Crab Bank, a little island at the mouth of Shem Creek, is underwater at high tide. This is the first year that seabirds haven’t had enough land to nest. Crab Bank is one of five South Carolina sanctuaries, which together provide habitat for 38 percent of the entire East Coast’s nesting brown pelicans.
Erosion due to severe weather, increased wakes and sea level rise have caused Audubon South Carolina, Coastal Expeditions, the Department of Natural Resources and the Coastal Conservation League to lead an effort to restore the rookery in tandem with the dredging of the harbor.
After reviewing the project, Orrin H. Pilkey, professor emeritus of geology at Duke University and founder of the program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, and I endorsed the restoration of Crab Bank. We have worked on two books together, “A Celebration of the World’s Barrier Islands,” and “Global Climate Change: A Primer.”
We have long opposed hard structures on our shoreline, but realize Charleston’s shipping channels must be maintained. After careful research, Pilkey and I agreed that the recycling of appropriate dredged materials would re-create a naturalized habitat for black skimmers, oystercatchers, piping plovers, gold-billed terns and the beloved brown pelican, among others.
Real estate for our feathered friends is rapidly dwindling. Crab Bank is uniquely urban, and close enough for all to enjoy from the water. On Sept. 30, nearly 200 concerned citizens in kayaks and on paddleboards convened at Crab Bank to publicize the need to save this critically threatened rookery. Birds need natural vegetation and safety to nest free from human disturbance. Bird Key Stono Heritage Reserve, between Folly Beach and Kiawah Island, serves as one example of island-nourishment success where wildlife is able to thrive.
Other areas in danger are Captain Sam’s Spit, a constantly shifting sandy shoreline on Kiawah Island threatened by improper development, and the beautiful maritime forest on Sullivan’s Island, home to nesting buntings and 74 other bird species. As natural homes become increasingly scarce, we fully support the grassroots effort to save Crab Bank. This renourishment project would restore a nursery for birds by recycling sand, shell, rock and soil. The addition of native plants will anchor these materials and help ensure the island’s longevity.
We respect the combined knowledge and leadership from all the folks working diligently to make a difference in our community. Audubon South Carolina has asked me to initiate an artist residency at Beidler Forest.
As an environmental activist with a lifetime of aerial excursions, I have witnessed barrier islands coming and going. My bird’s-eye view began as a child with my father piloting our family’s 1946 Ercoupe plane. Mama’s nature walks taught me to respect every living thing. Fragile ecosystems need our protection.
I hope readers will inform their neighbors and help us eliminate apathy. As humans, we must protect endangered species before we come to share their fate.
Donations can be made through Audubon South Carolina.
Mary Edna Fraser
Oak Point Road