Two views of an island

We approached Cape Island from the sound, motoring up to the pier at Cowpen Point. Dropping off people and gear, we ran northeast to the backside of the island’s northern end for disembarking, and hauling more gear across to our staging point.capepic3 All was familiar: the places known from the past ten years, the camaraderie with fellow volunteers and USFWS staff, and the excitement of initiating another loggerhead nesting season. What would this season bring, following a historic nesting year – a total of 1,930 nests – in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge?

The day’s objective was to begin the building of hatcheries. The dunes on this part of the island provided an elevation to prevent over-washing and subsequent destruction of eggs.capephoto1capepic4capepic6 We began the laborious process of assembling the hatchery sides constructed from PVC pipe and wire mesh into square and rectangular hatcheries. We had a large crew sharing a commitment to the program.capepic7

Conditions could not have been better for the work. A slowly rising sea breeze cooled us, and high pressure brought clear views to Murphy and Cedar Islands to the east. We treaded lightly around a pair of oystercatchers, and with the orchestration of Refuge manager Sarah Dawsey we avoided working in the proximity of their nest. capephoto2No loggerheads were seen during our lunch along the strand, though we shared reports of sightings in the sounds and creeks of the Refuge. At mid-afternoon we packed up for our long transport back to the mainland.

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I returned to the boats via a trailer towed by an ATV, heading southwest on the island’s beach before crossing to the Cowpen Point pier. I was only partially prepared for the island’s degradation after another year of the ocean’s assault. This process accelerated starting in 2011 (see Flattening of an island). Refuge biologist Ford Mauney had earlier informed me of the continued decline: there was no longer any viable nesting area on South Cape Island, and there was a continued flattening of Lighthouse Island. As we sped down the beach the dunes petered away quickly, and this long section of beach was added to the miles of non-viable nesting territory.

As we approached the area of the island’s past impoundment, long ago breached, the flatness of the beach seemed vulnerable for a complete island breach, and potential division of the island again.capephoto3 The small maritime forest dominating by pines in the island’s center was now spilling into the surf. We followed the ATV trail through these woods until we perched on an ancient dune with a prospect to the southwest. The breach that divided North and South Cape Island was no longer a waterway, but appeared more like a small bay, eating away at the sands from both ends.

These sights were disturbing, and seemed to represent the real consequences of climate change and sea level rise. This perspective raised a number of questions. What would the status of this section of the Refuge look like at various points in the future? Since a third of the state’s loggerhead population nested here (CRNWR), what would be the impact on this endangered species? How would the loggerhead program in the Refuge respond to these challenges, and future ones? These questions lingered in the air, intermingled with the promise of nesting loggerheads in the coming weeks.

Spring moment

The island was full of spring: new growth, pine pollen gushing off the trees in clouds, banks of jessamine brightening the forest roads. For a brief island visit, one moment trumped all: a crack off in the forest wetland, a splash and lively swim by a suspected alligator, rushing along with head held above the duck weed covered water. But alligators don’t climb trees, and the black body was of a fox-tail squirrel. That was not a comfortable environment for the large squirrel, probably climbing on a branch that broke under its weight, and tumbling into the cold waters populated by numerous alligators. It was a drama observed in the company of a couple and their three children – we shared the moment’s excitement.

Highlights

I requested a brief report from my friend Will Christenson on his two day bird survey with David McLean and Kathy Greider on Bull Island. It just so happened that their planned survey of the island coincided with the coldest weather of this winter – an Arctic blast that had lows in the teens and highs in the low thirties. (I described their survey as “valiant” – he used the word “idiot”). I was interested in highlights Continue reading

Fortune

All elements had marched together toward this Saturday morning. Outgoing tide low at 11, NE wind 10 knots, and the day warming up to sixty degrees. After a week of days not getting much warmer than the low forties, and an absence of sun until Friday, this day boded well. Despite the cold start still below forty, I arrived at the landing sometime after 7, looking to latch Continue reading

A fine reversal

Sunrise, a light but steady northwest wind, a falling tide pulling the waters out of the marshes toward Bulls Bay and the Atlantic. These were the signs on my early morning run to the landing, all pointing toward a passage out to Bull Island. Kingfisher was launched and we were sailing at 7:45 to Andersonville Creek and Bulls Bay. The NW wind allowed Continue reading

Receiving far more

 

Loaded on Caretta, our group of twenty-seven hardy souls began our cruise south toward the drop on the southern tip of Bull Island. It was a cooler morning than some of our group anticipated. We gave a cold morning benchmark that our captain Chris Crolley and participant Gary Weart had experienced on the pre-dawn boat ride Continue reading