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#07-88 March 26, 2007

Regulations established on seabird nesting islands

The South Carolina Budget and Control Board entered into agreements last year with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, enabling the state natural resources agency DNR to designate and establish three barrier island bird sanctuaries. Regulations for Bird Key Stono, Crab Bank, and Deveaux Bank Islands will help protect nesting seabirds, which are undergoing population declines in South Carolina.

The Charleston County nesting areas are managed by the S.C. Department of Natural ResourcesDeveaux Bank (DNR) to help protect species such as brown pelicans, least 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 March 15 to Oct. 15. The area on these islands below the high water line is open to the public from Oct. 16 to March 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, DNR wildlife biologist, at SandersF@dnr.sc.gov.

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 find their 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.

Seabirds often 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 seabirds.

In South Carolina, brown pelican nesting has been declining for the last 15 years with the exception of slight increase last year. Pelicans completely abandoned Bird Key Stono in 2005, causing biologists to recommend, last year, additional protection of the seabird nesting islands. 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. After the new regulations took effect, few human and dog prints have been seen on the seabird nesting islands. Black skimmer nesting increased last year on the Seabird Sanctuaries. DNR is hopeful continued protection of the islands will cause other species to return and flourish.
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