Gulf Islands National Seashore

The Gulf Islands National Seashore includes many areas of historical interest. In Florida, Don Tristan de Luna founded the first attempt at a Spanish settlement in the mainland U.S. on Santa Rosa Island; this later became the city of Pensacola. Fort Pickens, Fort Barrancas, and the ruins of Fort McRee are all part of the National Seashore, and all were important during the Civil War. The Naval Live Oaks Reservation on the mainland is a relic of the era of wooden ships. This forest of curvy live oaks was purchased in 1828 by the U.S. government during the Adams administration, in order to ensure a continuous supply of the wood for the navy who preferred the hard, curved wood for ship hulls. In the 1970s, the U.S. government reasserted its right to the forest in court after Florida attempted to sell the land to private citizens. This led to the authorization of the Gulf Islands National Seashore on January 8, 1971, in order to protect the forest and all the government-owned islands nearby for future generations. The Mississippi islands were added to the park later, in 1978, in order to protect the pristine natural habitats there from development.

With the exception of the Naval Live Oaks Preservation in Florida and Davis Bayou in Mississippi, which are on the mainland, the Gulf Islands National Seashore is located on barrier islands. These islands are famous for their natural, bright white sand, which is composed of quartz and washes down from the Appalachian Mountains. Sand dunes form naturally near the coast, and further inland, scraggly pine tree forests make a living among the sandy soil.

Of the seven species of sea turtles, four nest at Gulf Islands National Seashore. Human development on the islands scared away many of the sea turtles, but recent conservation efforts have increased the number of nests in the park almost tenfold. There are twenty endangered species that live in the park. The most well-known is the Perdido Key beach mouse, a tiny mouse that lives in the sand dunes, and which was the cause of arguments and lawsuits between developers, residents, environmentalists, and the park service. Today, the lack of condominiums on Perdido Key can be attributed to the beach mouse.

The islands host a unique dune habitat; wind and waves blow sand into large piles, which are held in place by the root systems of beach grass and sea oats. Before this relationship between grass and dunes was understood, the plants were treated as a weed and were removed, leaving the dunes vulnerable to hurricanes. Hurricanes Erin and Opal in 1995 destroyed most of the dune habitat on the islands in Florida, but replanting efforts of sea oats and grass have slowly started to bring the dunes back. It's now illegal to remove plantlife from the sand dunes.

The Seashore is sunny and warm most of the year. June through September are the most humid months and afternoon thunderstorms are common. The Seashore has been hit by numerous hurricanes throughout the years. Hurricane season is June through November.

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