According to Georgia's state laws, all beaches must be open to the public. However, the interior of St. Catherines Island is off limits to the public without an appointment. This land serves as a center for endangered animals. The St. Catherines Island Foundation owns the island, which is ten miles long and one to three miles wide, and they run the St. Catherines Island Center and care for the animals that live there.
The St. Catherines Island Center focuses on creating an undisturbed habitat for animals like ospray, sea turtles, and lemurs. They employ a number of researchers to work at the center, studying and caring for these animals, while also educating the general public about these creatures. The center was founded in 1974 as a pilot program that's often called a "Noah's Arc.'' Essentially, animal species that are facing extinction are represented on the island and bred to build up population numbers. The animals are then sent to other facilities to continue with breeding and care. There are 14 zoos in the St. Catherines Island Center network that help breed colonies of exotic and endangered animals.
The entire island was declared a National Historic Landmark, which will prevent the area from being disturbed long into the future. That means that the center can continue saving animal species. They've already successful bred rare animals such as the Aldabra tortoise, the St. Vincent parrot, the Grevy's zebra, the ring-tailed lemur, and the Jackson's hartebeest.
One of the most successful programs at the St. Catherines Island Center has been the Sea Turtle Conservation Program, along with Aldabra tortoises, which are a rare form of the endangered Galapagos tortoises, the center is home to loggerhead sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, green sea turtles, and a few other endangered species. Since visitation to the center is only permissible under special circumstances, they've created a mobile sea turtle exhibit, which focuses on educating children and adults about these endangered reptiles. The conservation efforts of the center have helped researchers learn more about many different kinds of sea turtle species.
The island is accredited with the Associate of Zoos and Aquariums and participates in national Species Survival Programs. The island is divided into a number of distinct ecosystems to help the animals live as naturally as possible, which helps with breeding. Staff members monitor weather conditions, animal health and safety, and other habitat concerns, but for the most part, the animals are left to enjoy a life without people disturbing them. Because of this, many of the animals on the island live to be far older than the normal life expectancy in the wild.
Although St. Catherines Island Center isn't open to the public normally, they do have outreach programs for nearby schools and organization and do grant tours of the island and its facilities at times, depending on the circumstances. There are no fees associated with visiting the island, though visitors should remember that the center is non-profit and survives through donations and similar forms of support. To learn more about the center or visiting options, guests can contact the Department of Geology and Geography at Georgia Southern University by calling 912-478-5353.