Cumberland Island is a barrier island about the size of Manhattan, located off the coast of Georgia. The island is one of seven Atlantic Coast national seashores, and a part of the national park system. Unlike most other barrier islands of the Southeastern United States, Cumberland has escaped wide-scale development through expansive yet politically divisive preservation efforts to conserve the island in perpetuity. Cumberland Island is an ecological treasure comprised of three distinct ecosystems within its small geographic area: salt marsh, maritime forest, and beach, as well as many varied transition areas between these three ecosystems. An extensive freshwater pond system, wetlands, sloughs, and tidal creeks form essential habitats for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species, contributing to Cumberland Island’s designation as a International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations. Cumberland Island became a part of the National Park System in 1972, and congress designated over 9,000 acres of northern part of the island as a wilderness area in 1982. Over 4000 years of human history, including native Timucuans, Spanish missionaries, enslaved African Americans, and wealthy industrialists, also make up a part of the island’s story.
Like other coastal areas, the Atlantic Coast national seashores are incredibly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and some of the most acutely threatened parks in the national park system. In 2016, during the national park system centennial, artists Christa Bowden, Emily Gómez, and Ernesto Gómez began a multi-year collaborative project to document the unique biome and history of Cumberland Island. With this project, they hope to expand the existing documentation of Cumberland Island in order to increase awareness of its significance and fragility, as well as to provide a record for future generations, should the island be lost or irrevocably altered due to climate change or other threats.