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|Nickname: Monkey Island|
|Area||1,816.63 ha (4,489.0 acres)|
Morgan Island is one of the Sea Islands, located in Beaufort County, South Carolina, just north of Beaufort. It is also known as Monkey Island due to its colony of free-ranging rhesus monkeys, established in 1979.
Morgan Island is a 4,489 acre marshland island that consists of 635 acres of upland. The island is located between the Morgan and Coosaw rivers and borders the Saint Helena Sound to the south and Parrot Creek (Klopchin) to the north. The marshland area includes three major tidal creeks as well as other small creeks. Morgan Island is uninhabited, and is home to a breeding colony of approximately 3,500 free-ranging, Indian-origin rhesus monkeys (Maier). There is a 370-acre portion of upland that supports a semi-tropical maritime forest where the monkey colony primarily resides.
Historically, the island has been uninhabited due to its location and distance from the mainland. Originally, the monkey colony now located on Morgan Island was located in La Parguera, Puerto Rico at the Caribbean Primate Research Center. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were incidents of the free-ranging monkeys that were infected with the herpes B virus escaping. The CDC report stated that there were outbreaks among locals when the monkeys became overpopulated. Puerto Rico was alarmed by this, and South Carolina stepped in to offer an island for research. South Carolina offered uninhabited Morgan Island for the monkeys to be housed. In 1979, over 1,400 animals were relocated to Morgan Island.
The island is operated and owned by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), to provide a “natural outdoor laboratory for estuarine research and education”. Morgan Island is home to one of only two rhesus monkey colonies in the United States, the other being the colony on the Silver River. The US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) owns the monkeys, and had a long-standing contract with a private firm, LABS of Virginia, Inc. now operated under the name Alpha Genesis, a Yemassee-based research company. Alpha Genesis did lease a major portion of the highlands on Morgan Island for the monkeys. Alpha Genesis’s contract was to maintain the population of monkeys for biomedical research and testing.
Around 2004 and 2005, Morgan Island was incorporated into the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) system. NERR partners with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and coastal states to study and protect vital coastal and estuarine resources. This is the most probable time that Charles River Laboratories took over the contract of the monkeys. There was public controversy about the mission of the lab and the contract of the monkeys under the NERR system because the island was not accessible to the public, as the other NERR sites were. At the time, Alpha Genesis, and the SCDNR were not supported in their decision to keep the island unaccessible. This is the most probable explanation for why the contract of the monkeys changed hands from Alpha Genesis to Charles River Laboratories. As of 2002, Morgan Island was a part of the ACE Basin NERR System. Under the new lease with Charles River Laboratories the island and the monkeys are no longer under this system (Maier). The monkeys on the island are owned by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) which is a part of the National Institutes of Health. The SCDNR leases the island to Charles River Laboratories, which manages the colony for NIAID. Besides Klopchin’s study of the environmental effects of the monkeys to the island, and of inhabited close-proximity locations, there is no other research done on the island.