Over the years, DNR has been concerned about the lack of nesting success for black skimmers on Deveaux Bank, one of three seabird sanctuaries managed by the agency. Until recently on Deveaux, the intertidal zone has been open to the public, and above the high tide line is off limits. These are the very zones where skimmers spend their precarious existence during breeding season. The black and white seabird with a scissor-like bill has become a “species of concern” because it is highly susceptible to disturbance from humans. Black skimmers nest on bare sand often near the high tide line, abandoning their nests as people walk by, leaving their eggs and chicks camouflaged in the sand, but unprotected from overheating in the sun and predatory gulls in even a short amount of time. Most seabirds lay eggs in shallow scrapes or rough nests directly on the ground, and can easily be crushed underfoot.
Other seabirds nesting on Deveaux include the gull-billed tern (another species of concern), the Sandwich tern, the royal tern, and the brown pelican (for which Deveaux is the largest colony in South Carolina). Deveaux Bank also has large colonies of nesting terns and wading birds (egrets, herons and ibis). Pairs of solitary nesting American Oystercatchers and Willets can be seen along the beach on every side of the island.
Until 2013, DNR had recorded no successful black skimmer fledglings in at least three years. The Conservation League, in partnership with the Audubon Society and DNR, implemented a “bird babysitting” program over the summer of 2013 to encourage as many chicks as possible to fledge. Volunteers devoted their weekends to protecting the skimmer nests and other breeding birds at Deveaux, educating boaters and visitors on the plight of these magnificent seabirds. The hard work of the volunteers paid off, resulting in 23 black skimmer fledglings (hatched chicks that can fly on their own), 15 gull-billed tern fledglings, hundreds of royal tern fledglings, and nearly 6,000 brown pelican fledglings. Those brown pelican fledglings were from 67% of all pelicans nesting in South Carolina and 25% of the pelicans nesting on the Atlantic coast of the United States.
In 2014, encouraged by the prior year’s successful breeding season and the protection that was provided by educating humans on bird avoidance, DNR officially designated additional portions of the Sanctuary closed to humans. Deveaux Bank will continue to be closed year-round above the high water line, with the exception of a portion on the Seabrook Island side now designated for limited recreational use. 2015’s seasonal beach closure will last from March 15 through October 15. Closed areas will be demarcated by symbolic fencing and will occur on the seaward side of the island. The beaches on the ends of the island, facing inland, will continue to be open year-round. Because habitat use changes with time, results of seasonal closures will be evaluated each year and adjusted to ensure protection of coastal bird habitat, but also allow people to access areas not critical for seabirds. Dogs and camping are prohibited year-round.
The importance of the 2014 Deveaux closings cannot be overstated. Not only is this island the most important site in South Carolina for many species of nesting seabirds, but it is also the largest colony of brown pelicans on the Atlantic coast. Black skimmers once nested in South Carolina in colonies of 10,000s. Only 674 black skimmers nests were counted last summer and almost half were on Deveaux.
Deveaux Bank’s beaches are also important for migratory shorebirds, and the island has the largest number of piping plovers in South Carolina, a federally listed shorebird. High priority species that are rapidly declining such as red knots, sanderlings, and ruddy turnstones also use Deveaux Bank as a resting and feeding area. Shorebirds are declining faster than any other group of birds partly because humans increasingly use their habitats. Many younger birds do not leave nesting islands until October, and migratory shorebird numbers peak during spring and fall months. Seasonal closure of part of the Deveaux Bank beach is an important step in South Carolina’s effort towards protecting migratory coastal birds. South Carolina has 187 miles of coastline and Deveaux Bank is less than one mile. Protecting this small portion for the birds is a way to help ensure future generations enjoy the diversity of coastal species.
Help these birds thrive:
- Avoid leaving food scraps behind on the beach.
- Refrain children from running and flushing birds, even when birds are resting in the intertidal zone.
- Avoid walking next to the sign line near the black skimmers (the roped off area).
- Give nesting pelicans, terns, skimmers, and their chicks space in the intertidal zone.
- Share the beach.
- Obey the “No Dogs” law on the island.
- Avoid disturbing birds to get a photograph.