Northeast Coastal Areas Study
Significant Coastal Habitats
Site 8 (NY)
I. SITE NAME: Gardiners Island and Point
II. LOCATION: Gardiners Island is a large, relatively undeveloped marine island located in Gardiners Bay, between eastern Long Island's north and south forks.
TOWN: East Hampton
STATE: New York
USGS 7.5 MIN QUADS: Gardiners Island East, NY 41072-11; Gardiners Island West, NY 41072-12; Plum Island, NY 41072-22
USGS 30x60 MIN QUAD: New Haven 41072-A1
III. GENERAL BOUNDARY: The boundary is shown on the accompanying map and includes the entire 3,300 acre (1,337 ha) island and nearshore waters out to and including Gardiners Point to the north and Cartwright Island to the south.
IV. OWNERSHIP/PROTECTED STATUS: The entire island is privately owned by a single family.
V. GENERAL HABITAT DESCRIPTION: Gardiners Island includes a variety of tidal estuarine and freshwater palustrine wetlands, maritime beaches, dunes, shrublands, bluffs, oak and oak-holly forests, pine barrens and meadows. Tidal amplitude in this area is about two feet (0.61 m). There is no road access to the island; however, a small private airport exists.
VI. SIGNIFICANCE/UNIQUENESS OF AREA: Gardiners Island is especially valuable as an undisturbed breeding ground for thousands of colonial birds, many of them rare and of regional significance. This is an important nesting area for roseate terns (Sterna dougallii), a U.S. Endangered species, and piping plovers (Charadrius melodus), a U.S. Threatened species. Hundreds of osprey (Pandion haliaetus) nest on the island, almost entirely on natural snags. Gardiners Island also supports a variety of nesting colonial wading birds, including glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), snowy egret (Egretta thula), great egret (Casmerodius albus), and little blue heron (Egretta caerulea). Gulls, terns, American oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus), double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), and black skimmers (Rynchops niger) occur in impressive concentrations. Northern harrier (Circus cyaneus) and seaside sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus) are regular nesters. The coastal marshes of Gardiners Island provide habitat for hundreds of wintering waterfowl, primarily American black duck (Anas rubripes) and mallards (Anas platyrhynchos). The island is regularly used by bald eagles, (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), a U.S. Endangered species, during the winter. Harbor and gray seals (Phoca vitulina and Halichoerus grypus, respectively) have winter haulout sites on the east side of the island and Northern diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys t. terrapin) reside in the marshes along the shores. The offshore waters support commercially important American oyster (Crassostrea virginica) beds. The waters of Gardiners Bay provide an abundance of prey fish for the many nesting species of birds on the island and also are important spawning areas for weakfish (Cynoscion regalis) and winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus). Because Gardiners Island is privately owned and access is limited, comprehensive inventories of its flora and fauna are lacking. High quality occurrences of the Sea-beach knotweed (Polygonum glaucum) and sea-purslane (Sesuvium maritinum) are known to occur on the island and other plants of Federal concern have been reported historically. The island's relatively pristine condition suggests that it may provide habitat for other globally rare plant and animal species. There are reports that the maritime forests of the island are in excellent condition, and may represent the largest and least disturbed old-growth forests of the eastern Long Island coastal plain.
VII. THREATS: The island is privately owned by a single family, being held in trust for Robert David Lion Gardiner and his sister, Mrs. Creel, both in their late 70's. Upon their deaths the property will come out of trust. If the land were to be sold to private development interests, it would have a major impact on the nesting habitats of many bird species using the island and regionally significant coastal communities.
VIII. CONSERVATION CONSIDERATIONS: The diversity of habitats and regionally significant coastal species and community types makes Gardiners Island especially valuable as a coastal wildlife refuge. One family has protected this island for over 350 years. Should this ownership pattern ever change, acquisition should be considered by either the Federal or State government. In the meantime, efforts should be made to develop cooperative agreements with the owners to intensively survey and assist in the management of the many significant fish, wildlife and plant resources of this outstanding area, particularly for U.S. Endangered and Threatened species. It is possible that certain rare insects, for example, American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) and northeastern beach tiger beetle (Cincindela d. dorsalis), each known from only a single island in the Northeast, may also occur on Gardiners Island, and surveys for these species should be given high priority by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the states.
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