Our Birds, Our Coast
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Crab Bank Project Update
The initiative to save Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary has taken a giant step forward with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ recent approval of the $124 million Lower Harbor contract as part of the Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening project.
Awarded in August to Virginia-based Norfolk Dredging Company, the Lower Harbor dredging contract includes an option that will allow the placement of approximately 660,000 cubic yards of sediment within the historic footprint of Crab Bank — material that would otherwise be disposed of in an EPA-approved disposal area offshore. The local share of the final cost to place the dredge material on Crab Bank will be only $132,000 — considerably less than the Corp’s original estimate.
“This is great news for everyone that stepped up to the plate to protect Crab Bank,” said SCDNR Interim Director Robert Boyles. “This means that we will be able to continue efforts with our partners to better understand, protect, and improve coastal bird habitat up and down the South Carolina coastline.”
The Corps expects to supply the remaining $245,000 needed for the project. When completed, the work will restore approximately 28 acres of prime nesting habitat above the high tide line for coastal birds. Recognizing the need for a strategy to identify funding for Crab Bank, SCDNR worked with Audubon South Carolina, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and the Coastal Expeditions Foundation to make the success of Crab Bank a reality by establishing the South Carolina Coastal Bird Conservation Program, an SCDNR-managed fund that can receive donations, draw interest and help finance critical projects to help protect coastal birds.
“The beauty of the story of Crab Bank is, not only did it provide an opportunity for collaboration among interested conservation-minded folks to save the island, it also spearheaded the development of SCDNR’s Coastal Bird Conservation Program, an even bigger platform that we’ll have going forward to protect and perpetuate the conservation of all sorts of coastal birds— from shorebirds and seabirds to marshbirds and wading birds,” said SCDNR Office of Environmental Programs Director Lorianne Riggin. “Going into this massive fundraising effort, no one knew that we would come out on the other side of it having met the dollar mark AND with the opportunity to do even more for coastal birds.”
“The Crab Bank restoration effort is a perfect example of what agencies, nonprofits, businesses, local leaders, students, and citizens can accomplish for conservation when they work together,” said Laura Cantral, Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation League. “This project touches much of what Lowcountry residents hold dear, including protecting wildlife and our unique coastal ecosystems, enhancing our hospitality industry, and strengthening communities and education. When the work is done, 5,000 or more birds will return every season to nest on the island, making Crab Bank once again a visible indicator of the healthy, vibrant coast we love.”
Major corporations such as Boeing SC, BP, the Post & Courier Foundation, the S.C. Ports Authority, and hundreds of individual citizens in the Charleston region contributed funds to support the restoration of Crab Bank and the S.C. Coastal Bird Conservation Program’s broader mission. An effort led by students at Moultrie Middle School in Mt. Pleasant added $675 to the total funds raised – which to date is more than $700,000. In addition to the private funds raised, a $700,000 grant awarded to Audubon South Carolina by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Coastal Resiliency Grant Program took fundraising efforts across the finish line and ensured that Crab Bank will be restored. Any additional funds will go toward monitoring and stewardship of the island.
“Thanks to everyone’s efforts, brown pelicans, black skimmers, royal terns, and so many other species will once again have a safe place to rest during migration and nest during the summer in Charleston Harbor,” said Nolan Schillerstrom, Coastal Programs Coordinator for Audubon South Carolina. “Many of these birds suffer deeply from limited habitat, but with Crab Bank restored, we’re taking a big step in the right direction.”
“The Coastal Expeditions Foundation is proud to be part of the task force that assembled and fought for the salvation of Crab Bank Island,” said Coastal Expeditions Chief Steward Chris Crolley. “The Crab Bank initiative and the creation of the S.C. Coastal Bird Conservation Program is some of the most important work we will do in our lifetimes.”
“The collaboration and partnerships that were strengthened while the community secured funds for Crab Bank is invaluable and inspiring,” said Felicia Sanders, seabird and shorebird biologist for SCDNR. “This project not only built a nesting island for thousands of birds, but also resources and advocates to continue working on coastal bird conservation for many decades to come.”
