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Environmental Benefits of Beach Renourishment

In addition to the human residents and visitors that enjoy our shores, Hilton Head Island beaches are home to many vertebrate (birds, turtles, lizards, etc.) and invertebrate (ghost crabs, sand crabs, worms, sand dollars, etc.) animals that rely on them for survival. Our beaches also harbor several species that have been designated threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Three of these that rely on the beach for critical activities are the loggerhead sea turtle, the red knot and the piping plover. Because of their status as Threatened species, and since beach renourishment has the potential to disturb their normal activities, US Fish and Wildlife Service has required that the Town work around the times when each species is present to minimize this disturbance. Both the red knot and the piping plover arrive on our beaches in late August-September and stay until mid-March-April; the loggerhead sea turtle nesting/hatching season runs from May - October. Photo of Loggerhead Sea TurtleOur beach renourishment is scheduled to best avoid loggerhead season by working in areas where historically there is less nesting in June, July and early August, and working along the main Atlantic beach, where most nesting occurs, in late August - October. This schedule also accommodates the red knots and piping plovers, since they occur mostly from Port Royal Plantation north, which will be renourished in June and July, before the birds arrive.

Since the renourishment will occur 24/7, the Sea Turtle Protection Project of the Coastal Discovery Museum will be doing their regular early morning patrols, as well as patrolling at night in the areas under active renourishment to insure that nesters don’t wander into these areas. Their challenge will be to relocate all nests in the path of oncoming renourishment so they are not damaged or lost to those activities.

2 Piping Plovers Roosting
The Town's beach renourishment permits also require that we monitor the resting and feeding activities of red knots and piping plovers from November through March for the next five years to help determine what, if any, long-term effects exist. We are also required to do public education on all three species, to include posting signage in areas where red knots and plovers rest to minimize disturbance. Lack of disturbance during resting aids the birds in gaining weight for the migration home and subsequent breeding, both critical for species' survival.

The long-term benefits of beach renourishment for these species, as well as the ecology of Hilton Head Island include: Photo of Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling

  • Restoring the dune habitat for all the native species that inhabit it
  • Creating beach-dune habitat for nesting sea turtles and resting shorebirds (the number 1 reason for species becoming endangered is habitat loss)
  • Restoring the "storm surge barrier" function of the dunes
  • Saving upland habitats such as maritime forest from erosion, thereby protecting biodiversity
  • Adding new sand encourages existing beach plants to spread, anchoring the dunes and building additional dunes.