This article first appeared in the Charleston City Paper.
If you’ve been to the beach lately, you’ve probably noticed some new additions to your go-to access path. These colorful works of art are the product of none other than Charleston’s own (students, that is), as part of an initiative by Audubon South Carolina (ASC) to protect highly endangered species of shorebirds native to Charleston’s coastline.
Shorebird and seabird populations have dropped about 70 percent in the last 40 years, placing them amongst some of the most imperiled animal species in the world. Every winter, ASC goes to fourth through sixth grade classrooms and educates young students about the dangers to Lowcountry seabirds. Students are given a blank sign template and instructed to draw their favorite seabird and an original slogan, and selected drawings are turned into durable plastic signs placed at beach accesses to steer people away from endangered bird nests.
The signs are part of ASC’s larger project, “Let ‘Em Rest Let ‘Em Nest,” which seeks to educate people about the importance of reducing human disturbance to coastal bird nests — and it’s having some visible success.
Recently, ASC saw the first successful nest and hatch of an American Oystercatcher in a long time. "Oystercatchers usually try to nest on this beach, (on the Lighthouse Inlet side of Folly Beach), but are inevitably scared off the nest by too many roving beach goers walking too close. Watching those chicks grow old enough to fly and fend for themselves was a wonderful sight to witness,” said, Nolan Schillerstrom, ASCs Coastal Program Coordinator in a press release.
ASC continues to educate more students and work to print more signs to distribute to beach access paths, but in the meantime, beachgoers can follow these steps to help seabirds to successfully nest on Charleston beaches:
1. Keep away from birds.
2. Respect posted nesting and feeding areas.
3. Don’t force birds to fly.
4. Keep pets on a leash.
5. Keep the beach trash-free.
6. Be mindful of where you land your boat.
7. Teach others to protect birds on our beaches.
How close to a bird is too close? If birds react — calling loudly or taking flight — step back immediately. A good rule is to stay at least 50 yards away, or half the length of a football field.