Complex engineering projects like this one take years to plan and execute. It may be 2021 before full restoration of Crab Bank occurs, and many factors can influence the outlook for completion of the work. However, the important thing is that the process is moving forward, and long-term, this is a big win for South Carolina’s coastal birds.
Before the last blow from Hurricane Irma in 2017 that washed away the remaining available high ground for nesting, Crab Bank was not only a critical nesting and resting spot for coastal birds, but also a popular attraction for thousands of paddlers and birdwatchers — an integral part of a thriving local tourism economy centered around Shem Creek’s shops, restaurants and outfitters. Overall, coastal tourism contributes an estimated $9 billion per year to South Carolina’s economy — a cash infusion that depends in no small part on healthy, abundant wildlife populations.
Make no mistake about it, the S.C. Coastal Birds Conservation Program and SCDNR are in this fight for the long haul. Scientists estimate that shorebird populations have shrunk by as much as 70 percent across North America since 1973, and South Carolina provides the majority of habitat for entire populations of a number of seabirds, shorebirds and wading birds. Efforts to conserve birds in South Carolina can and will help region-wide populations rebound. Individuals interested in supporting or learning more about this important endeavor will find more detailed information on the Coastal Bird Conservation website: [https://www.sccoastalbirds.org/].
In the meantime, SCDNR is continuing to work on coastal bird management, education and research. Donated funds will help with those efforts. If you would like to continue your support of SC’s coastal birds, please visit the How You Can Help page. Thanks for caring for the natural resources of our state!
We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect a dwindling natural resource. Our beaches, sandbars, and tidal creeks host hundreds of thousands of birds each year. Summer brings 40 percent of the nesting Brown Pelicans on the East Coast to South Carolina. Winter brings one-third of the American Oystercatchers on the East and Gulf Coasts.
Facing multiple threats elsewhere, South Carolina’s coast plays a vital role in the protection of seabirds, shorebirds, marsh birds, and wading birds. Through the loss of habitat, these birds are threatened here too. Groins and jetties erode critical beach habitat. Population growth puts people and pets on a collision course with nesting and migrating birds. Soon rising seas and more intense storms will shift birds inland, where they’ll face new predators and uncertain food sources.
As a result, nearly three-quarters of South Carolina’s coastal birds are listed at the "high" or "highest" level of conservation concern. Worldwide, seabird populations have dropped 70 percent since the 1950s. Shorebird populations are dropping even faster — 70 percent since the 1970s.
But, you can protect our state’s birds. The SC Coastal Bird Conservation Program, a public-private collaboration, is using modest amounts of local funding to secure sizable federal grants. It’s a tried and true way to protect land, but it’s never been applied to coastal bird habitat on a large scale. With enough local funding, we can protect coastal birds and their habitats.
And birds aren’t the only ones that will benefit. Nine billion dollars per year is spent on coastal tourism in our state and nearly 85 percent of these outdoor enthusiasts are wildlife watchers (The Economic Contribution of Natural Resources to South Carolina's Economy).
Where birds thrive, people prosper.
The South Carolina Coastal Bird Conservation Program ’s first project is to restore Crab Bank, a Charleston hot spot for nesting and migratory birds that’s eroding out of existence. We’ve got a now-or-never chance to save this critical bird sanctuary. Help us meet our initial goal of $1.5 million by December 2018.
If you love the South Carolina coast, please consider making a generous contribution. To protect this extraordinary place that all of us — birds and people alike — call home.
We Must Act Now
Shorebird populations have shrunk by 70 percent across North America since 1973
(Scientific American 2017)
Crab Bank provides tremendous economic, recreational and educational benefits for Charleston. Learn more our plan to restore this island.
Your donation to SCCBC will help us to restore, protect and enhance coastal bird habitat in South Carolina.
Of the 65 seabird, shorebird and wading bird species, 47 are listed in the SC State Wildlife Action Plan as highest or high conservation concern. Learn more about these species.