Great Wass Island Preserve is a spectacular 1,540-acre tract composing almost all of the southern part of the town of Beals in eastern Maine. It was acquired by the Maine Chapter in 1978. Relatively untouched by man's presence, it has many outstanding natural features, many of which have been recognized by the state Critical Areas Program.
The exposed granite bedrock shore on the southern end of the island is particularly striking. Here the rock drops steeply into the sea, giving evidence of the "Fundian Fault," a long crack in the earth's crust which extends from the Bay of Fundy to the coast of New Hampshire.
The island projects farther out to sea than any other land mass in eastern Maine resulting in extensive marine exposure. The waters of the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy meet here, and mix to produce a cool humid oceanic climate which is excellent for several plants and natural communities that are rare not only in Maine, but throughout the United States.
Several botanical rarities grow on the island's exposed headlands. These plants must be tolerant of extremes conditions: constant wind, salt spray and a cool summer growing season. Several plants rare in Maine are found here such as beach-head iris (Iris Hookeri), marsh felwort (Lomatogonium rotatum), blinks (Montia fontana), and bird's-eye primrose (Primula laurentiana). Other plants though not as unusual add to the diversity of plant life along these shores. Included are roseroot stonecrop (Sedum rosea), pearlwort (Sagina nodosa), bluebell (Campanula rotundifolia), oysterleaf (Mertensia maritima) and seabeach sandwort (Arenaria peploides). Many of these plants are arctic or northern species that reach the southern limit of their ranges on the Maine coast.
The island's interior supports one of Maine's largest stands of jack pine (Pinus banksiana), a tree at its southern limit in Maine. For years these stunted, twisted almost bonsai-like trees have been growing on soil set so thin that few other tree species can survive. Although jack pine is considered fire-dependent throughout most of its range, requiring the heat of fire to open its cones, the trees on Great Wass appear to be reproducing successfully in the absence of fire
The bogs (or heaths) on Great Wass are of statewide and national significance. They are coastal raised raised bogs, a type of peatland peculiar to extreme maritime settings in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and eastern Maine. These bogs are thousands of years old originating when sphagnum moss began accumulating in basins left by retreating glaciers 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. The acid peaty soil supports fascinating carnivorous plants and tiny stunted shrubs which survive in this harsh environment.
Two of the plants found in the island's unique bogs are unusual in Maine. Baked-apple berry (Rubus chamaemorus), a relative of the raspberry and dragon's mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa) flourish here.
Wildlife is plentiful on this diverse island. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) nest on the preserve and bald eagles (Haliacctus leucocephalus), which nest on nearby islands frequently feed and roost here. In addition the boreal bogs and spruce forests support nesting palm warblers (Dendroica palmarum), Lincoln Sparrows (Melospiza lincolnii), boreal chickadees (Parus hudsonicusi), and spruce grouse (Canachites canadensis).
Just offshore, common eiders (Somitaria mollissima), gather in large rafts while great blue herons (Ardea herodias) and several species of shorebirds grace the tidal flats and marshes. On the ledges off Cape Cove large numbers of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) frequently haul out to bask in the sun.