by SC Reporter Crystal Tisme
SC photos by Shannen Hayes
The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge, the non-profit arm of the renowned J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, is still assessing the more than 7,000 acres of land and water mass under refuge management damaged by Hurricane Ian, after it swept across the island a month ago.
DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller said the “entire refuge is still going through a whole assessment, and it’s not just Wildlife Drive. There are platforms, observation areas, walkways, the Indigo Trail, lots of those things were pulled up and it’s just major debris.”
She explained the mangroves were mostly “walloped” as they took the brute force of the dangerous, high-end category 4 storm, protecting the island. They sustained heavy damage, and according to Miller, it will take years for them to develop back to the state they were in before the storm.
Miller said the animals have been displaced, and found in abnormal areas of the island. They also suffered casualties due to the hurricane. Animals such as birds were able to evade danger by flying away, but others weren’t so lucky.
Miller was surprised and excited to see gopher tortoises around as they cannot swim unlike many may think. “I was most excited to see the gopher tortoise because those are the borrowing tortoises then they would be ones that would be most affected by water,” said Miller.
DDWS is looking for volunteers and donations to help with cleanup and restoration on the island. Though there is still a lot of work to be done Miller still has hope the community will be back better than ever.
“That it’s just going to take everyone working together to really have the whole island restored in such a way that we can all be proud and excited to see the final results,” said Miller.
To volunteer your time call 239-292-0566 or email Miller at email@example.com.
To also help with the restoration, DDWS has created shirts with “#DingStrong” printed on them for people to buy. “#DingStrong” was created to show the refuge is a very special place to many and will continue to push through after the disaster that was Hurricane Ian.