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Posted 7/3/2018

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By Sara Corbett

In between Folly Beach and Kiawah Island lies an isolated island where thousands of birds flock and humans are not allowed.

While this might sound like the beginnings of a scary movie, it’s actually Bird Key Stono Heritage Preserve, a 35-acre bird sanctuary that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District recently renourished.

“There were thousands of birds flying all around us,” said Alan Shirey, environmental engineer. “It was like a scene from ‘The Birds,’ except they weren’t attacking us, they were more interested in their lunch that was being pumped out.”

Historically, the District has placed fill on Bird Key Stono when dredging the Folly River Federal Navigation Channel since it’s the least cost disposal site for the operations and maintenance dredging of Folly River.

“This project is a win-win,” said Shirey. “We are able to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money since pumping the dredged material onto Bird Key is the cheapest way to dispose of the material and protects the environment by increasing the footprint of Bird Key.”

There are several government agencies that work together to protect the bird sanctuary. Bird Key Stono is listed as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Critical Habitat for Piping Plover and is protected under the Endangered Species Act, but it is owned by the State of South Carolina and maintained by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. So the Corps coordinated closely with USFW and SCDNR to ensure that sand was placed in the best locations for the upcoming bird nesting season.

Renourishment on Bird Key Stono was important as the island suffered significant erosion from Hurricane Irma, which left little room for birds to live and nest on. Forty-thousand yards of material was needed to replace the lost sand, approximately 4,000 dump trucks, which cost $300,000 and was 100 percent federally-funded by the Corps. The cutterhead dredge Cherokee was used to suck up sand and water from the floor of the Folly River then pumped onto Bird Key Stono through pipes and, finally, bulldozers shaped the sand. 

“It’s a rare opportunity for us to renourish Bird Key Stono,” said Shirey. “But I know that when we do have the chance, that the project will make a long-lasting impact to the birds and wildlife that reside on Bird Key Stono.”

The Corps planned the dredging project around the spring nesting season so that the birds would have a new habitat before the season starts.