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#06-93 April 10, 2006

New regulations for seabird nesting islands

The South Carolina Budget & Control Board recently entered into agreements with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR), enabling the DNR to designate and establish three barrier island bird sanctuaries. The new status for Bird Key Stono, Crab Bank, and Deveaux Bank Islands will help protect nesting seabirds, which are undergoing population declines in South Carolina.

The nesting areas are managed by the DNR to help protect species such as brown pelicans, leastRoyal Terns on Deveaux Bank terns, royal terns, sandwich terns, black skimmers, and great egrets.  Crab Bank, a 16-acre island at the mouth of Shem Creek, and Bird Key Stono, a 35-acre island at the Stono River Inlet, are closed to boat landings and the public from Mar. 15 to Oct. 15.  The area on these islands below the high water line is open to the public from Oct. 16 to Mar. 14.  Deveaux Bank, a 215-acre island between Seabrook and Edisto Islands, is closed year-round above the high water line.  A portion of Deveaux Bank above the high water line is designated for limited recreational use.  Dogs are prohibited on all of the islands year-round.

Trespassing violations on Bird Key Stono, Crab Bank, and Deveaux Bank incur a fine of up to $465 and/or 30 days in jail.

DNR Director John Frampton said, “Human and dog presence can be damaging to seabird colonies. Because seabird nesting and roosting habitats are limited, the closure of three barrier islands under our management is an important step towards protecting South Carolina’s coastal birds.”

For additional information, contact Felicia Sanders, wildlife biologist with the DNR at (843) 520-0961, or SandersF@dnr.sc.gov. Also check the DNR Managed Lands Website for more information on the islands.

Although there are many barrier islands along the coast of South Carolina, only six have the correct profile for seabird usage.  Species nesting on these estuarine islands typically select a nesting location and mate in March, and build nests and lay eggs in April and May.  Many younger birds do not leave nesting islands until October.

In South Carolina, brown pelican nesting is declining significantly, and according to Sanders, 2631 nests were counted in 2005, a record low since 1976, and down from 7739 in 1989.  Pelicans completely abandoned Bird Key Stono in 2005.  Other states are not experiencing significant population declines, and are, alternatively, recording population increases.  Dog and human footprints have been frequently recorded on South Carolina’s nesting areas, and these disturbances may also be causing a degradation of roosting habitat.

Most seabirds lay eggs in shallow scrapes or rough nests directly on the ground, and can easily be crushed underfoot.  If approached, adult birds will leave the nest, and without shade, the sun quickly damages unprotected eggs, which are also easily snatched from their nests by gulls.  Dogs are particularly damaging to colonies because of their instinct to chase the vulnerable nesting birds.

-Written by Anna Martin-
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