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Boneyard Beach on Jekyll Island

by Guerry Norwood

North End Beach, best walked at low tide, shows dramatic evidence of erosion, with the exposed roots of dead, decorticated oaks and pines producing a boneyard beach that wraps around to the eastern side of the island. The oaks have flat root mats and the pines have deep, vertical roots. During storms, the heavier oaks tend to tip over and remain, while the pines snap off at the roots and are carried off by the tides. Off the north end is the Brunswick shipping channel, which is annually dredged to allow deep-draft container ships to enter Brunswick Harbor. Geologists believe the dredged channel is responsible for the loss of more than 1,000 feet of beach since the early 1900s when dredging began. Sand drifting southward from islands across the sound is trapped in this channel rather than renourishing the northern beaches. The result is erosion with no accretion, and the Holocene fragment with its natural communities continues to adapt and change.

After North End Beach, the path turns south to border a marsh that experiences poor tidal circulation, thus supporting high marsh and marsh border flora that is less tolerant of salt water, such as the yellow aster-flowered sea oxeye and dark needle rush. On the other side of the marsh, which is accessible by beach during lower tides, is a fascinating and beautiful boneyard beach that reveals the erosion that has occurred on the northern end of the island.

The southern trail, suitable for biking, follows the eastern side of Clam Creek to the North Beach Picnic Area. The bike path follows the marsh, where one can observe alligators, otters, deer, and snakes, along with bird life such as egrets, herons, painted buntings, yellow-throated warblers, clapper rails, and kingfishers. The path dissects some pine and cedar hammocks that are havens for wildlife, before reaching the North Beach Picnic Area. This site was closed in 1986 due to erosion problems. Today, it is the best example of a boneyard beach on a developed island off the Georgia coast. Some exploration will reveal how currents and tides are stripping away soil and undercutting and killing a maritime forest that tumbles onto the sands to create a beautiful boneyard beach. If the erosion continues, Clam Creek will connect with the Atlantic on the eastern side and create an island out of the Holocene northern portion of Jekyll.

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