Cumberland Island is Georgia's largest and southernmost barrier island. It is also one of the oldest barrier islands in Georgia, with rich soils capable of supporting a diversity of plants. It is bordered by the Cumberland River, Cumberland Sound, and the Atlantic Ocean. Three main natural communities are found on the island: extensive salt marshes on the western side comprise almost 17,000 acres; an ancient, mid-island maritime forest of live oak, pine, cedar and saw palmetto covers 15,100 acres; and a narrow strip of dune/beach stretches along the Atlantic Ocean side of the island. Parts of the island have regenerated from use as plantations, when clear-cutting for sea island cotton farming and timber harvests for ship building were profitable. It has several noteworthy features, including 50 miles of shoreline, freshwater marshes and ponds, high bluffs, interdune meadows, tidal mudflats and creeks, and a large, freshwater lake. It is accessible only by ferry, a concession arrangement with the national park service.

Ornithological Summary

As a United Nations-sanctioned International Biosphere Reserve, the wilderness on Cumberland Island protects many threatened and endangered species, including six species of migratory and shore birds and four species of sea turtles. It is clearly a place of global significance.

Cumberland Island is a major stopping point on the transatlantic migratory flyway, with over 335 species of birds recorded. Threatened and endangered species include Least Tern, Wilson's Plover, and American Oystercatcher. The southernmost point of the island, known as Pelican Banks, is a favorite place for Black Skimmers, oystercatchers, pelicans, and numerous ducks and shore birds. The fresh water ponds provide excellent rookeries for Wood storks, white ibis, herons and egrets. In the forest canopy, warblers, buntings, wrens and woodpeckers abound. On the shores, osprey, peregrine falcons, and the occasional Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle can be seen. CI is a breeding site for endangered/threatened/high priority species such as Wood Stork, GAEA, Least Tern, Painted Bunting. Extensive, regular use by migrants and winter residents (warblers, shorebirds, PE, FA). The habitat is largely undisturbed and the island is one of GA's largest. Area attracts several rare/accidental species (LBCU, GLGU, WEK). Northern edge for some species (i.e., WIPE winters) = seasonal use and range. Contains steadily increasing population of TUTI (uncommon to rare on many barrier islands). AMWP (winter and a few summer), REEG, etc.

Black Rail, Piping Plover, Saltmarsh sharp-tail Sparrow, Nelson's sharp-tail Sparrow, Painted Bunting, Cerulean Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Red-cockcaded Woodpecker (Source: Shelia Willis checklist)

Wood Stork, Bald Eagle, Piping Plover, American Oystercatcher, Saltmarsh sharp-tail Sparrow, Nelson's Sharp-tail Sparrow (Source: Cumberland CBS 2000)

Sighting Source Key: 1=published reports,; 2=surveys (CBC; BBS; etc.); 3=personal observations; 4=other sources (specify)

Conservation Issues

Water diversions (or hydrologic changes) mean reduced water from springs and increased mainland use.

Several kinds of disturbances are listed as a conservation issue. A primary threat is a dramatic increase in boat traffic with shoreline fishing, picnicking, and people walking through colonies causing cessation of breeding by several species. Off-limit signs, when posted too late into the nesting season, do little good to protect nest sites from foot traffic. A secondary threat is intercoastal waterway traffic on the western side of the island.

There are proposals to limit the use of vehicles in wilderness areas despite the existence of roads already in use by park personnel and private citizens. Because the island is quite large, walking to research areas will be too time-consuming. Vehicle restrictions will hinder scientific studies and resource management projects that are connected with tidal events, sunrise and sunset periods.

A proposed public dock on the Northwest side of the island would have a negative impact on avian and loggerhead sea turtle habitat.

There is conflict over resource management issues involving the NPS, conservationists, business interests, and island residents.


Cumberland Island National Seashore is owned by the federal government. An 8,000 acre tract of the island remains in private ownership and includes a private airstrip.

Owner/Manager Contact listed as:
Cumberland Island National Seashore, P.O. Box 806, St. Marys, GA 31558 912-882-4336


Cumberland island is a Barrier island on the coast of Georgia. Habitat types include maritime live oak forest, beaches and ~50 miles of shoreline, interdune meadows, tidal mud flats and creeks, freshwater marshes and ponds, extensive saltmarshes, pine plantation, ocean and river boundaries, high bluffs (marine and riverside), and Lake Whitney, a large freshwater lake.

Land Use

As a national park area, there are several primitive campgrounds, and one developed campground with restrooms, showers and drinking water. A museum and visitor center, as well as a boat dock for a passenger ferry service, make the island a favorite destination for visitors. Historic ruins are closed to the public. Periodic managed hunts require closure of wilderness areas to the general public. Georgia state fishing laws apply on the island. Feral horses roam freely. Some of Cumberland Island remains in private ownership, and trespassing is discouraged.

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