Open to the Public
Why You Should Visit
The tidal salt marsh and islands that make up The Nature Conservancy's Machaba Balu Preserve look much the same today as they did more than 500 years ago when Europeans first settled here. The name Machaba Balu, Timucuan for “saved” or “preserved” “marsh,” honors the cultural and historical significance of the preserve’s location.
You play a role in the Conservancy’s success when you support our work among critical habitats.
Lying within the vast estuary that stretches between the St. Johns River and Nassau Sound in northeast Florida, the preserve provides a haven for a variety of wildlife species. It was protected as part of the Conservancy's St. Marys River/Sea Islands large-scale conservation project.
Download a map of Machaba Balu Preserve.
Northeast Jacksonville, about 30 minutes from downtown.
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
The coastal habitats of Florida contain a significant and under-recognized element of biodiversity. Most of the preserve is composed of tidal saltmarsh, which acts as a nursery for the region's important fisheries and serves as spawning ground for commercial and recreational fish species. It is also a critical feeding and breeding area for many wading birds and shorebirds, several of which are listed as threatened or as species of special concern. This community is highly threatened by pervasive coastal development in northeast Florida.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
To date, the Conservancy has helped protect almost 10,000 acres in this region. Protected areas include a large expanse of tidal saltmarsh and more than 77 islands that are being managed in partnership with the National Park Service.
What to See: Animals
- Visitors may encounter manatees, loggerhead turtles, bottlenose dolphins and diamondback terrapins in the tidal creeks and backwater around the preserve.
- Bald eagles, ospreys and painted buntings nest in the area.
- Numerous wading birds and shorebirds (including roseate spoonbills, wood storks, great egrets, snowy egrets, great blue herons, tricolor herons, white ibises, black skimmers, American oystercatchers, royal terns, Forster's terns, caspian terns, least terns, Wilson's plovers, piping plovers, and clapper rails) inhabit the area.
- The lucky visitor may spot a Worthington's marsh wren, MacGillivray's seaside sparrow, or even a marsh mink.
What to See: Plants
- In the tidal salt marsh look for smooth cordgrass, black needlerush and salt wort.
- Live oak, wild olive, pignut hickory, sabal palm, magnolia, sugarberry, slash pine, southern lip fern, salt bush and Florida privet grow on the islands.
The preserve protects approximately 10,000 acres of tidal salt marsh and 77 maritime hammock, pine and shell islands ranging in size from less than a half acre to 30 acres. The preserve is situated adjacent to many other protected lands and the Great Florida Birding Trail. The area has excellent opportunities for exploration by kayak and canoe. Several kayak outfitters in the area along Heckscher Drive/A1A offer kayak rentals and guided tours.
Visitors can access the preserve from the Sister's Creek boat ramp on Heckscher Drive. The preserve area can be accessed from other points, but this is the most convenient and centrally located access point for boats. Kayaks and canoes can also be launched at the Ft. George River located approximately 2 miles north of the Mayport Ferry terminal on A1A (on the south side of the bridge).
From Downtown Jacksonville:
- Take I-95 North to Heckscher Drive (Exit 358A, just past the Trout River bridge).
- Follow Heckscher Drive approximately 13 miles to Sister's Creek boat ramp.
- The entrance to the boat ramp will be on your left before the Intracoastal Waterway bridge.
From Fernandina Beach and points north:
- Take A1A South into Duval County.
- Approximately 1.5 miles past the Mayport Ferry terminal, Sister's Creek boat ramp will be on your right immediately after the Intracoastal Waterway bridge.
From Jacksonville Beach and points south:
- Take A1A North to the town of Mayport (via Mayport Road).
- Cross the St. Johns River via the Mayport Ferry ($3.25 per 2-axle vehicle).
- To reach the Sisters Creek boat ramp, turn left onto Heckscher Drive and proceed approximately 1.5 miles to the Intracoastal Waterway bridge and turn right after the bridge.
- To reach Talbot Islands State Park and Ft. George Island/Kingsley Plantation, turn right on Heckscher Drive and travel north on A1A.