The North Florida Land Trust (NFLT) announced this week that it has reached an agreement to purchase 245 acres located in the Intracoastal Waterway at J. Turner Butler Blvd (JTB) in Jacksonville Beach, known widely as the Small Islands.
The nonprofit land conservation organization now must raise $350,000, in just one year, to purchase the property and pay for due diligence and stewardship costs. The property comprised of small wet flatwood islands and saltmarsh is located just north of JTB and is owned by Small Group, LLC. The owner had marketed the property at a purchase price of $3.9 million to build extravagant houses on the nine islands in the marsh. That announcement triggered a significant public outcry.
“We are now asking the community to help us raise the money we need to purchase these islands and keep them in their natural state,” said Jim McCarthy, the president of NFLT. “The reality is that development of the property would be extremely challenging, and the owner ultimately felt that the property should be protected for its wildlife and recreational values.”
The nine small upland islands are surrounded by salt marshes and oyster beds creating an extremely biodiverse ecosystem. It is home to rare species including the federally endangered West Indian manatee and the federally threatened wood stork both of which have been seen within the property boundaries. A 2019 study in the journal “Science” found that three billion birds have been lost since 1970 because of threats including habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change. As wetland habitats have declined over the last 50 years due to development, intact wetland systems such as this have become vital to the survival of many species of birds, including plovers, warblers and waterfowl.
Protecting these islands, which are adjacent to the City of Jacksonville Beach’s Cradle Creek Preserve and a University of North Florida Foundation property, will create approximately 1,200 acres of contiguous protected land on the east side of the Intracoastal.
“When you see declining bird populations, it means danger for ecosystems overall,” McCarthy said. “Protecting habitats, like these islands and marshlands, provide hope for the future but we can’t do it alone. We need help from the public to make it possible.”