Saturday, February 19, 2011
Experiencing Bulls Island
At 5000 acres, Bulls Island is the largest island within Cape Romain NWR and is the only island within Cape Romain with large interior freshwater impoundments and a well-developed maritime forest. Having this federally-protected wildlife refuge within this pristine ecosystem allows for tremendous species diversity and population densities.
Last week as part of the annual guide training for our naturalists at Coastal Expeditions, we explored Bulls Island and categorized flora and fauna that we were seeing along the way. While it's not a complete list (we left off all plants, insects and many of the shells and animals from our beach exploration), it's an impressive list of 76 species. Seeing this reminded me of how important it is for us to properly steward Bulls Island and all of Cape Romain so that it can continue to be a haven for sensitive species like wood storks, loggerhead sea turtles and American oystercatchers.
Of the 76 total species, we categorized 63 different birds. One of those species, the American oystercatcher, is considered a bio-indicator species. When you have a thriving population of American oystercatchers it indicates that you have a thriving oyster population. And since oysters need clean water to establish and colonize, oysters are a way to tell if the estuary is free of pollutants.
We're happy to say that Cape Romain is home to the largest population of American oystercatchers in the world and the majority of them overwinter in these waters.
During our island exploration, we counted 37 alligators on Alligator Alley taking advantage of the unseasonably warm temperatures. We identified the scat of bobcat, otter and white-tail deer. The shoreline was covered with the egg casings of whelks and moon snails. It wasn't hard to imagine why Bulls Island and surrounding Cape Romain has been called the "Galapagos of the Eastern seaboard".
This wilderness area needs sustained stewardship and there are several ways to support Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge. One is to visit Bulls Island; A portion of the fee for ferry service to Bulls Island is appropriated back to the refuge for conservation, land and water management, sea turtle protection and other wildlife projects. And with 16 miles of hiking trails, over seven miles of undeveloped shoreline and the magnificent Boneyard Beach, Bulls Island is yours for exploration.
Another way is to become a volunteer with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, particularly during sea turtle nesting season. And if you don't have the time to visit often or have a group or business that would like to help, adopt a sea turtle nest through seaturtle.org.