change, human impacts on surface and groundwater hydrology, fire suppression, invasive species, land development and altered wildlife abundances all have the potential to affect the health and long-term resilience of these (maritime live oak) forests.
“We know surprisingly little about the individual or combined influence of these factors on the past, present and future trajectories of forest change in response to environmental stressors.”
To at least keep the population level, live oaks need to successfully produce at least one mature offspring to replace itself. However, these seedlings and saplings appear to deer and wild hogs as tasty snacks. The large deer population on Jekyll is of particular concern, as are laurel oaks, which compete for area and resources with live oaks.
During a workshop on the topic by experts in 2018, the participants saw “essentially no live oak seedlings or saplings on St. Catherines, Sapelo and Little St. Simons islands, and very few on Ossabaw and Jekyll. These trends were a serious concern shared by all.”
But because there isn’t a great deal of scholarship on the subject, it’s unknown whether this lack of juvenile trees is unusual for these kinds of forests.
According to the report, “Building a more nuanced, casual understanding of forest trends, limits to regeneration, and fire and successional dynamics is a long-term, but challenging, goal.”
The project’s funded by UGA, a state Department of Natural Resources/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association coastal incentive grant and a grant from the JIA.
The board also approved a new plan and design for The Moorings at Jekyll Island, which reduces the developed area by 1 acre than the previously considered plans.
Receiving their grand openings Tuesday were Overview Beach Park and the Jekyll Island Solar Facility. The new-and-improved park includes 173 parking spots — including 16 handicapped-designated and seven for electric vehicles — a bathhouse with shower facilities, picnic areas and a balcony overlook, which are ADA-accessible.
The solar farm is the largest on state-owned land in Georgia and covers a spot on top of a decommissioned landfill. It’s operated by Cherry Street Energy, and electricity generated on site, enough to power 113 homes, goes back into the Georgia Power grid.
Looking ahead, the Glynn County Board of Commissioners contacted JIA about a possible 2020 special local option sales tax program, and JIA staff provided a few recommendations, which the board approved. Those include $750,000 for Driftwood Beach parking and access improvements, $1 million for Clam Creek Fishing Pier access and safety improvements and $1 million for bicycle path paving, for a total of $2.75 million.