More About Cape Romain NWR

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In 1932, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge was established to conserve habitat for migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, seabirds, and resident species. Stretching for 22 miles along the coast of South Carolina, the refuge is an area rich in natural resources. Its pristine lands and waters (66,306 acres) include barrier islands with long sandy beaches, dense maritime forest, fresh and brackish water impoundments, emergent salt marshes and intricate coastal waterways. In the shallow estuarine wetlands, the incoming tide carries juvenile fish, crustaceans and other invertebrates, combining the life-giving nourishment of the ocean with the nutrient-laden fresh waters of several small rivers to make one of the most productive environments on earth.

Over the years, refuge objectives have expanded to include managing for endangered and threatened species such as the endangered Red wolf and threatened Loggerhead sea turtle, protecting the 29,000 acre Class I National Wilderness Area, preserving the Bulls Island maritime forest and offering wildlife-dependent recreation. Within the island’s maritime forest, an aggressive control plan works to eradicate non-native, invasive species. The brackish water impoundments, vital to a myriad of bird species, are managed to maximize food production and maintain habitat through the use of water control structures, operated with tidal surges to control water flow between the impoundments and tidal creeks.

Cape Romain Wilderness Brochure

Cape Romain NWR is noted as one of 500 Important Bird Areas by the American Bird Conservancy by the American Bird Conservancy and is designated as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site of International Importance, one of only four sites on the Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada.

Cultural History

The refuge is rich in cultural history as well. Cultural resources found on refuge islands signify the connection between this coastal land and its earlier human inhabitants. The tidal creeks and bays provided the natives with ample supplies of fish, oysters, and clams. “Middens”, ancient shell heaps deposited by Native Americans over two thousand years ago, can be found on Bulls Island. English settlers in South Carolina made their first landing in the New World on Bulls Island to replenish their stocks of wood, water, and food before proceeding further south. They eventually established the first permanent European settlement in South Carolina at the present city of Charleston.

Bulls Bay and the creeks behind Bulls Island were reputed hideouts for pirates plundering ships along the coast. The remains of the Old Fort on Bulls Island are believed to have been a martello tower built in the early 1700's. Stories are documented of retreating British warships restocking supplies on Bulls Island during the Revolutionary War, Confederate blockade runners using refuge tidal creeks, and the Union troops destruction of the martello tower which was used as a Confederate powder magazine.

Two lighthouses, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, still stand as maritime sentinels on Lighthouse Island. The first was built in 1827 and is one of the oldest of its kind still standing in the United States. The second, built in 1857, stood watch over the coastal area until 1947. Although neither is operational, they still serve as daytime landmarks for boaters and recreational and commercial fishermen.

Cape Romain Lighthouse Brochure

In 1925 Gayer Dominick, a banker and broker from New York, purchased Bulls Island with the intent of making it a private hunting preserve. He made improvements to the existing impoundments to attract waterfowl and built a large house, known as the “Dominick House”, which served as a hunt lodge and family vacation home. In 1936 Mr. Dominick conveyed the island to the Service to become part of the refuge. 

Refuge Consession  

Coastal Expeditions, the contracted concession for the refuge, offers overnight three-day weekend tours on Bulls Island and visitors lodge at the Dominick House. Coastal Expeditions, a reputable guide service and outfitter in the Charleston area provides ferry service to Bulls Island throughout the year and offers four annual public tours to Lighthouse Island. The concession promotes conservation and environmental education through interpretive tours and programs. Contact Coastal Expeditions  for more information on their ferry schedule and other services.

Bulls Island Information and Map

Cape Romain Receives High Marks in National Wildlife Refuge Survey

An overwhelming percentage of visitors to Cape Romain in 2010 and 2011 were highly impressed with the recreational opportunities, information and educational programming, service provided by employees or volunteers, and the refuge's job of conserving fish, wildlife, and their habitats. Some 92 percent of respondents gave consistent high marks to all facets of their refuge experiences. The survey, designed, conducted, and analyzed by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey, evaluated responses from more than 200 adults who visited the refuge between July 2010 and November 2011. Cape Romain was one of 53 national wildlife refuges surveyed. The survey found that 70 percent of visitors to Cape Romain are from South Carolina. Vistors enjoyed a wide variety of activities, with wildlife observation (60%), photography (44%), hiking (41%) and bird watching (40%) receiving the highest participation rates.

Several enthusiastic comments were made by survey participants such as: "Cape Romain is, in and of itself, one of the most pristine and beautiful places on earth. The maze of marshland and abundance of habitat coupled with the remnants of history make it truly unique. Add to that unparalleled fishing of anywhere else in SC, and you have a precious gem that is worth preserving at any cost."

Read the Cape Romain Survey Findings and the National Refuges Survey Findings