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Crab Bank

Seabird Sanctuary


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View of the Ravenel Bridge over Charleston Harbor from Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary

Photo Credit: Dylan Burnell, USACE

It has been a busy spring for the newly restored Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary. Even before nesting season started, seabirds and shorebirds were seen loafing and roosting on the newly placed sand.It has been a busy spring for the newly restored Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary. Even before nesting season started, seabirds and shorebirds were seen loafing and roosting on the newly placed sand.

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View of the newly placed sand at Crab Bank on day one of construction.

Photo Credit: Adam Boozer


Allyssa Zebrowski of Audubon South Carolina attaches a sign during spring posting of Crab Bank.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Leigh Graham


Wray Lemke and Mount Pleasant Radio staff install one of the Pelicams

Photo Credit: Riley Egger

On March 15, staff from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Audubon South Carolina, Coastal Conservation League and a crew of volunteers worked to put up the seasonal closure signs on Crab Bank. One hundred and eight posts were dug into the ground with a mix of large “Island Closed,” “No Landing” and “Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary” signs dotting the perimeter of the island. A National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant that Audubon South Carolina received funded the lumber and signage used on the island, as well as two regulatory buoys placed on the “old” Crab Bank sandbar. Audubon South Carolina also provided boat support for transporting volunteers to post the new signs. The crew worked diligently and in only a few hours the island’s perimeter had signs marking the seasonal closure from March 15 to October 15.

A few weeks later the “Pelicams” went up on Crab Bank. The Coastal Conservation League launched this wildlife camera in 2015, however, because of the erosion of Crab Bank it had to be relocated to Shutes Folly. Thanks to funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation administered by Audubon South Carolina, the Coastal Conservation League is excited to bring new eyes on the island with two new Pelicams! We are especially thankful for Mount Pleasant Radio for crafting and installing these unique systems. Soon, the public will be able to tune in to see what’s going on at Crab Bank in real-time. The video stream will be available in September and folks can tune in on the Coastal Conservation League website.

Crab Bank‘s 32 acres of protected habitat is critical to South Carolina’s nesting and migratory birds, but we have also learned that the island directly benefits people too! Audubon South Carolina commissioned an economic valuation study and an engineering study to learn how the restored Crab Bank would contribute economically to South Carolina’s Tri-County area. College of Charleston and Appalachian State University professors quantified the economic benefits at $5.18 million for activities related to Crab Bank including ecotours, recreational fishing and paddle club outings! Additionally, a contracted engineering firm found called Water Environment Consultants found that the newly restored island creates an additional cost savings of about $1.6 million to structures that are sheltered by the island. The full reports can be found on the South Carolina Audubon Website.

The staff at Coastal Expeditions have been running “Crab Bank Quest” trips out of their port at Shem Creek. The trips are funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant obtained by Audubon South Carolina for community and school groups to experience the nature of Crab Bank from the water. Captain Chris Crolley is overjoyed with these opportunities stating, “We know we still have so much to accomplish as we continue to create habitat, monitor existing habitat, and educate folks on how to ethically interact with our coastal birds. Together we can make a difference.” 

On April 5, a press conference and ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at Alhambra Hall in Mount Pleasant, overlooking the Charleston Harbor with a view of the newly restored seabird sanctuary. The event celebrated the Crab Bank renourishment project with staff from South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District, Norfolk Dredging Company, the Town of Mount Pleasant, Coastal Conservation League, Coastal Expeditions and Audubon South Carolina. Staff from each organization set up an informational table, highlighting their respective mission and their contributions to the project, giving the press a chance to learn about and interact with the different parties of this multi-faceted success story. Attendees heard remarks from key SCDNR and US Army Corps of Engineers staff, as well as from Governor Henry McMaster and Congresswoman Nancy Mace. The event ended with a symbolic ribbon-cutting, officially “opening” the seabird sanctuary and welcoming back the birds.

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The ribbon cutting ceremony with South Carolina dignitaries and conservation organizations

Photo Credit: Jessica Egan, SCDNR

With the dredge material in place, signs up, cameras installed, and the official welcome laid out, the island is now ready for the birds to do the rest. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources will monitor bird use of the island and the first nest of an oystercatcher was documented on April 1 with one egg in a small scrape! We look forward to sharing the successes of the nesting at the end of the season. To learn more about the SCCBC program and how you can help with current and future plans to support coastal bird habitats in SC, visit the SCCBC website.

Crab Bank is a crescent of sand in Charleston Harbor that once supported an astonishing number of nesting
birds — up to 5,000 in a single summer and thousands of offspring. It also provides rest and nourishment for
hundreds of migrating shorebirds.

A slice of true wilderness in our bustling urban harbor, Crab Bank provides tremendous economic, recreational, and educational benefits for Charleston.


But wind and waves have taken a toll on this unique resource. Created in the 1950s from sand dredged from
the harbor, Crab Bank is now a tiny fraction of its original size. In 2017, Hurricane Irma washed away most of
the remaining high ground, removing any opportunity for nesting birds in 2018.

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