Biodiversity of Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton, Virginia

By Lori A Cash
April 03, 2021

Fort Monroe National Monument has a diverse amount of trees and plants including the Algernourne Oak.
A variety of wildlife can be seen around the grounds of Fort Monroe with its many different habitats.
Fort Monroe is an excellent place for nesting ospreys as Fort Monroe is surrounded by water providing able opportunities for osprey to catch fish.

Background of Fort Monroe

Fort Monroe National Monument is located just east of the City of Hampton in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia on the Virginia Peninsula overlooking the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Adjacent to the historic Fort are the communities of Phoebus and Buckroe. Fort Monroe is situated on an island that is pretty much encircled by bodies of water on three sides of this barrier spilt of land that includes the Chesapeake Bay, Hampton Roads and Mill Creek. Two bridges from the City of Hampton are the entrance points for the Fort.

Construction on Fort Monroe began in 1819 and was completed by 1834. Fort Monroe was one of the largest stone forts built in America and is now decommissioned as a military installation. The lighthouse on Fort Monroe called Old Point Comfort Light was built in 1802 and is the oldest operating lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay.  Fort Monroe was in use from 1823 through 2011 as a military base. On December 19, 1960 Fort Monroe was designated as a National Historic Landmark, and in 1966 Fort Monroe was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

After the closure of the Military installation on the Fort, President Obama signed an executive order by using the Antiquities Act on November 1, 2011 establishing the Fort Monroe National Monument. Governor, Terry McAuliffe, signed a deed transfer on August 25, 2015 transferring state land within the Fort to the National Park Service. These declarations were key to preserving the property, building and structures of this historic Fort.

As Fort Monroe became Fort Monroe National Monument and a part of the National Park Service, restoration projects were undertaken to preserve the historic Fort for many years to come. Fort Monroe’s landscapes, structures, buildings and features are managed by the National Park Service. Fort Monroe National Monument’s conservation, preservation, protection and maintenance is overseen by a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia called the Fort Monroe Authority (FMA) which was established following the closure of the military base at Fort Monroe. Fort Monroe Authority is governed by an appointed 12-member Board of Trustees.

Diverse Habitats of Fort Monroe

Biodiversity includes all the living things on this planet and how they fit together. There are diverse species of flora and fauna within an ecosystem, and the biodiversity is how all of these organisms relate to environmental aspects of oxygen, water and food.

Fort Monroe is a barrier island that is naturally connected to land on the northern end and connected via causeways on the southern end. Fort Monroe National Monument is a very unique park with 565 acres of land in total, 63 acres of which belong to a moated masonry and earthen fortress. This park site is a diverse area that is full of history with historical buildings and which encompasses a wide range of biodiversity in nature. There are 110 acres of submerged land, 85 acres of wetlands, 3 miles of beaches, and 8 miles of waterfront with a marina.

During the transition of Fort Monroe to a national monument, areas of the property had been transitioned back to their natural state. The western and southern sides still have the marina, restaurants and hotel. By the use of rock jetties along the shoreline, the eastern side shoreline has been restored to a beachfront with multiple coves that encourage wildlife. The northern side of the fort property continues to have a natural shoreline with marshes and native vegetation. 

The beaches at Fort Monroe provide chances to view beautiful sunrises, to watch wildlife in the water or on the beach, and to see the various ships and fishing vessels that head out to the Chesapeake Bay or Atlantic Ocean.

Flora of Fort Monroe

On the many acres of Fort Monroe there are a total of 9 species of trees including Live Oak trees which are evergreen trees that can live to be centuries old. On the parade ground inside the moat are a stand of Live Oak trees that date back to 1607. One particular Live Oak tree, known as the Algernourne Oak, has been analyzed and dated at being 500 years.  Other trees that are found on the property include American holly, sweetbay magnolia, Virginia Pine and willow oak.

Fort Monroe is home to a total of 249 species of flora that represents 179 genus and 67 families of plants. Among the acres of Fort Monroe there are 136 native plants with 113 species of plants that were introduced and planted on the property. Therefore, Fort Monroe is made up largely of native plant species. Some of the flora species include American beachgrass, seaside goldenrod, buttonweed, violet and field pansy.

Fort Monroe’s biodiversity of flora continues to regenerate in establishing more stable environments and habitats which encourages the return of different species of birds and animals. With the many trails and paths, it is easy to bare witness to the changes and see what is new. The hope is that a good balance between nature and the human community could be achieved and sustained.

Fauna of Fort Monroe

Among the habitats on the fort, a variety of native mammals can be found such as river otters, muskrat, cottontail rabbit and Eastern chipmunk. River otters and muskrats would be mostly like found along the North side where the marsh water of Mill Creek would be a more suitable habitat. The Eastern cottontail rabbit can be found along any of the grassy areas of the property include the campground area. The Eastern chipmunk is most often found in open deciduous woodlands that may have plenty of stumps and logs. On Fort Monroe there are residential areas mainly on the west and south which have a lot of trees and habitats that are suitable for chipmunks.

According to a 2009-2010 study of Fort Monroe National Monument, there were 89 species of birds that were observed. With the wide variety of habitats such as beaches, marshlands, trees, grasses and waters, it is easy to see many different species of birds at Fort Monroe. Wading birds are often found near the tidal creeks while shorebirds such as pectoral sandpiper, dunlins, greater yellowlegs, willets and red knots can be found along the beachfront. Some of the species of waterbirds that inhabit the fort area include double-crested cormorants, brown pelicans, American oystercatchers, black skimmers, black ducks, buffleheads, gulls, and royal terns.  In the spring and summer along the edge of the shore of Mill Creek several pairs of Osprey make their nests on nesting platforms or on top of light pole at the basketball court.  

Mill Creek is a saltmarsh cordgrass area separating the west end of Fort Monroe to the mainland of Hampton. Mill Creek with some of the marsh islands has very suitable breeding areas for several waterbird species. In addition, brown pelicans, buffleheads and double-crested cormorants are often found in the waters or flying around Mill Creek during the winter season.

Conclusion

With almost 200 acres of natural resources, diverse amounts of flora and fauna can be found at Fort Monroe National Monument. The biodiversity of Fort Monroe continues to provide ecosystems that foster wildlife, making life possible for these different species of flora and fauna by providing them with clean water, food and air. Because all species must live in unison to thrive, for the betterment and quality of life for all, we must continue to make sure our local community and society embrace taking care of our environment and nature.

Sources:

National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/fomr/index.htm

Fort Monroe Authority, https://fortmonroe.org/

Biological Diversity Survey of the Flora and Fauna of Fort Monroe and Bethel Reservoir by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, https://fortmonroe.org/wp-content/uploads/biological-diversity-survey.pdf

Copyright © 2021 Lori A Cash

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