I’m always glad to see September because it’s not long until the cooler days of autumn will follow. This month of transition can have both hot humid days punctuated by mildly warm days depending on the unsettled weather typical of this time of year. September is a time when noticeable changes start to happen on and around Cumberland. Some of the highest tides of the year naturally occur during this month. If linked to a tropical storm; lower parts of the fore dunes can be breached, flooding the inter-dune meadows, impacting some of the less salt tolerant plants that grow there.
Recent storm tides have already cut deeply into the dunes destroying most of the sea turtle nests this season. However, it’s during these high water events that one particular dune plant is recognized for its beach stabilizing value. Salt tolerant Sea Oats more than any other plant or man made structure can hold a shoreline together. The long root system of this plant spreads out like a fine net under the sand holding it in place Sea oats also have five to six foot tall leaves and stalks that slow the wind flow over the surface of the dunes which also helps to slow the movement of sand. Probably the single most important plants on Cumberland are the sea oats because of this critical service they provide along with the beauty of the plant itself. This is the time of year when sea oats change color from green to golden brown. It is believed early explorers referred to Georgia’s barrier Islands as “The Golden Isles” after observing the seasonal color change of sea oats along the wild shorelines.
Today, any place where the land meets the sea, a degree of wildness still exist as these two systems struggle to reach a natural equilibrium. In the process, shorelines are constantly on the move either building or washing away. This of course, is one of many reasons why coastal development is such a risky business. A number of people who live on beach front properties are starting to realize now they may lose the battle against the sea.
Fortunately most of Georgia’s shorelines remain undeveloped. Nearly all of this state’s barrier islands were too far from shore to build bridges for access in the earlier years which restricted development. By the time the will, technology and money came along to build bridges and develop the islands, either the State or Federal governments had already acquired and preserved these beautiful and highly functional natural areas. Cumberland is the best example of this with over seventeen miles of undeveloped shoreline, that will never be developed due to protection from the National Park Service and some of the private owners as well.
Visitors to Cumberland are always amazed to see so many miles of beach without a building in front of it as they comment on the natural beauty of the island; soon an awareness sets in as people realize how much of the southeast coast has been altered by heavy development.
September is a good time to study the dynamics of how natural shorelines work and to reflect on how important it is to preserve them.