A barrier island off Franklin County’s coast, once targeted for development, has been purchased by the Audubon Society.
Audubon Florida has acquired the last private inholding on Lanark Reef, one of Florida’s most significant sites for threatened and endangered coastal birds in Florida and a designated Important Bird Area (IBA).
According to a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) survey, Lanark Reef lies in the Gulf of Mexico roughly 0.7 miles offshore of Lanark Village, and stretches for approximately six miles parallel to the coast and contains both submerged and emerged areas.
The submerged lands comprise the majority of the reef extending for almost five miles and are rich in sea grasses. The emerged areas are a series of “islands” that stretch for approximately one mile of the reef, with a total area of about four acres. The eastern emerged section is heavily vegetated with grasses and shrubs.”
The submerged lands were already the property of the state, but Audubon has been in negotiation with Premier Bank of Tallahassee to acquire the rest of the reef for several years. Last month, Audubon closed the deal paying $33,000 for the property.
Hurley Booth, a Tallahassee developer, once planned to build Lanark Reef Resort, a condominium community on the tiny spit of land, and the county health department approved permits for septic tanks.
But, County Planner Alan Pierce said, it was unlikely Booth would have been permitted to build on the tiny island. “(Lanark) reef is not zoned for development of any kind and is not part of Franklin County’s land use map,” Pierce said. “It’s just a sandbar as far as we are concerned. We never saw any building plans for development and it never went before planning and zoning”
According to Audubon, the narrow barrier island provides essential habitat to some of the Gulf of Mexico’s most imperiled species. In spring and summer, it hosts a large breeding colony of brown pelicans, as well as nesting American oystercatchers, black skimmers, willets and more. In fall and winter, migrant and wintering birds like red knots, piping and snowy plovers, and more flock to the islands to feed and rest. Many of these species are rare and declining, listed as endangered or threatened by state or federal agencies.
The island has been designated an important birding area by Audubon. More than 250 species of birds use the reef for spring and summer nesting and as a stopping point for winter migration. Lanark Reef has been designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as critical habitat for the piping plover, one of the most rapidly declining Gulf shorebirds due to habitat loss.
Eric Draper, Audubon Florida’s executive director said, “Lanark Reef has long been important to Florida’s iconic coastal landscape. Audubon is proud to protect this remarkable habitat while it still exists.”
Many of the species benefitting from this acquisition are the same most affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; funding for the purchase was provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation with revenue generated by the sale of oil recovered from the spill. Private donors from across the country also made contributions to ensure the acquisition and management of this special place.
The reef will be closed to human beings and dogs although the pristine bird sanctuary can still be viewed from boats. Because of the extremely shallow water surrounding Lanark Reef; it can be reached by boat only at high tide. FWC has posted warning signs about disturbing wildlife and damaging sea grass beds on the emerged areas of the reef.
In a press release, Julie Wraithmell, Audubon’s director of wildlife conservation said, “This dynamic island, shaped by wind and waves, is a glimpse of what was once common along the Gulf Coast: shifting sands and swaying marsh grass supporting abundant wildlife,”
The public can sign up for updates on the reef, coastal birds, Florida conservation issues and volunteer opportunities at http://fl.audubonaction.org.