Discovery at Deveaux - Virtual Recording

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In 2019, on a small island in coastal South Carolina, biologists discovered a phenomenon that was difficult to believe. Nearly 20,000 whimbrel were stopping at Deveaux Bank along their migration north — half the estimated eastern population of the declining shorebird.

This webinar is a celebration of the newly announced discovery with a virtual screening and interactive panel discussion with the dedicated team who made it happen.

Originally aired Tuesday, June 22, 2021 at 6pm

This event was held in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Manomet, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, the University of South Carolina, and Audubon South Carolina.



Maina Handmaker (Panelist), Whimbrel Researcher & Graduate Student, University of South Carolina

As a graduate student in the Senner Lab at the University of South Carolina, Maina studies the role nocturnal roost sites play in the stopover ecology and migratory performance of Atlantic flyway Whimbrel. Prior to joining the Senner Lab, Maina worked as the Communications Specialist for the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). Her current research uses GPS transmitters to track the daily movements of Whimbrel that roost on Deveaux Bank during their migratory stopovers on the coast of South Carolina, seeking to better understand how individuals select foraging and roosting sites and how those choices influence their entire annual cycle.

Andrew Johnson (Panelist), Conservation Media Center filmmaker, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Andy Johnson is a film producer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Center for Conservation Media. Andrew studied biology at Cornell University, where his research focused on tracking Whimbrel migrations. Now, with a career in natural history filmmaking, the work on Deveaux Bank has been a convergence of his longtime interests in shorebird migration, conservation, and visual storytelling.

Dr. J. Drew Lanham (Panelist), Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology, Master Teacher, and Certified Wildlife Biologist at at Clemson University

A native of Edgefield, South Carolina, Dr. J Lanham is an author, poet, ecologist, and an extraordinary birder. His focus is on the ecology of songbirds and the intersections of race, place, and conservation with wild birds as the conduit for understanding. Dr Lanham is the author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, which received the Reed Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Southern Book Prize, and was a finalist for the John Burroughs Medal. He is a birder, naturalist, and hunter-conservationist who has published essays and poetry in publications including Orion, Audubon, Flycatcher, and Wilderness, as well as anthologies including The Colors of Nature, State of the Heart, Bartram’s Living Legacy, and Carolina Writers at Home.

Dr. Erica Nol (Panelist), Professor, Department of Biology, Trent University

Dr. Nol is an internationally renowned biologist who has dedicated much of her career to the biology and conservation of shorebirds. From their base in Ontario, Canada, Dr. Nol and her students have worked on plovers and other shorebirds in Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela, and the United States -- including South Carolina. Currently, her research focus centers on the impacts of climate change on arctic and subarctic breeding shorebirds. In 2020, the American Ornithological Society awarded her the Miller Award for lifetime achievement in ornithological research.

Felicia Sanders (Panelist), Coastal Bird Conservation Project Supervisor at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

Recently named the Biologist of the Year by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Felicia has spent over 30 years working on conservation efforts for a diversity of bird species and has coauthored numerous scientific publications. She has worked extensively with seabirds, shorebirds, and wading birds, as well as red-cockaded woodpeckers, grassland birds, and neotropical migrants. Her many conservation accomplishments include the designation of five coastal island Seabird Sanctuaries and the designation of the Cape Romain-Santee Delta Region as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site of International Importance.

Dr. Abby Sterling (Moderator), Director, Manomet Georgia Bight Shorebird Conservation Initiative

Abby Sterling is the director of Manomet’s Georgia Bight Shorebird Initiative, which launched in 2018. The Georgia Bight is a region with incredible habitat for shorebirds throughout the year, ranging from expansive marshes, mudflats, and sand bars, to undeveloped barrier island beaches which provide sites for nesting, feeding, and roosting. In 2016, Abby earned her doctorate from the University of Georgia, where she studied how habitat and landscape features influence beach nesting shorebirds and chick survival. Before migrating south, she grew up in Western New York and attended SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry for her B.S. in environmental biology.

Justin Stokes (Welcome Address), Interim Deputy Chief Conservation Officer for the National Audubon Society

Justin Stokes currently serves as the Interim Deputy Chief Conservation Officer for the National Audubon Society, helping oversee the organization’s conservation, policy, international, and science divisions. Justin has served as the Executive Director of Audubon South Carolina since 2019, managing the statewide office of the National Audubon Society that represents more than 26,000 members and supporters, two nature centers, and 30,000 acres of land that Audubon owns and manages in the state. Justin previously served as Audubon’s Vice President of Political Affairs, the founding Executive Director of the Audubon Action Fund, and as a Chief of Staff in the United States House of Representatives. A native of Camden, South Carolina, Justin is a graduate of Clemson University.


Welcome remarks from Audubon SC's Executive Director:

Audubon is grateful to be a part of this virtual screening which garnered an international audience for this film screening and discussion, announcing this remarkable discovery in coastal South Carolina. South Carolina has a long history of partnerships as the foundations for successful conservation — and that legacy is born out today in these vast coastal habitats that remain, some of our Atlantic Coast’s wildest regions, like the ACE Basin. As we gather around this hopeful news this evening, I’m reminded anew of the importance of this shared mission, and this work --which is more critical now than ever before. This film tells the amazing story of a SC Department of Natural Resources biologist Felicia Sanders (someone we at Audubon South Carolina are pleased to call a friend and partner) making a truly unprecedented scientific discovery at Deveaux Bank, which is a sand spit island at the mouth of the North Edisto River in Charleston County. What you’ll learn through the course of this screening is that this island — an Audubon Important Bird Area and one of just five designated Seabird Sanctuary Islands in South Carolina managed by SCDNR — is a monumental migratory stepping stone for Whimbrel as they make their way north to Arctic breeding grounds.

According to the Center for Conservation Biology, populations of this long-billed, charismatic shorebird have declined about 4% per year since at least the mid-1990s, which is one reason the discovery at Deveaux Bank seemed pretty unbelievable at first. But, thanks to the important work of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the passion and dedication of Felicia and her small but mighty coastal bird team: Mary-Catherine Martin, Janet Thibault (“Tee-bow”), and Jennifer Cahill; and partnerships with Manomet, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Coastal Conservation League —we know this discovery is very much something to be believed—just check the recent headlines in the New York Times. 

Audubon is proud to play a critical role in protecting the places birds need along South Carolina’s spectacular coastline. In 2016, we started South Carolina’s first formal Shorebird Stewardship program, which has grown to include hundreds of volunteers, local beach communities, and others to educate and engage people about the importance of sharing the sand with vulnerable seabirds and shorebirds. 

We hope this documentary produced by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the stellar panel of experts to follow inspires everyone to consider the magnificence of these birds and how our individual and collective actions can save them from the many threats they face today. This discovery is a testament to the caring local community around Deveaux Bank, and to the partnerships that Felicia Sanders and her team have built in support of coastal birds. Without further ado, I'd like to introduce our moderator for this evening, Dr. Abby Sterling. Abby is the Director of Manomet's Georgia Bight Shorebird Conservation Initiative.

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