Piping Plover photographed on Hilton Head Island by Fran Baer
It shall be the duty of the Conservation Committee Chair and Committee to endeavor to keep informed on local and national legislative and government administrative matters affecting the conservation of natural resources and advise the Board of Directors as to its findings. It shall be the duty of this committee to endeavor to coordinate with the policies of the National Audubon Society.
Many members have expressed interest in plans for new development and redevelopment on the Island. Below are some of the areas of conservation focus.
Background: The former Shelter Cove Mall is being redeveloped. The new $74 million Shelter Cover Towne Centre includes an 87,000 square foot Kroger which opened in December 2013, adjoined by single story retail and restaurants. Up to 240 apartments will be built, in two four-story complexes. One will be at the old location of the Shelter Cove Community Park. The other will be farther north on Shelter Cove Lane, behind the Sheriff’s office. The new waterfront park is along Broad Creek behind the stores.
Our focus: Habitat loss and the retention pond behind the Kroger are our primary concerns. The pond empties into the marshes of Broad Creek. In past years, there were hundreds of birds roosting there. The Hilton Head Island Audubon Society has conducted regular bird surveys since October 2013 and we presented our study and recommendations in late September 2014. In attendance were representatives of the Town of Hilton Head Island, the developer Blanchard & Calhoun, Shelter Cove Harbour Company, Shelter Cove Towne Centre, Newport, veterans organizations and HHI Audubon. We made recommendations to protect the 20-foot buffer, expand the perimeter of the buffer with additional landscaping, add signs for “no disturbance” and construct an observation platform that would provide a view of the birds but with minimal disturbance. Our recommendations were accepted and the design of the observation platform is underway as of November 2015. Robert Rommel designed interpretive signs for the platform. Our surveys will continue during the construction of the apartment buildings.
We are concerned that future development on the island be conducted in an environmentally-friendly manner. We hope that the preservation of this roosting site will be one step along this path.
Background: The Town of Hilton Head has long planned to build a beach facility in this area. The current approved plan is to build a beach facility (restrooms, etc.) and parking at Burkes Beach, a boardwalk across the Folly Inlet to Collier Beach and handicapped parking with some kind of facility at Collier Beach. This is all part of the planned Chaplin Linear Park. The plan’s next step is 150 parking spots in the forested area at the end of Burkes Beach Road, south side. Despite bordering on critical habitat, this beach area already attracts a high number of beachgoers.
Protect the Folly.
“The Folly is the last remaining tidal inlet on the Hilton Head Island ocean shore. It is protected from development by federal and state regulations, as well as the Town’s Wetland Protection Ordinance. This inlet is a “pressure valve” that mitigates the erosion of the beach from longshore currents and storm waves by allowing a high volume of seawater to flow in and out of the meandering channel and its broad tidal marsh.” Todd Ballantine July 14, 2012
The Hilton Head Island Audubon Society has conducted a monitoring program at the Burkes/Collier Beach area since October 2013. We conduct regular scientific surveys of the wildlife found in the area throughout the year. The surveys follow a strict protocol and are replicated several times during each time period to ensure that accurate estimates are obtained instead of anecdotal accounts.
The survey is designed to meet several goals: determine which wildlife use the area, determine which portions of the habitat are critical for the survival of wildlife, and to determine how best we can manage the area for both recreational enjoyment and preservation of our natural resources. Lastly, if the area does suffer catastrophic change, the survey will document the negative impacts on our wildlife.
Preliminary results of the survey are already changing our understanding of the area. The area is critical habitat for at least 56 species of birds and 1597 birds were observed over 6 surveys. Wildlife uses the area as a resting stopover during sensitive migration periods, as an essential feeding location throughout the year, and as nesting grounds during the spring and summer.
We have observed nesting birds in both the deep saltmarsh habitat and the dune habitat. Consequently these areas are the most critical areas for the nesting success and survival. Feeding also occurs extensively in these two habitat types.
We believe it is possible to make improvements to the area that will enhance the recreational use of the site. However, care must be taken to preserve the unique treasure that nature has given us.
We will continue to share the results of the surveys with the Town and the developer.
We’d like to expand our survey efforts to other areas including Fish Haul/Mitchelville, Sea Pines Forest Preserve, and Jarvis Creek Park. If you are interested in participating, contact the Conservation Committee.
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