Tuesday, November 27, 2007

11/24 - Biologist worries about Jekyll plan

Date: November 24, 2007
Section(s): Local News
The Brunswick News

The delicate balance between wildlife and humans on Jekyll Island is a top concern of a U.S. biologist based in Brunswick.

Kathy Chapman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says sea turtles, piping plovers, wood storks, Wilson plovers and painted buntings could potentially be disrupted if habitats are encroached upon.

Chapman is concerned about the potential impact that the proposed $441 million redevelopment of the state park could have on the environment and wildlife.

"Birds will be affected more than any other group," she said. "How much they will be affected depends on how much habitat is encroached on and what kinds of lighting techniques are used."

Other wildlife, such as raccoons, deer and alligators, may require additional management as well if the human ratio increases.

Chapman feels a study should be conducted to determine the limits of a suitable balance between human activity and wildlife before the development plans progress.

"This would not be easy to determine," she said. "Some monitoring needs to be done, then included in a summary study. "Up to now, there has been a good balance between humans and wildlife."

Simply stated, more people will mean more human encounters with island species.

Under Georgia law, only 35 percent of the island can be developed.

Right now, human activity is spread across the beach, she said. That could change with redevelopment, which calls for a higher density of people on some stretches of beach.

It happens now to some extent.

"Some of it is ignorance, while some of it is just a lack of care, but some people need to be educated about how to respect the environment if they are coming to stay on Jekyll Island," Chapman said.

Activities such as flushing birds and allowing dogs to run free on the beach could have detrimental impacts on several endangered species that depend on the habitat the island provides, she said.

"It would be nice if they would include some type of orientation education for the people who come to stay on Jekyll Island at the resort," Chapman said. "Somehow they will have to get the message out to people about respecting the environment while staying on Jekyll."

Including educational materials in the rooms and cottages that could help to inform visitors about the types of wildlife and how to behave in their habitats could help soften the impact, she said.

The proposed redevelopment, which includes new hotels, convention center and commercial district, is the subject of several public hearings around the state.

Representatives of Linger Longer Communities, which is collecting public input on its plan to develop 65 acres in the general area of the Jekyll Island Convention Center, have said plans recently unveiled are tentative and subject to change. They have have said the plan will be sensitive to the environment.

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