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Shifting Sands

One of the northern hemisphere's most crucial nesting sites for both migrating and sedentary shorebirds is practically within swimming distance of our island's beaches - Deveaux Bank. Its 215-acres of shifting sands and marine scrub brush lies at the mouth of the North Edisto River, between Seabrook and Edisto Island. With an average elevation of just three feet, much of it is submerged at high tide, and it completely disappeared in 1979, washed away by hurricane David, re-emerging three years later as it slowly rebuilt itself with the help of shifting currents.

Whimbrels settle on the Bank for the night

The Bank, a protected bird sanctuary overseen by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, serves as the largest nesting site for brown pelicans on the East Coast and as a critical way-station for, among others, Hudsonian whimbrels, which travel each year over 7,000 miles between wintering sites in South America and summer breeding grounds in Canada. Whimbrels use the island to nest overnight after days spent flying thirty miles or more to forage in salt marshes for crabs. Resting on the Bank for several weeks, they continue their seasonal journey north or south, taking to the skies in whirring clouds at dawn by the hundreds. They're joined by black skimmers, red knots, oyster catchers, terns, plovers, willets and gulls. Of the 57 species of shore birds identified by the state as of "greatest conservation need," nearly all are found on Deveaux Bank.

Although the Bank was only officially documented by the state in 1921, it was known as a navigation hazard to early explorers attempting to enter the North Edisto River. It's thought to be named for Andrew Deveaux, a British loyalist and seaman based in Beaufort whose knowledge of potentially treacherous shoals like Deveaux elevated him to the rank of Major in the British navy during the Revolutionary War's Siege of Charleston, which required British troops to land on Simmons Island (as Seabrook was then called) to begin the march north.

In the early part of the 20th-century, the island was used as a bombing range by the U.S. military until a local ornithologist, Alexander Sprunt, raised an outcry and led the effort to have the Bank protected as a bird sanctuary in the 1930's. Access is still strictly controlled by the DNR, with public landings only allowed by permit and foot traffic restricted to below the high water mark; although illegal landings - especially by violaters who bring dogs with them - disturb nesting flocks and crush eggs underfoot. Flyovers by drones are another source of disturbance. Efforts to further restrict access to this immensely important wildlife conservation site continue.

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