Tybee Island is the farthest north of Georgia’s barrier islands. It is approximately four miles long and one mile wide and was built by sands brought in by the Savannah River. Tybee’s total acreage including marsh is 3,100 acres, 1,500 acres of which are non-marsh. The island has three and one-half miles of beach. The name Tybee is an Indian word meaning salt. Historical sites include the Tybee Lighthouse (completed in 1773 and rebuilt in 1867) and its accompanying museum, and Fort Screven, which dates to 1875.
Tybee is Georgia’s most developed barrier island. The commercialism on Tybee consists of hotels, year-round private residences, summer cottages, condominiums and various tourist facilities, such as public bathing beaches, fishing piers, marinas and public campgrounds.
Tybee is an excellent place to view and study an island that has been greatly altered by man’s activities. Because of man’s destruction of the dunes, building too close to the ocean and the building of jetties and seawalls, Tybee has undergone a great deal of erosion. The dredging of the shipping channel of the Savannah River has starved the beach of sand and has accelerated its erosion. The landward side of the island has a great deal of marsh left but only a few areas of maritime forest and natural dunes remain.
Although there have been several recent attempts to combat the erosion, only a few cases have been successful. The jetties and seawalls that were built to prevent erosion actually increased it. Several attempts at renourishment have not been as successful as hoped. Snow fences have been added in several places and were only moderately successful in the building of new dunes. On the north end of the island attempts to grow dune plants have also been moderately successful and some small dunes are forming. In March of 1995, a series of T-jetties were placed at the south-end of the island. T-jetties have been proven to work in slowing erosion elsewhere and, hopefully, they will help Tybee.