'Deveaux': Lowcountry humans owe a lot to the birds

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJuly 12, 2014 

"Leave it" is a command we expect our dogs to understand.

Why can't we?

Along the Lowcountry coastline, the command for humans should be: "Leave it alone!"

A gorgeous new book from the University of South Carolina Press and the Coastal Conservation League leaves me with this message as it takes the reader onto a spit of coastal sand known as Deveaux Bank.

It is a seabird rookery, now more than 200 acres, lying in the mouth of the North Edisto River. Its windswept terrain, sometimes called an island and sometimes called a sand spit, provides a rare place for dozens of species of birds to regenerate year-round.

The words and photographs in the book called "Deveaux: Deveaux Bank Seabird Sanctuary, South Carolina" are by Dana Beach. He is founder and executive director of the Coastal Conservation League based in Charleston. With regional offices in Beaufort and elsewhere in the state, the nonprofit advocacy group has for 25 years helped protect coastal wildlife, land and cultural traditions.

In the book, the reader is given a long view of a small piece of earth, which has long been studied and often threatened.

DDT. A proposed bombing range. Hurricane David. Over time, each has threatened the wildlife of Deveaux.

On a wider scale, clashes with nature have increased with the march of humanity to the coastline. Hilton Head Island is the poster child of this movement.

"Scattered summer home development in the 20th century on Edisto, Pawleys Island and Myrtle Beach foretold a trend that would explode in the 1960s, beginning with the transformation of Hilton Head Island by Charles Fraser at Sea Pines," the book says.

"Air conditioning, golf and interstate highways have more profoundly shaped the Lowcountry than even rice and cotton. Sea Pines took the natural amenities of the coast -- the beach, sea breezes, tidal creeks -- and added the unnatural amenities of fairways, berms and greens, HVAC systems and I-95, luring hundreds of thousands of people from up and down the Eastern Seaboard to vacation and live on what had formerly been dark, mysterious and economically inconsequential barrier islands."

Conservation victories also are an important part of the Lowcountry's big picture, the book says, but "the sheer volume and constant presence of residents and visitors have pushed seabirds and shorebirds into increasingly limited and more marginal areas to feed and rest."

Residents of the Lowcountry cannot think that birds can always nest somewhere else, that our dogs don't bother the birds, that underbrush and buffers can be cleared without diminishing birdlife, or that natural forces will get the sand spit anyway so why bother.

The book helps us see our feathered neighbors as ones filled with beauty and mystique. It teaches us who they are, and what they're like. We learn their habits and incredible itineraries. We appreciate what Deveaux and our own shores mean to them, and to life and beauty worldwide.

In return, the birds ask for very little, the book says:

"That we are respectful when we visit and don't interfere with their nesting and rearing young, that we refrain from stealing the modest amounts of sand that compose these islands in order to shore up poorly developed beaches, and that we don't throw trash in the ocean."

They also need a special mindset from Lowcountry humans. The mindset should not be, "How can I fix this up?" but "How can I leave this alone?"

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

Related content:

Coastal Conservation League

University of South Carolina Press

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