Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Turtle Island

Turtle Island is for the birds ... officially
DAVID LAUDERDALE, Packet columnist
Published Sunday, November 19, 2006

Finally, some good news about coastal birds -- too often reported clinging to life on a wing and a prayer because bulldozers don't make good nesting sites.
Turtle Island between Daufuskie Island and Savannah has been designated an Important Bird Area.

A flock of local and state bird enthusiasts were to cross the waters to Daufuskie Island on Saturday to toast this good news about one of the last remaining undisturbed barrier-island beaches in South Carolina.

Turtle Island is uninhabited by humans, and the birds are making the most of it. That's crucial as the Lowcountry becomes urbanized at an alarming rate.

To be an Important Bird Area speaks loudly for the value of land conservation. But it doesn't carry a big stick. It's not a politically binding designation that would hold up in court.
It simply recognizes the 1,720-acre island as an important nesting, resting or foraging place for shorebirds. It is a safe haven for the piping plover, which is protected under the
Endangered Species Act, and three other birds on Audubon's "watch list": the American oyster catcher, Wilson's plover and the red knot. And at least 1,000 birds from seven other species, including the black-bellied plover and the least tern, occupy the island at least part of the year.

The Turtle Island success story really started on Dec. 1, 1975. That's when the old Union Camp, now part of International Paper, donated it to The Nature Conservancy. It quickly was transferred to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and is now the Turtle Island Wildlife Management Area.

Tom Murphy, a DNR biologist, sees the new designation as proof of his agency's good stewardship and careful monitoring of birds. Audubon South Carolina has been working for years to identify Important Bird Areas. Turtle Island is the 41st site in the state, covering a total of 1 million acres. Others nearby are the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, the Pinckney Island and Savannah National Wildlife refuges, Bay Point Island on Port Royal Sound, and the Webb Wildlife Management Area near Ridgeland.

And when we talked Friday, Murphy shared more good news about birds in our neck of the Lowcountry: The population of sea birds -- gulls, pelicans and terns -- is starting to bounce back after declining for many years.

A new man-made island near the Savannah River jetties helps. The 5-acre Tompkins Island is a mound of the cleanest sand dredged by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deepen the Savannah River channel. This made-to-order Club Med for birds was finished two years ago, and the hanky-panky started immediately. Within two months, 1,700 pairs of birds were nesting there. This year, it's up to 5,000 pairs. And due to a lack of predators on the island that's almost a mile offshore, the birds are "very productive," Murphy said.

Public awareness and involvement is more important than ever. Ann Shahid, the Important Bird Areas coordinator for Audubon South Carolina, needs volunteers to monitor bird populations. She can be reached at ashahid@audubon.org, or 843-462-2150.
Lowcountry residents need the birds, and they need us. If the birds are healthy, so are we.


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