crab bank bridge aerial by adam boozer ps.jpg (copy) (copy)

More than 150 kayaks and paddleboards surrounded Crab Bank in Charleston Harbor in September to show support for restoring it as a rookery. Drone photo by Adam Boozer

A federal foundation has granted $700,000 to the effort to save Crab Bank — a jolt of cash organizers sought and needed to pull off a $1.4 million fundraising effort.

The organizers now need to raise about $365,000 to match the $365,000 already raised from 425 contributions.

The National Coastal Resilience grant was given to Audubon South Carolina, one of the members of the S.C. Coastal Bird Conservation Program coalition.

They are working under the auspices of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to raise the local cost-share money to restore the greatly eroded bank in Charleston Harbor. 

The grant was announced Friday by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. A day earlier, Boeing South Carolina announced it had given a $100,000 donation to the fundraising which is running out of time to get the needed donations secured.

The grant award process prioritizes nature-based ecosystem restoration, among other factors. More than $29 million in a combination of public and corporate money will be disbursed among 35 projects across the country. More than 170 applied.

"Crab Bank rose to the top as a project with high technical merit," said foundation spokesman Rob Blumenthal. "It also demonstrated what we were really looking for, direct benefits to local communities and significant habitat benefits for wildlife."

Meanwhile, further study of the work needed to redirect soils from the Charleston shipping channel deepening to renourish Crab Bank has dropped the local match from $1.5 million to $1.4 million. The deepening work is now underway and the money has to be in place by the time the dredging reaches the harbor.

Crab Bank was a vital seabird and shorebird rookery until last summer. At its peak, the island covered more than 18 acres and nested nearly 4,000 birds. By last summer, erosion had cut the high ground to about an acre and no birds nested.

The bank was one of five protected rookeries that helped make for the eye-catching flocks of seabirds and shorebirds that are a wonder of the Southeast coast — from pelicans flying in formation by the dozens to black skimmers and oystercatchers hunting inches above the water.

The five rookeries are tiny, uninhabited swaths of sand and reeds where the birds tend nests in huge flocks of mixed species. They are vital habitat for troubled and threatened species. Each one is critical because individual islands tend to wash out, and because a tropical storm or hurricane can wreak havoc along any one of them.

Crab Bank is the only one located in the relative safety of a harbor.

"We're super-excited," said Sharon Richardson, Audubon South Carolina executive director, who on Thursday called the effort a "paradigm" of private-public partnership that might be the future of conservation.

The grants are hotly competed for across the nation, she said.

"This recognizes that the Crab Bank restoration is not just a project for South Carolina. It's a project for the country," she said. "We have gone from one-fourth of what we needed to two-thirds."

Potential corporate donors have been waiting to see that sort of commitment before making their decisions, Richardson said. She's confident now the group will reach its goal.

"This is a tremendous sign of support from federal agencies for an ecologically significant Crab Bank and our local sea and shorebirds, and it echoes the generosity we’ve already seen at every level in our own community," said Laura Cantral, director of the Coastal Conservation League, another coalition member.

"This brings us to the final homestretch of fundraising to restore Crab Bank," she said. "It is time to close the gap."

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