Crab Bank (copy) (copy)

Most of the nesting grounds are gone because high tides now wash over the sliver of sand that makes up Crab Bank. File/Coastal Conservation League/Provided

More than $1 million will need to be raised to rebuild Crab Bank, the once-thriving seabird sanctuary in the heart of Charleston Harbor, but it’s really a small price to pay when you consider the value of preserving a nesting spot with the potential to sustain 5,000 birds each season.

That should be reason enough for Charleston Harbor’s biggest tenant, the State Ports Authority, to take the lead in the nascent fundraising effort to save the once-flourishing islet at the mouth of Shem Creek that has dwindled to less than an acre.

This past summer, Jim Newsome, chief executive of the SPA, expressed a willingness to financially support the rebuilding project pending final approval of dredging operations. Ports spokeswoman Erin Dhand said the port’s position hasn’t changed since then, but a decision on contributing won’t be made until the fundraising effort is formally underway.

Full funding for the Crab Bank restoration project could not be found in the $529 million budget for dredging the harbor. Unlike the Bird Key Stono renourishment, part of the larger Folly Beach project, sand can’t just be piped onto Crab Bank. Dredged materials have to be brought by barge to Crab Bank, then offloaded. Handling the sand more than once adds to the cost, but it’s worth it to rebuild the important sanctuary.

Most of the roughly $3.5 million cost of restoring Crab Bank to about 80 acres would be borne by the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Natural Resources. But at least $1.25 million will have to be raised. That task has fallen to the newly formed Coastal Bird Conservation Partners, a coalition that includes DNR, Audubon South Carolina, Ducks Unlimited, Coastal Expeditions, the South Carolina Aquarium, the S.C. Wildlife Federation and the Coastal Conservation League.

There’s no hard deadline for the fundraising effort, but the coalition hopes to start publicly raising money soon and be able to turn over the needed funds to DNR by next spring, said Emily Cedzo, CCL’s project director for land, water and wildlife.

“I think it will come down to individual donations,” she said, adding that the coalition plans to set a fundraising goal of $2 million to ensure the project is completed in case costs rise over the next 18 months or so.

The project is critical. Already, there’s not enough high ground on Crab Bank to support nesting or vegetation, and most of the fine-feathered residents have decamped. Nearly three-quarters of the Lowcountry’s seabird species are threatened.

Because Crab Bank, a favorite nesting spot for pelicans and about a dozen other species of shorebirds, is a publicly owned shorebird sanctuary, the coalition is looking at both public and private sources of funding.

U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford, Tom Rice and Ralph Norman recently wrote to the top brass at the Army Corps to urge the agency to include Crab Bank in a pilot program aimed using dredge materials to restore wildlife habitat. They should use their political influence to make sure this happens.

Any funds raised in excess of what is needed to rebuild Crab Bank would go toward restoring other state-protected rookeries. The goal is to establish a permanent conservation fund that would support shorebirds in perpetuity.

Creating a permanent conservation fund should be an attractive project for corporate sponsors such shipping companies, which would get a public relations boost from donating.

Growing Crab Bank to 80 acres, with more than a third of the land at least 2 feet above the high tide mark, would help sustain local shorebird populations for decades to come. Once restored, the island could support about 5,000 nesting birds.

We don’t think $1.25 million is too steep a price to pay, especially over the several decades the rebuilt island is expected to last. And certainly the SPA, which drives about $53 billion in economic activity, can afford to help pay for it.