South Carolina has five renowned seabird nesting sanctuaries – undeveloped islands along the coast that provide safe places where they can find plentiful food nearby and lay their eggs safely away from deadly predators. found on the mainland. We temporarily lost one of them, Crab Bank in Charleston Harbor, but an innovative public-private collaboration restored it and set an important precedent for how our coastal growth must not threaten these species of declining birds.
Success always has many fathers, but this is especially true on Crab Bank, where the Army Corps of Engineers partnered with the SC Department of Natural Resources in an effort that also received key funding from non-profit organizations including Audubon in South Carolina, the Coastal Conservation League. , the Coastal Expeditions Foundation and Ducks Unlimited; corporate groups such as Boeing SC, The Post and Courier Foundation and the State Ports Authority; and hundreds of school children and local residents.
As Riley Egger of the Coastal Conservation League says, “It took a village to figure out how we can build an island, because that’s literally what it was.
Located near the mouth of Shem Creek, Crab Bank was once home to thousands of Brown Pelicans, King Terns, and other breeding birds, but its gradual erosion was noted with concern long before 2017, when Hurricane Irma essentially took hold. carried away the little sand which remained there. at high tide.
Even with a few happy breaks, such as the ongoing work to deepen Charleston Harbor which has provided a ready source of sediment to regenerate the island, it still took years to align all the partners, make a plan and resolve the issues. related issues, such as whether the restoration project would result in the silting of Shem Creek. The effort got another big break when its price dropped from $ 4 million to a fraction of that.
Earlier this month, workers finished adding 660,000 cubic meters of sediment – the equivalent of about 50,000 full-size dump truck loads – to the island, expanding it to about 32 acres in high tide. Shorebirds are expected to return to nest in the spring, and the crab school will be closed to boat landings between March 15 and October 15. Dogs, camping, and walking above the waterline at high tide are not permitted at any time.
Lt. Col. Andrew Johannes, the Corps’s Charleston District Commander, told reporter Shamira McCray that the restoration will be recognized as a turning point for shorebird habitat and a “visible reminder of the multidimensional impact of the project. deepening underwater. “
Scientists and researchers are learning even more about the vital importance of these coastal bird sanctuaries. For example, only about seven years ago, it was discovered that Hudson’s Curlew – large, speckled sandpipers with curved beaks – roosted by the thousands on Deveaux Bank just off Edisto Island as they migrated between South America and Canada. John Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, told the New York Times that this discovery of their vast nightlife “was one of the most breathtaking discoveries in the history of 20th and 21st century ornithology.”
In a recent commentary in The Post and Courier, Nolan Schillerstrom of Audubon, South Carolina expressed confidence that those who worked to revive Crab Bank can replicate their success elsewhere along the coast.
Given the threat of rising seas and future storms, such help will surely be needed, possibly sooner than we would like to think.
Ms Egger says she is not aware of any other similar project to Crab Bank in our state or beyond, but she also does not expect it to retain its singular status for long: “It was a unique project. which is a model for things to come. and what will have to happen in the future.
So, whenever our other shorebird sanctuaries come under threat, it will be heartening to know that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but that it is enough to learn from the innovative and widespread effort that has brought back Crab Bank.