A $5 million federal investment will soon add 446 acres of land along the South Carolina shoreline.
CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - A $5 million federal investment will soon add 446 acres of land along the South Carolina shoreline.
Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge is currently made up of 22 miles of barrier islands. Sarah Dawsey, the refuge manager, has been working with nature preservation since she was in high school and joined the Youth Conservation Corps.
“This has been a lifelong goal for me. I mean, I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am to get this money. We have barrier islands, the refuge is barrier islands, and they’re only accessible by boat,” Dawsey says.
Coastal Expeditions does run a ferry to Bulls Island for a fee so those interested can visit for the day. There is a public dock on the island for those with boats to use as well.
“This money will allow us to have a tract on the mainland, where we can have trails, we can have hunting, fishing, environmental education, everything that we do on the islands, but to a greater extent and you don’t have to have a boat so it’s really exciting,” Dawsey says.
She also notes that a mainland tract is a step toward a future corridor connecting the refuge to the Francis Marion National Forest.
Durwin Carter is the project leader for Cape Romain, Ace Basin, Santee and Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuges. He says any addition of land is a huge win for conservation efforts, wildlife and the people nearby who can enjoy it.
“It ties directly into what our mission is. Our mission is essentially working with other partners to conserve these lands and habitats and the critters that use it, for the public to enjoy,” Carter says.
Dawsey and Carter pointed out how erosion from storms and sea level rise are threatening the barrier islands and, in their time at the refuge, they have seen the saltwater breach into ponds on Bulls Island and encroach further into the land each year.
“With the threats happening with development and habitat fragmentation and sea level rise, any additional lands that we can conserve are going to be beneficial. We do what we do for the wildlife, for the habitats and for people to enjoy. But we also do it for future generations to enjoy,” Carter says.
The funding comes from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. The fund is made up from the sale of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as Duck Stamps, and import taxes.
The refuge has a visitors center located off Highway 17 where people can learn more about the conservation work and migratory bird protection the islands offer. Dawsey says people are always welcome to visit Bulls Island as long as they come with respect for the wildlife and leave it as they found it.
“If you see birds flying around or acting unusual or dive bombing you, that’s a signal that you’re close to their nest and they’re just trying to protect their babies,” Dawsey says.
Cape Romain is home to more than 290 bird species that migrate through the area as well as other animals like alligators, deer and sea turtles.
“We are just winding up our field season, so we have a really big loggerhead sea turtle project, it’s seven days a week. We do a lot of posting for birds and stewarding to keep people out of the bird areas and educating people on why it’s important,” Dawsey says.
Carter says his staff and volunteers are grateful for the land the refuge currently gets to take care of. They are looking forward to the expansion once the sale is finalized and eventually to hosting wildlife and visitors on the new mainland tracts.
“We’re really lucky to have the jobs that we have because they really enjoy their time out on the water of Cape Romain; really enjoy their times out on the trails, enjoy their times out appreciating the refuge, doing birdwatching, fishing, hunting, whatever it is, we’re constantly reminded of how great our jobs are because we get a chance to see this every day,” Carter says.
Copyright 2023 WCSC. All rights reserved.