The former St. George Island bridge causeway, located in Apalachicola Bay between Eastpoint and St. George Island, provides nesting habitat to thousands of waterbirds each summer including American Oystercatchers, Least Terns, Royal Terns, Sandwich Terns, and Brown Pelicans. The site is an island remnant of the original 1965 causeway which provided seabird nesting habitat even with cars whizzing by en route to and from St. George Island. Safety issues with the original bridge resulted in construction of a replacement bridge, isolating the former causeway from land and providing a predator-free nesting site for seabirds into the future. The significance of this site was recognized by the State of Florida and declared a Critical Wildlife Area, a designation that provides additional protection to nesting birds.
The site continues to be used by nesting seabirds but seawalls have continued to degrade and collapse into the bay over the years. These seawall failures have allowed tidal and storm-driven waves to erode the upland nesting area of the causeway through washouts and even complete wash-overs.
A joint effort between Audubon Florida and the site managers, Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, began in 2014 to stabilize the eroding sections of the causeway with funding support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. After much planning and engineering, construction was to be initiated October 15, 2018. Hurricane Michael changed those plans when it made landfall on Oct 10th. The hurricane actually increased the urgency of the construction as the causeway was completely overwashed at one of the wall-failure sections, potentially impacting more nesting habitat from future storms.
Construction was delayed, but HG Harder’s and Son commenced work in mid-January 2019, even as their equipment and workers were still digging themselves out of the storm debris. Barges and heavy equipment arrived at the causeway and rocks were placed along two of the failing seawall sections to protect the upland nesting habitat. Construction was accomplished by a crane sitting on a barge at the edge of the island, precluding any on-island impact to the nesting habitat. Construction was completed in early April 2019 just as seabirds arrived at the site for breeding. These birds should arrive to a site with reinforced seawall sections to protect their nesting habitat.