Protect your precious ecosystem

Mark Rightmire/Orange County Register/MCT ¬ Bottlenose dolphins in the Kiawah River love to play alongside boats. They will be featured at the Johns Island Conservancy meeting tonight.

I am a visitor from New Zealand, currently at Seabrook Island for a short stay. I am awestruck by the unbelievable environment and ecosystem found here.

It is obviously a very special habitat for many species, of which the bottlenose dolphins, pelicans and egrets are the most apparent.

However, after watching for some days, I am also surprised at the behavior and impact of people on this unique environment.

The speed of motorboats, the sheer numbers of kayakers, the number and proximity of sightseeing boats and the number of docks and jetties all have an impact on marine life, and the health of the marsh environment. Wake-wash erosion, collisions and injuries to dolphins are just a couple of the visible side-effects.

But the more serious risk is that the dolphins will leave. I hear there used to be enormous mixed flocks of birds on the Kiawah River that are no longer seen.

If yet more change to the ecosystem occurs, the biodiversity is affected and the outcome will be the reduction or disappearance of yet more species.

Many businesses and jobs are obviously dependent on the tourism related to your unique environment. It is important to protect your environment while you still can for this, and for the obvious reasons.

You manage your tourism in terms of the guided carriage tours through Charleston very well — to the benefit of all. It protects the visitor experience, the impact on the city, and the economic sustainability of the business operators.

Yet what is at risk in the sea is much more fragile and potentially irreversible than protecting the bricks and mortar of historic buildings.

In New Zealand we have learned the hard way about extinction of threatened indigenous species. Now we manage our tourism operators very carefully where they interact with the environment, including dolphin encounters.

I urge you to consider what is happening here on Johns Island.

This is a unique setting, offering I understand one of the best opportunities in the USA to experience the marine environment, e.g. to see strand fishing by dolphins, and this must be protected and managed.

The impacts must be understood, and measures taken to mitigate the effect of people on the environment while you still can. Once the dolphins are gone it is too late to ask these questions.

Liz Brooks

Aberdeen Road

Campbells Bay, Auckland , New Zealand