Located between the Waccamaw and Great Pee Dee Rivers Sandy Is. represents one of the largest undeveloped tracts remaining in the Waccamaw-Pee Dee Region. Only two small villages are located on the southeastern part of the is. Sandy Is. Preserve is 9,164 acres of the 12,000 acre island. Sandy Is. consists of a complex of wetland and upland communities. The 1100 acres of wetlands along the Waccamaw R., on the east side of Sandy Is., were converted to rice fields during the 1800's and currently exist as tidal freshwater marshes. The 3000 acres of existing bottomland hardwood forest on the west side of the island are part of the Great Pee Dee R. floodplain and have been logged in the past. The uplands wre logged extensively in the early 1900's and again from 1946-7. Naval store activities were also conducted on the is. in years past.
Sandy Is. supports a large number of rare plant communities. The uplands exhibit many communities typical of the Sandhills Region along with those typical of the Outer Coastal Plain and cover about half of the island. Parts of the island have experienced wildfires at various times. The north end of the island which burned most often, supports a longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) community with very liette hardwood understory. Mature longleaf pine in excess of 100 years in age dominate the upland landscapae. Fire is a natural component of such communities, preserving health, quality and diversity. Among the rare species existing in the pine forest, is the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) RCW's depend upon the mature, fire resistant pine forest to provide forage and nesting sites. Where fire was suppressed to the south, turkey oak(Quercus laevis)dominates the upland landscape.
The wetland portion of the island includes a huge complex of tidal bald cypress-tupelo swamp, pocosins and freshwater swamps and marshes. Freshwater swamps at the interior of the island support an abundance of wildlife, including a large wading bird rookery.
Significant Red-cockaded Woodpecker(endangered species) colonies (41) make this site important. There are confirmed Swallow-tailed Kite (WatchList) sightings. Sandy Island is ranked in the top 20 wading bird rookeries in SC. Species associated with longleaf pine habitat exist here.
Feral hogs exist but have not yet compromised the integrity of the site.
Prescribed fires will be nedessary in some areas to maintain the sub-climax longleaf sandhill ecosystem.
Hog removal and prescribed buring are now in progress.
SCDeparatment of Transportation (SCDOT) holds ownership of Sandy Island Preserve. The preserve is more than 2/3 of the total 12,000 acre island. The Nataure Conservancy is the preserve manager and will obtain ownership when the wetland mitigation credits are used by SCDOT.
Sandy Island Preserve is primarily bald cypress/tupelo gum swamp and secondarily longleaf pine savannah with some loblolly pine and pocosin with pond pine, bottomland hardwood forest, shrub/scrub, tidal wetland, non-tidal wetland, riparian, and open water (river).
Oenothera riparia, a globally rare plant occurs along the blackwater river. Eleocharis robbinsii and Cladium mariscoides (also rare in SC), ,Eupatorium resinosum (very rare), and Litsea aestivalis, globally rare plants occur in isolated wetlands. Also,Rhynchospora inundata is found in wetlands. Ilex amelanchier occurs along the blackwater river. Epidendrum conopseum, SC's only epiphytic orchid, is found here.
Large carnivores include coyote, black bear and bobcat.
Sandy Island is primarily a wildlife conservation area. A small residential community of 150, accessed only by boat, resides here. The resicents of this African-American community are the decendants of slaves who worked the rice plantations and eventually ran the rice fields until the late 1800s. Most of the island has remained in private hands and been undisturbed. A recent archaeological survey by SCDOT has determined that Sandy Island is a significant site due to its uncompromised nature.