Of all the places in the world Ted Turner could have built a beach house, the billionaire media mogul chose a remote South Carolina sea island with no power, no water and no roads.
And that’s precisely what sold him on St. Phillips Island, a 5,000-acre tract of forgotten land left undisturbed along a coastline dotted with luxury golf resorts and bustling beach towns. The wild feel of the barrier island, surrounded by meandering tidal creeks and miles of salt marsh, was the perfect retreat for a conservationist who has spent a lifetime working to safeguard America’s unique habitats and protect endangered wildlife.
Tucked between St. Helena and Capers islands at the edge of the Atlantic, St. Phillips remains virtually as it was when it was settled by indigenous cultures thousands of years ago. Unlike most of the sea islands of Georgia, South Carolina and northern Florida, it was never colonized by Europeans, timbered by early loggers or built out by developers.
The island has another feature unique to the entire Atlantic Coast: Running along the length of the 4-mile isle are ancient sand dune ridges interspersed with swales and rain-fed ponds. The unusual landscape provides critical habitat for alligators, fox squirrels, loggerhead sea turtles, bobcats, indigo snakes and an array of seasonal and resident bird species.
To preserve the ecologically significant land, Turner placed St. Phillips under a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy. In 1986, the Secretary of the Interior named it a National Natural Landmark—one of only 602 sites in the country and just six in the state to receive the designation.
Today, this phenomenal environmental legacy is open to the public to enjoy just as Turner and his family did for nearly four decades.
Purchased by the state of South Carolina in 2017, St. Phillips is now part of the state park system. It is managed by Hunting Island State Park, located five miles northeast of the secluded island. To allow the public to enjoy the island, accessible only by boat, the parks department teamed up with Coastal Expeditions to offer ecotours of St. Phillips.
Departing from the Russ Point boat launch on Hunting Island, the St. Phillips Island Ferry starts with a 30-minute boat ride along the Story River led by a naturalist with extensive knowledge of the fragile coastal environment and the history of the Beaufort barrier islands.