Location: Charleston County, South Carolina
Photos: Photoset on Flickr
South Carolina: A Closer Look at Sea Level Rise on Cape Romain
A wooden post in the middle of open water at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge near Charleston, South Carolina is literally a sign of climate change.
The sign warns visitors to keep their dogs off the refuge. It made sense until 2009, when the sea swallowed the island it sat atop. The narrow island, called Sandy Point, used to be a perfect nesting area for American oystercatchers, Wilson’s Plovers and terns. Just ten years ago, Sandy Point stretched for a mile.
|The disappearing island of Sandy Point at Cape Romain. Credit: USFWS. Click for full size.|
The nearby Cape Island is also important habitat for wildlife. It’s one of the most important nesting areas on the Atlantic Coast for loggerhead sea turtles, a threatened species that may soon be uplisted to endangered.
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From 1999 to 2006, the Cape Island beach receded 180 feet. Loggerheads returning to their birthplace to lay their own eggs began digging nests in areas exposed to high tides and groundwater intrusion. Many of their nests were inundated.
In recent years, with help from sea turtle experts at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the South Carolina Aquarium, along with dozens of volunteers, the refuge’s Turtle Recovery Team has been relocating an ever increasing number of nests. The nests are dug up and moved to safe areas. Hatchling success has dramatically improved, from 25 percent to 78 percent.
Raye Nilius, project manager for the South Carolina Low Country National Wildlife Refuge Complex, questions whether in 50 years Cape Romain will be able to provide the habitat that species depend upon today. The refuge’s future existence may depend on conserving land on the mainland now, before spreading urban development takes away that option.
“The ocean encroaches on one side, human population increases on the other and the islands are caught in the middle,” she said.