At approximately 26,000 acres, Ossabaw Island is Georgia’s third largest barrier island. Nearly 9,000 acres are high ground; the remainder is tidal wetlands. The island is roughly 10 miles long and 7 miles wide at its widest point. Ossabaw is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east; the Bear River/ Florida Passage of the Intracoastal Waterway to the west; the Ogeechee River to the north; and, St. Catherine’s Sound to the south.
Ossabaw Island’s central high ground dates from the Pleistocene era--the last ice age 40,000 – 50,000 years ago. It is characterized by broad, flat ridges and shallow depressions. High ground on the eastern side of the island is comprised of steep, parallel dune ridges, forming less than 4,000 years ago during the Holocene era--after the last ice age.
Much of Ossabaw’s maritime forest was cleared of live oaks in the 18th century for ship building materials. Timber operations in the 19th and 20th centuries diminished the island’s pines and cedars. As a result, Ossabaw’s forests are predominantly secondary growth: live oak, magnolia, red cedar, dogwood, holly, and slash-, loblolly- and longleaf pine varieties.
Productive salt marshes dominate Ossabaw Island, interspersed with hammocks and tidal creeks. Ephemeral ponds (with a life cycle of under one year) and brackish water impoundments (man-made inlets mixing salt and fresh water) are found throughout the island’s interior. Four historic plantation fields are maintained for deer forage and margin habitat for native and migratory birds. The twelve-mile beach/dune provides foraging and nesting wildlife habitat as well as protection to the island from storms and tidal surges.
Many endangered species including loggerhead sea turtles and wood storks nest on Ossabaw Island, as well as alligators, bald eagles, piping plovers and other species that are either protected, threatened, or are species of concern.
Ossabaw Island is a Heritage Preserve owned by the State of Georgia. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) maintains the island and the Ossabaw Island Foundation coordinates on-island programming.
An Overview of Ossabaw Island