The feeder canal in front of you is how water makes its way into and out of the moat that surrounds Fort Pulaski. If you look out beyond the feeder canal you will see the south channel of the Savannah River in the distance. You passed over this channel when you crossed the Cockspur Island bridge into the park. This channel is not as deep as the North Channel and is utilized by boaters and kayakers throughout the year. It was also the channel used by both union and confederate soldiers during the Civil War to send messages back and forth from Tybee Island and Fort Pulaski.
In the past, the water inside the moat was replenished or drained each day by the shifting tides. Today, park staff turns the dial you see behind you to open and close the flood gate to allow water to move in and out. As the water moves in it brings with an abundance of aquatic life.
If you step carefully to the edge and look down into the moat you may see oysters attached to the brick walls, small translucent shrimp, blue crabs, river otters, alligators, or a mullet leaping up out of the water. The numerous species of wildlife found inside the moat are not long-term residents and you never know who you will find swimming about. This makes each visit to Fort Pulaski unique.
A wide assortment of birds can be seen perched along the feeder canal looking for food or simply hiding out in the tall grasses that line its border. If you stand quietly for a few moments you may spot a red-winged blackbird, egret, heron, ibis, marsh wren, or the vibrantly colorful feathers of a painted bunting. You may just want to listen to the sound of the calls, chirps, and melody of their songs.
Looking at the trees behind the Visitor Center you will notice many are dead. You may have noticed even more dead trees as you drove onto Cockspur Island. Did you wonder why? Most visitors do.
Cockspur Island in its natural state is a salt marsh. It was never meant to house a fort, and we were never meant to be standing here. Before construction on Fort Pulaski began all that was here was vast stretches of cordgrass, very similar to what you see on Hwy 80 as you enter the park boundary.
When construction on Fort Pulaski began in the early 1800’s a dike system was put into place by a young Robert E. Lee to keep freshwater in and saltwater out. In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps came in to restore Fort Pulaski from its abandoned state, and planted trees around the island to beautify the space.
Over time the dike system began to erode as sea levels rose and coastal flooding became the norm. A breach began to form on the dike system and this allowed saltwater to begin encroaching into freshwater areas. The trees here are not meant to live in a saltwater environment which is why they are slowly dying off. If you look at the roots of the toppled trees you will see they are rather short in length. If a tree doesn’t have a sturdy root structure it simply cannot survive. These dying trees add valuable nutrients to the marsh that surrounds them and shelter to the wildlife who take up residence in them. Before you move on, take a moment to reflect on the different ways each piece of this ecosystem helps lend support to the other.