Why Plum Island Is Important
Despite the more than half a century of active use by staff at the Center, Plum Island still contains significant natural resources and possesses remarkable scenic, environmental value and recreational potential. The island has a mixture of rocky shoreline, sand beaches, wetlands, and various upland shrub, grassland, and forest habitats.
Based on detailed census work by Audubon staff over the past three years, over 200 bird species have been documented as breeding or foraging on Plum Island and adjacent coastal waters. These include a variety of birds-of-prey, shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl, and songbird species.
Plum Island possesses significant cultural resources that merit protection: the Plum Island lighthouse and the remains of Fort Terry, a remnant from the Spanish-American War as well as World Wars I and II. The island was the site of an early Revolutionary War raid (when General David Wooster’s troops made an amphibious landing and attacked a British outpost).
These inventories were prepared by the New York Natural Heritage Program. They provide a baseline for evaluating Plum Island's potential as a managed refuge, and illustrate that some species are in decline, while others are thriving.
Plum Island has been recognized aS:
- “Critical Natural Resource Area” – US Fish and Wildlife Service
- “Important Bird Area” – Audubon, New York
- “Peconic Bay Environs Critical Environmental Area” - Suffolk County, New York
- “New York State Significant Coastal Fish & Wildlife Habitat” – NYS Dept. of State
- “Environmental Stewardship Area” - Long Island Sound Study
The approximately 90% of Plum Island that is undeveloped holds significant ecological and scenic sites; it also holds nationally-significant artifacts and historic buildings, including the 1870 Plum Gut Lighthouse and the 1897 Fort Terry army barracks and weapons batteries. An ecological gem, Plum Island is home to federally threatened and NYS endangered piping plovers, along with approximately 190 other bird species that utilize the island for breeding or migratory purposes. In addition, it is the most significant seal haul-out site in southern New England, playing host to up to several hundred grey and harbor seals each winter. Forty rare and protected plant species round out the treasure trove of ecological abundance that this island possesses.