Great Gull Island is located at the tip of the northern fork of Long Island, along with Little Gull Island. From there, an underwater shelf continues to Fisher Island and the mainland. Although the water depth is about 250-300 feet on either side, huge volumes of water are forced over this shallower 50-100 foot ridge, causing turbulence and navigational hazards in what’s known as The Race. The swift-moving currents and adjacent eddies are magnets for striped bass, bluefish and other sports fish. Smaller fish are spooked to the surface, creating an ample food supply for the islands terns. Called “sea swallows” by the fisherman, groups of terns plunge-diving for baitfish indicate the presence of sports fish. Great Gull Island is known for its tern population and tern nesting site. The largest Common and Roseate Tern nesting site in the Northeast, Great Gull Island research station was established by the American Museum of Natural History in 1966.
The research station was originally built as a fort to protect Long Island Sound and New York City as part of a coastal defense system. It was in service until 1949 when it was then turned over to the AMNH. A concrete 3-story observation tower, 3-room research building, and the “dorm” still remain. Approximately 40 elevated bird blinds also periscope from the green mat of vines.
Inside this fort turned research center the walls are decorated with eclectic items found on the island or washed up by the tide. At a window sits a dozen well-used wax candles in a mix of candleholders, evidence of good conversations, held late into soft, summer nights at the casual dining table that occupies most of the room. A primitive office and stock of firewood in the middle room leads to the lab at the far end.