Crab Bank

Seabird Sanctuary

PROJECT UPDATE

MT. PLEASANT, S.C. (December 1, 2021) — Officials with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and the Charleston District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) conducted a walk-through inspection of the completed Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary restoration project with project contractor Norfolk Dredging Company on November 16.

Norfolk began placing approximately 660,000 cubic yards of compatible material from the Charleston Harbor Deepening “Post 45” project in mid-September, but the completion of that work is the culmination of years of careful planning, fundraising and community involvement for an effort that will have long-lasting benefits for both birds and the local economy.

“We are delighted to see this project come to completion,” said SCDNR Director Robert Boyles. “It is a testament to what can be done for conservation if we work together and get creative. The restored Crab Bank is a huge win for birds, but also boats, boxes and business in South Carolina, as this restoration was a result of the deepening of Charleston Harbor.”

SCDNR would like to sincerely thank the community and the suite of conservation organizations that helped make this project possible with fundraising support, including the Coastal Conservation League, Coastal Expedition Foundation, Audubon South Carolina and Ducks Unlimited. With the help of these organizations, financial and community support for the project was rallied from industry and many private citizens, including students at Moultrie Middle School.

“The restoration of Crab Bank will serve as a landmark legacy of the Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project as a project that is recognized as both a turning point for shorebird habitat and as a visible reminder of the multidimensional impact of the deepening project taking place underwater,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Johannes, commander of the USACE's Charleston District. “The team worked around-the-clock for seven weeks to restore approximately 32 acres of prime nesting habitat for threatened shorebird populations. We are proud to have partnered with SCDNR on the restoration of this vital habitat and are excited to welcome back the birds this spring.”

Located in Charleston Harbor between the tip of Sullivan’s Island and Patriots Point, the restored Crab Bank will provide prime nesting habitat above mean high water that will benefit a wide variety of nesting and migrating seabird species. Planning and fundraising for the restoration of Crab Bank, which is owned and managed by SCDNR, began in 2018. Federal grants and contributions raised by a coalition of non-profit groups, businesses and private citizens helped fund the work. The opportunity to restore Crab Bank was made possible through a cost-share partnership with the USACE, with SCDNR able to provide its share due to the support of a sustained public fundraising campaign. Dozens of businesses, students and hundreds of individual small donors contributed to the campaign.

SCDNR biologists expect that beginning in the spring of 2021, sea and shorebird species will return to congregate on Crab Bank, which will once again provide critical habitat for nesting and an important resting stop for migrating birds, many of which are experiencing population declines. But that’s just the beginning of this story.

In 2017, working with a group of interested organizations, including Audubon South Carolina, the Coastal Conservation League and the Coastal Expeditions Foundation, SCDNR established the Coastal Bird Conservation program under the Nongame and Natural Areas Trust Fund (SC Code of Laws §50-1-280). The program established a means for SCDNR and supporting organizations to collect donations to support the successful renourishment of Crab Bank, but with the sand restoration work completed, this program will persist, providing funding for future coastal bird conservation efforts up and down the coast of South Carolina. 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.

“We look forward to the breeding season and once again having a safe place for seabirds and shorebirds to nest in Charleston Harbor,” said Janet Thibault, SCDNR coastal bird biologist. “We hope that with the restoration of Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary, everyone will be able to observe and enjoy these species, both now and in the years to come.”

SCDNR would like to remind the public that during the breeding season (March 15 through October 15), Crab Bank remains completely closed to landing. From October 16 through March 14 public access is allowed only in the intertidal zone between low and high tide waterlines. Dogs and camping are prohibited year-round at Crab Bank.

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.