Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Edisto Beach

After the first summer camp session at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, we took a week off and enjoyed the sun and sand at Edisto Beach.
There are a few things one must understand in order to enjoy the beach experience without damaging the environment or harming the wildlife that share coastal zone and nearby waters. Some behaviors should be common sense. Unfortunately, as the Fourth of July crowd on Folly Beach demonstrated with their littering, common sense is not a common virtue. In response, Folly Beach is proposing a ban on drinking on its beaches.

While at Edisto Beach, storms at sea sent copious amounts of seaweed, driftwood and trash onto our 50-yard stretch of beach. The image below shows that the majority of the human-produced trash was beverage containers (as was the case on Folly Beach). Several of the aluminum cans, shredded by their time underwater, had barnacles attached. The shredded cans posed a hazard to the bare feet of the beachgoers and items like plastic bags and rubber gloves become choking hazards or intestinal blockages for sea turtles and marine mammals.

It is unlawful to trapse through the fragile dunes and the sea oats that tenuously hold the sand in place. Additionally, shorebirds like the Wilson's Plover nest on the sand in and around the dune system. Shorebird eggs are well-camouflaged on the sand to avoid predation, so they can easily be stepped on by humans and free-roaming dogs. Dogs and humans running on the beach can cause resting shorebirds to flush into flight and thereby consume valuable energy without purpose. Repeated disturbance can deplete the birds' energy and affect their ability to raise their young and/or migrate. Therefore, giving a wide berth to birds on the beach and keeping pets and children from chasing birds will help maintain healthy shorebird populations.

Finally, the beach zone is an area for wildlife reproduction. Our stretch of beach had three sea turtle nests marked off to prevent compaction by foot traffic that would prevent hatchlings from making it out of the nest. Nest disturbance by humans and disorienting lights nearby homes and streets are the greatest non-natural threats to the young turtles. Edisto Beach, like many other beach communities, does its best to communicate this information to both local residents and the multitude of visitors.

Horseshoe crabs too came near shore to mate. The millions of eggs that they will produce will help feed Red Knots migrating from the Arctic to points as far as the southern tip of South America. Barriers (human-designed sea walls) to the high tide line on the beach where the crabs seek to lay their eggs and the use of adult horseshoe crabs for bait are the main threats to the species and the species to which they are connected in the foodweb. Individuals flipping the mating pairs of crabs are not helpful either.

Enjoy the beach, but understand it first so that your presence is not detrimental to the ecosystem.

Images by Mark Musselman

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