Had the early developers of Harbor Island followed through with plans to re-create Venice in miniature, who knows whether the barrier island on St. Helena Sound would be the bird magnet it is today.
It is certain that those attracted to the more modest community that sprang up there have been good stewards of the land and its inhabitants.
Harbor Island is one of a handful of locations singled out in the recent, fourth edition of the Audubon Society's State of the Birds report, published every other year. The 2-1/2-square mile island merits the recognition, given the huge variety of species to be found there.
The variety can be attributed in part to the island's development.
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Canals were planned as an amenity and to provide sand for roads, according to John Albert, past president of the Harbor Island Owners Association and an avid birdwatcher. But the grand plans for a large hotel and a dock for every home were abandoned, and what were to be canals instead became stormwater basins. As they filled up and plants grew in, they became great nesting areas, Albert said, and the island is now home to five rookeries.
But Harbor Island's environment is more than a happy accident. Homeowners there work with local, state and federal agencies to protect the birds and their habitat -- a matter of pride for property owners, Albert says.
The same could be said of other groups, such as the Friends of Hunting Island, the Fripp Audubon Club and turtle-watch groups on Harbor, Hunting and Fripp islands. Their efforts help explain why 10,000 acres comprising six islands were designated as the Beaufort Barrier Island Important Bird Area in 2010. Other areas with that designation include Bay Point Island-Morse Creek Inlet, Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Sea Pines Forest Preserve in Beaufort County and the Savannah Wildlife Refuge, Savannah River Disposal Site and Tomkins Island in Jasper County.
Local bird groups also are trying to get the Beaufort area recognized as an internationally important birding area, says Pete Richards, president of the Fripp Audubon Club.
The seal that matters most to Beaufort County residents -- whether they realize it or not -- is the indelible stamp of those conservation-minded people who work to keep the environment clean and protect the area's biological diversity.
As Harbor Island's history demonstrates, humans change the landscape wherever they go, but those changes do not have to equal degradation.