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.
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.
Happily, there’s a solution. In 2019, the US Army Corps of Engineers will dredge the Charleston Harbor to make
room for larger ships, allowing us to deposit dredged sand on Crab Bank. This will require an estimated $2
million local investment, plus potentially more than $3 million in federal funds.
The restored bird sanctuary will be a spacious 28 acres, with plenty of high-ground nesting habitat. The Corps
of Engineers estimates that it will take half a century for Crab Bank to erode back to a half-acre in size —
enough time to hatch tens of thousands of young birds.
The Charleston Harbor dredging provides an extraordinary opportunity to restore Crab Bank. But there’s no
time to lose — if we miss this opportunity, there may not be another one for decades. Coastal birds and
everyone else who benefits from Crab Bank’s presence in the harbor, including businesses on Shem Creek,
homeowners in Mount Pleasant, and children throughout the Charleston area will lose an essential symbol of