The SC Coastal Bird Conservation Program (SCCB) second project involved the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) hiring a Shorebird Steward to protect and monitor shorebirds and seabirds in the Cape Romain Region. This Shorebird Steward position, funded by SCCB, was a great partnership between SCDNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).
Cape Romain is one of the most important places for seabirds in South Carolina. Thus, focusing protection there can have positive effects on avian populations range wide. The Cape Romain Region is part of the Cape Romain – Santee Delta Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network Site, which was recently recognized as a Site of International Importance. The Cape Romain NWR has a majority of some of South Carolina’s seabird species, therefore focused protection for this area is critical. Last year, this stretch of the coast had half of South Carolina’s Black Skimmer and 70% of Royal and Sandwich Tern nests. Additionally, half of South Carolina’s oystercatchers are found in Cape Romain.
Cape Romain’s beaches are near the expanding coastal cities of Charleston and Mount Pleasant and are easily accessible by people via boat. The Shorebird Steward boats to seabird colonies on the barrier islands on the weekends and holidays during the nesting season (May to August) to educate beachgoers about shorebirds and seabirds and the detrimental effects of human disturbance to nesting birds. The Steward points out key species nesting in the colonies and steers people to open areas of the beach. Additionally, the observations shared by the Shorebird Steward update SCDNR and USFWS biologists about nesting success and provide insight to causes of colony failure, which is important data for guiding management of nesting areas. The Shorebird Stewards also assists in putting up closure signs and maintains posts and signs during visits to the Cape Romain NWR.
During the 2020 Memorial Day holiday weekend, the Shorebird Steward was strategically stationed at Least Tern and Black Skimmer colonies. The Steward communicated with over 100 people during that weekend and even stopped three different groups from entering a closed perimeter of a seabird colony. The presence of the Shorebird Steward has helped to inform and educate the public and protect the birds from people flushing them outside of closed areas. Due to limited state and federal staff, this is the first time these colonies have a guardian and we can’t wait to learn more about how these efforts protect the success of these species.