St. Simons Island's beaches are limited to the southern end of the island in a band stretching 4 miles from Gould's Inlet on the eastern side to King Creek on the southwestern side. The beaches have experienced tremendous changes since the beginning of the island's recorded history, and continue to erode and accrete as a response to the effects of wind, waves, tides, and storms. Taylor Schoettle's study of the beaches in A Naturalist's Guide to St. Simons Island is an excellent primer on the subject. Not many sea turtles nest on St. Simons Island for reasons not entirely understood but probably due to the island's mix of currents, sand quality, width of beach, rock seawalls, beach orientation, and development. From 19941998, an average of only one sea turtle has nested on St. Simons a year, compared with 74 on Sea Island, which has roughly the same length of beach.
[Fig. 20(9)] St. Simons Beach, the area between the King and Prince Beach Resort and fishing pier, through the years has been assaulted by currents, tides, and storms and has eroded significantly. If not for the placement of the Johnson Rocks in 1964, naturalist Taylor Schoettle believes the beach would have retreated all the way to the brick county buildings behind Neptune Park. In the 1920s, the beach extended out to the wings of the present pier, and the old pier extended the length of the new pier from that spot. In the 1920s, people could drive their cars on the beach from the pier to the King and Prince, something that would be unthinkable today. At low tide, beachcombers can walk to the King and Prince, but at high tide, much of the beach is submerged as waves crash on the seawall known as the Johnson Rocks.
Destroying a large portion of St. Simons Beach was Hurricane Dora in 1964. South of the King and Prince, the hurricane snatched beachfront homes into the Atlantic, tore out the middle section of Beachview Drive, and obliterated Postell Avenue, which ran parallel to Beachview one block closer to the ocean. Two small fragments of Postell at 12th Street at the southern end and between Myrtle and Cedar streets at the northern end are evidence of the power of tropical storms. A small gurgling artesian well on the beach south of 9th Street once was found in the backyard of a beachfront home. Today, it is used by thirsty shorebirds or children playing in the gurgling spring.
This part of the island's beach is most vulnerable to erosion for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the main reason is that in front of Neptune Park in the sound is a 7080 feet deep trench with fast-moving currents.
[Fig. 20(10)] Massengale is a popular and busy public park, where the smells of grilled hamburgers and hot-dogs mix with the happy shouts of playing children. Because of its extensive use, it has the worn look of a public park. Nevertheless, it provides access to the southern end of East Beach, and visitors who head north from here will experience the best beach the island has to offer. The sand is hard-packed and suitable for biking.
The park came about due to philanthropy by the Sea Island Company, which was in the process of limiting public access to its beaches and wanted to provide a public beach area for St. Simons residents, but not on Sea Island. The Sea Island Company bought the property in 1945 in an attempt to get the state to build a state park, but it was deemed too small, and the state instead purchased Jekyll Island. In 1955, the Sea Island Company donated the property to Glynn County for the park.
The woodlands of the park and East Beach, supporting Live Oaks and pines, are remnants of the maritime forest on the Holocene fragment of St. Simons. Because of the younger, poorer soil, this forest is much less diverse, compared with the mid-island forests that are growing on richer, Pleistocene soils found west of Bloody Marsh.
[Fig. 20(11)] The historic Coast Guard Station is home to the St. Simons division of Coastal Encounters Nature Center. This excellent nonprofit organization is dedicated to adult and child education about Georgia's precious coast. Programs include barrier island ecology walks, kayak excursions in the marsh, boating with naturalists, summer science camps, and other field trips. Inside the station are touch tanks and aquariums featuring local marine species. Another branch of Coastal Encounters is located on Jekyll Island. A group is working on a plan to open a maritime museum in the historic station as well.
The beach here has accreted considerably since the 1950s. Wood Avenue runs behind the old shoreline, showing how much the area has grown. The area north of the Coast Guard Station has grown the most on the island and has extensive dune meadow and shrub communities that are interesting to study for plant succession relative to beach and dune formation. Extensive shoals display the effects of longshore currents carrying sand south from Little St. Simons Island and Sea Island meeting cross currents from Gould's Inlet and northern currents of the sound. Worries about recent erosion at the area known as East End, however, where condos have been built near "new" beach, has led to an application for a seawall to protect this recent development.
[Fig. 20(12)] A small park located at 15th Street and Bruce Drive provides a great view of the best birding spot on the island, recognized by its selection to the Colonial Coast Birding Trail. This inlet separates East Beach, a Holocene fragment of St. Simons south of the inlet, from Sea Island to the north. The bar and inlet are good examples of Georgia's barrier island-estuarine interface. The inlet and sand bars are constantly moving, changing shape, preventing vegetation from becoming established, and creating a resting place for many species of birds, as well as a feeding site for certain species. Resident birds seen here include laughing and herring gulls, willets, American oystercatchers, black skimmers, brown pelicans, black skimmers, and royal terns. During warm weather, including fall and spring migration periods, bird watchers may identify black, sandwich, gull-billed, common, and Caspian terns; black-bellied, semi-palmated, and Wilson's plovers; reddish egrets, marbled godwits, whimbrels, ruddy turnstones, sanderlings, red knots, and western sandpipers. Cold-weather birds include black-bellied and piping plovers; black-backed, and ring-billed gulls; Caspian and Forster's terns; red-backed dunlins; and red-breasted mergansers.
As the southern part of Sea Island has grown, the northern end of East Beach has lost 1,640 feet of land since the Civil War, according to Schoettle. As you walk or bike south on East Beach toward Coast Guard beach, the homes fall away from the shore, due to the growth of the beach since 1930. These homes used to be beachfront property. They still are, but they are located much farther from the water.
Fishermen sometimes try their luck on Gould's Inlet Dock, where tidal pulses attract many species of fish and other marine animals.
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