South Carolina Master Naturalist Conference 2015

Each year for the past 4 years, great effort has been put into action by the SC Master Naturalist program (an extension of Clemson University) to provide a weekend of learning for those of us in the program.  This year I was able to clear my calendar so I could attend and it was really fun.  We were on Seabrook Island in the South Carolina Lowcountry in early October, a perfect time to be there.  Despite the historic flooding that had just occurred one week earlier, things dried out enough for us to continue albeit we were a bit worried.  Some roads were flooded out and rains did continue throughout the conference weekend but all in all it was a success.

The highlight of the event for myself was an all day trip out to the Ace Basin with Dr. Al Segars.  This is an incredible estuary, actually one of the largest at 350,000 acres along the Atlantic Coast.  It is home to thousands of shorebirds and mammals, and its natural beauty is breathtaking.  ACE actually comes from the 3 rivers that flow into the estuary:  Ashepoo, Combahee (pronounced comebee), and the Edisto.

View of the ACE Basin from Bennett's Point

View of the ACE Basin from Bennett’s Point

Back in the 1800’s, thousands of acres of old-growth hardwood forests were cleared from this area to make way for the rice plantations and other farming practices for which the lowcountry was so well known.  The construction of the Intracoastal Waterway made farming even more profitable after the WWII as it provided a means to better navigate the existing waterways.  Today, remnants of the rice fields are still visible.  As wildlife became abundant in the area, hunting interests grew and from that a sophisticated wildlife management system was put in place that actually helped preserve the ACE Basin.

Today, the ACE Basin is visited by wildlife enthusiasts and researchers from all over.  It is home to shorebirds like the Black-bellied Plover and the Willett.  Loggerhead turtles lay their eggs along the SC beaches and hundreds of bald eagles nest here.  The incredible Red Knot bird comes here to feed on Horseshoe Crab eggs as a stopover during it’s 9600 mile migratory journey; a sign that SC is becoming an alternate to the Red Knot feeding area of Delaware Bay.

Black-bellied Plover (juvenile, note the black armpit)

Plovers, Willets and other Shorebirds

Plovers, Willets and other Shorebirds

During our trip out into the Basin, a net catch was conducted so we could learn about what lived beneath the waters.  Sea whip ( a passive filter feeder plant), sharp-nosed ray (in the shark family), tongue fish, spade fish, speckled sea trout, blue crab, flounder, stripped burrfish and shrimp were among the many creatures we captured (and of course threw back to the water).  These creatures rely on the basin for food and are also food for other fish and mammals that live here.

Flounder

Flounder

Blue Crab with a shrimp in it's Claws

Blue Crab with a shrimp in it’s Claws

Stripped Burrfish which fills with air When Threatened to Look Bigger to its Predators

Stripped Burrfish which fills with air When Threatened to Look Bigger to its Predators

But, as with all conservation, all things are not perfect and efforts to preserve are never-ending so that future generations can enjoy as we do.

  • Northern Right Whales which were were practically extinct in the 1700’s winter off the coast of SC/GA and then summer in Cape Cod but are threatened by fish nets.
  • Loggerhead turtle nests are threatened by habitat loss and predators like the raccoon that catch the eggs as they are being laid; Efforts in SC are being made to protect the turtle nests with barriers
  • The Painted Bunting needs wax myrtle for nesting but is moving west due to habitat loss (have been spotted as far inland as Orangeburg, SC)
  • Over 60,000 people visit Botany Bay per year, too many to truly preserve this great habitat (it’s called loving our refuges to death)
  • Horseshoe Crabs are used for bait by fishermen; SC is one of the few states that have put in place a “No Bait” policy along it’s shoreline for these prehistoric creatures
  • Eastern Diamondback Rattler is close to the endangered list due to poaching

This is a long post but there was so much to share and this was cut short from even more knowledge I picked up during this conference.  It’s endless and I get so excited every time I’m out there, in the wild so to speak!

Check out your local Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website as well as the US Fish and Wildlife Service websites to stay informed and you too can help by volunteering with these folks.

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