The Conservation Fund acquired the entire property and simultaneously partnered with Open Space Institute (OSI) to acquire a 7,500-acre portion of the 16,083-acre Ceylon property on the Satilla River—protecting a delicate piece of the Atlantic coastline and the largest undeveloped, unprotected portion of coastal property in Georgia. Funding for the purchase came from 8 different partners. Together, we will work with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GA DNR) and federal agency partners over the next several years to permanently protect the entire property under conservation easements and transfer ownership to GA DNR for the establishment of a new wildlife management area that opened in March 2020.


The Satilla River winds 235 miles through coastal wetlands and maritime forest, flowing around the islands peppered through it. The blackwater river travels slowly for miles, carving out white sandbars and salty marshes, before emptying into St. Andrew’s Sound, bringing life to the estuaries dependent on its freshwater. Undammed through its entirety, the Satilla River watershed supports 34 ecological communities, including species such as redbreast sunfish, wood stork, and brown pelicans. The Ceylon project borders 12 miles of the lower Satilla River, conserving this ecologically significant coastal habitat.

Upland from the river are fire-adapted longleaf pine stands, which are the preferred habitat of the gopher tortoise. The charismatic land tortoise uses their large back legs and front feet to dig extensive burrow systems, which regulate the temperature and provide shelter for the tortoises as well as 350 other species. Gopher tortoises are considered a keystone species because of these commensal burrows, benefitting wildlife such as the threatened eastern indigo snake, eastern cottontails, gopher frogs, burrowing owls, and many other species. Federally threatened in parts of its range due to widespread habitat loss and fragmentation, herbicide use, and predation, the tortoise is especially sensitive to population declines because they are slow to reach sexual maturity and have a low reproductive rate. Road development continues to be a significant threat because the slow-moving gopher tortoise is vulnerable to vehicle deaths.

This project is one of the most important properties for gopher tortoises in Georgia, with the GA DNR estimating more than 2,000 individuals on site, potentially more than one viable population. The new wildlife management area will protect this critical habitat for the gopher tortoise and allow the public to appreciate and enjoy this beautiful coastal ecosystem.

The Ceylon Wildlife Management Area also benefits the nearby Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay (NSBKB), the largest employer in Camden County, where our project is based. For the East Coast’s only nuclear submarine base, protecting the Ceylon property has been a long-standing, high priority for NSBKB. Equally important to the Navy are the conservation values of Ceylon and the security for continued training and deployment of our nuclear submarines. The newly protected Ceylon property will ensure that base operations will not be impacted by incompatible development. Our collaborative effort with OSI, GA DNR, The Nature Conservancy and other partners will create public conservation land in the county, allowing the public to benefit from the county’s valuable natural resources.