Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

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Red-Cockaded Woodpecker (FWS)

South Carolina Department of Transportation

Sandy Island Ecosystem Initiative

A pristine 16,825-acre island in South Carolina--the largest ecosystem of its kind on the east coast of the United States--has been preserved by $11 million in state and federal funds and $1 million from The Nature Conservancy.

Only a 10-minute drive from Myrtle Beach, Sandy Island sits between the slow moving waters of the Waccamaw and Pee Dee Rivers in Hoarry and Georgetown Counties. The road-free island can be reached only by boat. Its 4-mile length and 7-mile width are a breathtaking panorama of cypress swamps, dense longleaf-pine and oak forests, vast salt marshes, and mysterious sand hills which rise as high as 78 feet. At the south end of the island, a 200-acre community known as Mount Rena is home to about 150 Gullah-speaking African-Americans who can trace their lineage directly to the slave laborers who cultivated rice on the island in the mid-1800s.

Sandy Island is also home to the federal ESA-listed (endangered) red-cockaded woodpecker. The birds prefer the island's older pines because the soft wood is easier to penetrate and because the holes they hammer out cause the trees' amber sap to flow, deterring climbing predators.

Just over a decade ago, two prominent Sandy Island landowners planned to build a bridge to the Island to log thousands of acres of longleaf pine and oak for an exclusive resort. When the permit to build the bridge was denied, the landowners sold their acreage to the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) and The Nature Conservancy as part of a wetlands mitigation bank developed by strong public-private partnerships at federal, state, and local levels. The banking agreement allowed SCDOT to use off-site mitigation credits to compensate for impacts to wetland resources resulting from future construction activities in the state's coastal plain.

The Nature Conservancy now manages the Sandy Island preserve, doing the day-to-day hard work of controlling feral pigs, water hyacinth, and other non-native invasive species through state-of-the-art techniques and adaptive management strategies.

Saving Sandy Island from development and preserving its ecosystem in perpetuity benefits more than the island's residents and ecosystems. Visitors to the island can fish, hike, hunt, kayak, or bird-watch, or they can tour the remnants of the old rice plantations and learn about the culture of the current residents and their ancestors. The Sandy Island Ecosystem Initiative has also allowed SCDOT to move ahead on three large transportation projects on the nearby mainland-U.S. 17, Conway Bypass, and the Carolina Bays Parkway.

For more information, contact Patrick Tyndall, patrick.tyndall@dot.gov

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