Protecting the Georgia Coast

Ossabaw Island. Photo by Izzy Hudgins

Savannah’s salt marshes, barrier islands and riverways offer more than breathtaking views — these landscapes are home to unique culture and wildlife. Meet the organizations protecting and enriching the Lowcountry’s treasures. 

Ossabaw Island Foundation 

Though Ossabaw Island — the third largest of Georgia’s 15 barrier islands — is only 20 short miles from Savannah’s historic district, the undeveloped gem feels a world away. With its pristine white beaches, untouched maritime forests, roaming alligators, shore birds, Spanish hogs and feral donkeys, Ossabaw Island has been a State Heritage Preserve since 1978, ensuring that the land can only be used for natural, scientific and cultural research. The Ossabaw Island Foundation (TOIF), an outgrowth of this agreement, is dedicated to elevating the voices and mysteries of this natural, coastal wonder. Since its inception in 1998, the foundation has restored historic tabby slave cabins and the 1920s-era mansion known as the Main House, and turned the old hunting lodge into living spaces for guests. 

According to foundation director Elizabeth DuBose and project coordinator Robin Gunn, “the Georgia coastline is the most undeveloped on the Atlantic, a haven not only for wildlife, but also a place to appreciate the beauty of the Lowcountry and its people.” Because the island has remained undeveloped, researchers have been able to make important environmental and archeological discoveries dating back over 5,000 years, as well as genealogical findings that hit closer to home. Recently, researches at the University of Georgia created a family tree of enslaved peoples on Ossabaw’s Kollock Plantation, allowing TOIF to connect descendants to their ancestors. 

Visitors to the island aren’t just researchers, though. TOIF hosts day and night trips year round, like indigo-dyeing workshops, an African-American history tour and in late July and August, a creative day trip and two overnight sea turtle research trips. (ossabawisland.net) 

Pin Point Heritage Museum 

Pin Point sits on the sparkling edge of Shipyard Creek, one of the many inlets running through Skidaway Island in southern Chatham County. Pin Point has been a community since 1896, when it was founded by freedmen from Ossabaw, Skidaway and Green islands after the Civil War. As the only Gullah/Geechee community that hasn’t been altered by developers, it’s a living cultural artifact. The descendants of the original founders live and thrive in Pin Point today. “I lived the story, so I can tell the story,” says Gail Smith, a historical interpreter for the museum and Pin Point resident. According to Smith, Pin Point Heritage Museum creates an authentic space that reminds us of our coastal history. Smith’s passion for preserving Pin Point’s culture is driven by her commitment to protect the place where her ancestors sought freedom. The community’s connection to place is more than an appreciation — its waterways provided an economic boon with bountiful seafood harvests, as well as a haven from hurricanes that devastated the barrier islands in the late 19th century.

The museum itself is located in the historic A.S. Varn & Son Oyster and Crab Factory, where visitors can learn about Pin Point through interactive displays featuring stories from the people who have lived and worked in the community for generations, as well as about the economic and environmental importance of the riverways and marshes. “It’s not all about oysters and crabs,” Smith reminds, “but all the wildlife and people that call the coastline home.” The museum is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Special events and school field trips can be organized through the Coastal Heritage Society. (http://www.chsgeorgia.org/PHM)

One Hundred Miles

One Hundred Miles is an environmental nonprofit dedicated to preserving the natural features of Georgia’s 100-mile long coastline. While its main office is based in Brunswick, a satellite office located in Savannah’s Starland District opened in 2016 and offers environmentally based workshops and classes for both adults and children that aim to cultivate an appreciation for the natural beauty of Georgia’s salt marshes and outline the ecological importance of our coast, one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

One Hundred Miles’ education-based approach to environmental advocacy is key, says chief executive officer Megan Desrosiers, who puts it this way: “You can’t protect what you don’t love, and you don’t love what you don’t understand, and you can’t understand something you’ve never experienced.” A self-professed beach lover, Desrosiers became fascinated with the coastal landscape when she saw a large alligator creep from the road into the marsh after she moved here from Pennsylvania over 20 years ago. “I wondered what else was hidden in that salt marsh, and it inspired me to learn why this ecosystem is so important.” 

One Hundred Miles works with community leaders and scientists to determine and implement ecological preservation efforts, including adaptation to changing climates and rising sea-levels, stabilizing species and habitat, and safety plans for ecological disasters such as hurricanes. 

In addition to education and advocacy work, One Hundred Miles provides opportunities for community-led projects based on need and interest — all  with the goal of fostering a shared love for the coast. (onehundredmiles.org)

 

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