On Friday, March 10, Audubon Florida launched their first event in Palm Beach to introduce the restoration of the Audubon Islands Sanctuary. This sanctuary is a series of six islands in the Lake Worth Lagoon between Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. Audubon Florida hopes to recreate what was once a natural island paradise, protected from development for centuries.
The islands were originally leased to Audubon in 1942 by the Bingham, Bolton, and Blossom families to keep them as a wildlife sanctuary. The lease extends 99 years to 2041. As development grows rapidly around the Lake Worth Lagoon and in the surrounding areas, these islands provide important natural habitat for coastal birds and other wildlife.
The islands feature some of the most beloved trees of antique Florida habitats, including the gumbo limbo, paradise, mastic, caper, buttonwood, ironwood, cabbage palm, and even crabwood trees. Seventy years ago, herons, egrets, and pelicans nested frequently on the islands. But over the years, exotic invasive plants and trees have infested the islands and damaged important bird habitat. Native species must be planted in place of the invasive species to restore the sanctuary.
The Town of Palm Beach granted a permit for the removal of invasive plant species on Bingham Island, the largest island of the six. Audubon is working with the community to return the islands to their original state in conjunction with the redevelopment of the Southern Bridge project by the Florida Department of Transportation.
More than 100 Palm Beach residents and Audubon supporters attended the March 10 event. Many attendees have seen the islands from a distance and now relish the opportunity to be part of their restoration.
“We learned this week that we may have one of the oldest gumbo limbo trees in South Florida,” said Katie Carpenter, host committee co-chair and Palm Beach nature filmmaker. “It’s further proof that this jungle-like island is like an ark, a safe deposit box that has been protecting the rare jewels of old Florida’s natural environment for decades.”
Hosts of the event were Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida; Wendy Bingham; Tatiana and Campion Platt, project leaders and architect/designers; and Katie Carpenter, environmentalist and project director.
The host committee included Gaida and Matt Zirkelbach, project environmental consultant; Carol Timmis, Board Director Audubon Florida; Russell and Lynn Kelley, Palm Beach Historical Society; Lily Holt and Patrick Dillon; Michelle and Peter Farmer; Robin and Robert Leacock; Doug and Monica Taylor, Harry and Polly Wulsin, and Mary Morse. Toby Pell, Howard Cox, Bill Mulroy, Kathleen and Lew Crampton, Susan Van Pelt, Cameron Lickle, Morgan O’Neil, Hildegarde Mahoney, Ashley and Pierce O’Neil, Bob Merrill, Chris and Jayne Chase, Tom Schaffer and Pamela O’Connor also attended.
“Our group of interested neighbors and allies has been growing more and more excited about restoring the natural beauty of these lagoon islands,” said Campion Platt, Palm Beach architect and committee co-chair. “The event was amazing, just to hear people’s enthusiasm about replanting strangler figs, mastics, paradise trees, buttonwoods, and native flowers too. It’s going to be a treasured haven for our community for generations to come.”