Success on Bay Point Island! The island will, for now, stay wild and undeveloped. Annexation of Bay Point has been removed from the Town of Hilton Head’s 2017 priority list. But note: this victory for wildlife and taxpayers is just a temporary fix.
Bay Point Island lies northeast of Hilton Head, separated from the town by the broad mouth of the Port Royal Sound. Privately owned and on the market, this ecological gem is imminently threatened with development.
Home to Imperiled Species
Designated a “Globally Important Bird Area,” Bay Point Island supports tens of thousands of birds throughout the year. Five to eight thousand shorebirds inhabit the island on any given day in the winter. Imperiled species use the island as a critical migratory pit stop during the spring and fall. Hundreds of declining seabirds and shorebirds build their nests here.
In fact, Bay Point supports one of the South Carolina’s largest groups of federally-threatened Red Knots: up to 500 of these long-distance travelers are regularly sited there. The island also hosts Piping Plovers from the federally-endangered Great Lakes population. Bay Point, in other words, shelters at least two species whose future hangs in the balance.
Citizens Speak Out
In Town of Hilton Head public meetings, residents came out in force to voice their opposition to the island’s development and their support for keeping this slice of pristine habitat wild.
Fran Baer is one person who spoke up. Baer is an active member of Hilton Head’s Audubon Chapter (but made her comments as a private citizen). She emphasized the island’s vulnerability to storms and tides. “Looking at aerial photos after Hurricane Matthew,” Baer says, “it’s obvious how vulnerable the island is to change. This on top of rising sea levels – development here is a really bad idea.”
Jack Greenshields, Vice President of the Hilton Head Audubon Chapter, chose a different tack. He noted that development on Bay Point wouldn’t be insured by the federal government. “Hilton Head could incur some liability because it can’t be properly insured,” said Greenshields.
Greenshields also emphasized that Bay Point is a safe zone for wildlife, especially those that are pushed off Hilton Head by human activity. Baer echoed this concern. “Bay Point Island is an incredible place,” she said. “It’s totally undisturbed.”
One question remains: What will happen to Bay Point when 2018 rolls around?
Hilton Head’s postponement of the annexation discussions gives Audubon South Carolina and other conservation groups more time to explore the possibility of permanent protection for the island.
According to Sharon Richardson, Executive Director of Audubon South Carolina, “The thousands of birds that rely on Bay Point Island still have a place to call home — and we’ll do everything we can to keep it that way.”
Nolan Schillerstrom is the Coastal Program Coordinator for Audubon South Carolina.