Crab Bank Restoration

Consider this your one-stop shop for the most current information we have on the Crab Bank restoration project. 

It doesn’t take much: You can rent a kayak and paddle in 15 minutes to one of the few places on the Atlantic coast where you can watch sea and shorebirds nesting — right here in South Carolina.

Crab Bank, in the heart of Charleston’s harbor near Shem Creek, is a bird sanctuary unlike any other. For more than a half-century, the island has been home to brown pelicans, black skimmers, royal terns, American oystercatchers, and other migratory and threatened birds. In a single summer, Crab Bank hosted as many as 5,000 nests, and, from its shore, young birds have begun life and learned to fish and play.

But Crab Bank had been eroding slowly for years, and in 2017 Hurricane Irma washed away the last bit of high ground, eliminating the possibility of nesting birds.

The Conservation League teamed up with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, conservation partners, and an outfitter, Coastal Expeditions, to find a solution — use sand dredged during the Charleston Harbor’s deepening project to rebuild the bank. The Army Corps of Engineers has studied the opportunity extensively. They found compatible sand, developed a plan for restoration and prepared to rebuild Crab Bank. But it costs money to divert some of the good sand to Crab Bank, rather than sending it all to be dumped offshore. That left our community to raise the necessary funds to cover the excess cost of bringing Crab Bank back.

With you on our side, we were able to meet our goal and Crab Bank will be restored in tandem with the Post-45 Harbor Deepening project.

Now for the good stuff…

Crab Bank is back!

We cannot thank you enough for helping us bring this critical habitat back for our coastal birds! 

Photo by Adam Boozer

On December 1, 2021, officials with SCDNR and the Charleston District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the restoration of Crab Bank was officially complete. Approximately 660,000 cubic yards of material from the Charleston Harbor Deepening was used to restore nearly 32 acres of prime nesting habitat.

How much did it cost?

While the work of restoring Crab Bank using compatible material from the Charleston Harbor Deepening was originally estimated by the Army Corps of Engineers to be just about $4 million, the winning contractor’s bid put a price tag of only $377,000 on the reconstruction of Crab Bank! With the Army Corps continuing to cover 65% of that total cost, our community was left to contribute $132,000 to make it happen.

Many different bids came in for the Lower Harbor contract, and the cost of Crab Bank varied greatly between bids. Norfolk Southern Dredging Company, who ultimately won the contract, was likely able to save significant resources by having all the necessary equipment in the area already. Additional factors, like other commitments for the equipment around the same timeframe, and the fact that Norfolk Southern does not have to employ a subcontractor, may have contributed to the reduced cost as well.

What will happen to funds raised for Crab Bank that aren’t needed to rebuild the rookery?

Thanks to the community, we brought back Crab Bank and can do so much more for our coastal birds.

The South Carolina Coastal Bird Conservation Program, initially created for the Crab Bank effort, is managed by SCDNR and houses the funding. The SCCBP will continue to identify opportunities to protect coastal bird populations along South Carolina’s vibrant and unique coast.

So far, the excess funds allowed SCDNR to hire a Shorebird Steward to protect and monitor shorebirds and seabirds in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.

We are exploring potential methods of enhancing Crab Bank — possibly with plantings, oyster reefs and other measures — to better withstand growing threats like sea-level rise and increased storm activity.

We are also working to reestablish the Pelicam so you can connect with Crab Bank and the thousands of young birds that call it home in real time, from wherever you are in the world.

Stay tuned for more details about how this incredible community effort will benefit coastal birds for decades to come.

What happened to the Pelicam? 

In 2015, the Conservation League launched our live wildlife camera, the Pelicam, from the original Crab Bank in the Charleston Harbor. When Crab Bank lost all high ground we made the decision to move the Pelicam over to Shutes Folly.

We’re excited to share that thanks to our conservation partners at Audubon South Carolina with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we’ll be bringing two brand new Pelicams to Crab Bank! Final touches are in the works and we hope to share it with everyone soon.

These Pelicams will be better than ever and provide a rare opportunity to observe nesting birds up close at a distance that’s safe for us and the birds. Thank you to our friends at Mount Pleasant Radio and the Charleston Harbor Pilots for all their expertise that will bring this dream to a reality.

The latest news

More about Crab Bank and our sentinel seabirds

Year-round residents

Birds that nest there during the summer 

Birds that rest and feed on Crab Bank over the winter

How can you help protect sea and shorebirds?

There are many little things you can do to protect sea and shorebirds (and the fragile habitat they rely on). Here are a few tips to remember when you see these coastal birds:

Staff Contact

Riley Egger · [email protected] · 843.723.1292

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