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Conservation & the Importance of Saving the Charleston Crab Bank

Posted by Chris Leigh-Jones on Oct 5, 2018 3:58:53 PM
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Shem Creek Charleston SCHow important is a shorebird rookery to the health of the lowcountry landscape around Charleston? Ask any nature conservationist, Audubon group member, or local resident that simply loves the breathtaking marshes of the Charleston SC waterways, and they'd all say the same thing - vitally and indisputably important. For Charleston, one of these crucial ecosystems has for decades existed on a tiny sandbar island at the mouth of Shem Creek, not far from Fort Sumter and the vast expanse of Charleston Harbor. At its height, Crab Bank stretched over 18 acres and nested almost 4,000 birds.  Now at high tide, the bank gets completely over-washed. This year, no birds nested at all.  Crab Bank is essentially gone.  So now the question becomes, "What will it cost to save it?"

What exactly is a rookery?  These are tiny, uninhabited areas of sand and grasses, where shore birds and sea birds tend to nest in flocks of mixed species.  This environment provides at least some refuge for the flocks from predators and human intrusion. Crab Bank Bird Sanctuary, in the heart of Charleston Harbor, is vital to the birds, the future of Shem Creek, local businesses, and the entire community.

This fragile sandbar supports migratory bird species like the brown pelican, royal tern and American oystercatcher. It is a significant safe haven for threatened birds, an educational resource for our region and state, and plays an overarching role in the local economy.  Over the last decade, Crab Bank has diminished to a fraction of its original size, and after Tropical Storm Irma, it no longer can host any nesting birds. The factors that led to this are many, including the erosion of sands that come from "ship suck," a term that reflects the damage that comes with the wake of the large ships that enter and leave the harbor, in addition to rising sea tides and storms that have taken their toll.

The Coastal Conservation League is one of a group of organizations trying to raise $2 million to restore Crab Bank so thousands of birds can again call it home. The Conservation League, SC DNR, Audubon SC, Coastal Expeditions, SC Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited and the SC Aquarium have an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to use dredging material from the harbor deepening project and use it to restore Crab Bank.  The potential exists for diverting some 600,000 cubic yards of bottom soils currently slated from the planned dredge. That's enough to fill the size of a football field to the height of a "football field tall."  It seems like a "no brainer" really, despite the often heated politics in the South. The dredge is being dug out of the channel for the post Panamax container traffic and it's a shorter distance to drop it on Crab Bank than to move it elsewhere.

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This isn't an environmental "the sky is falling" sort of appeal really, nor a plea to believe that "climate change exists," or a cause that pits one political group against another.  This is simply a call to action for local Charlestonians, to restore and protect an ecosystem that adds to the beauty and charm of Charleston that can't afford to be lost. 

And if you care to help ... "What can you do?" You can donate here to help the Coastal Conservation League raise the funds by December 2018.

Topics: Discover Charleston

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