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sapelo island

At Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region /

Sometimes what scientists need to protect a threatened species is a chainsaw, some roofing material and a little bit of creativity. On the Georgia coast, the Department of Natural Resources is channeling MacGyver to help out a big, gawky, bald-headed bird.

It’s a bird that hasn’t always nested in Georgia, but now that it does, scientists are working to protect it.

Wood Storks

Wood storks aren’t exactly conventionally beautiful.

Molly Samuel / WABE

Most of Sapelo Island is a wildlife preserve owned by the state: bright white beaches, wide-open salt marsh and giant live oak trees with Spanish moss hanging down.

The ferry to the island mostly carries visitors on day trips with cameras and binoculars and backpacks.

But a few dozen people live here in one of the largest remaining Gullah-Geechee communities in the country. Joseph Hall was raised on Sapelo and lives in the  community of Hog Hammock. Like many people, he left the island for school, then work. He moved back about ten years ago.