Information on the location, size and distribution of habitats is used to better understand relationships between land use in the watershed and changes in the estuarine ecosystem. Habitat mapping will also be vital in studying the effects of climate change and sea level rise on estuarine habitats. All NERRs are developing baseline habitat maps in a GIS environment using the NERRS Habitat and Land Use Classification System, and the data will ultimately be used to help populate the Centralized Data Management Office database. It is proposed that habitat maps be updated every five years so that regional and national change analysis can be used to examine the effects of climate change and land use on estuarine habitats, and to inform stewardship priorities.
Trained volunteers will be assisting in an effort to find and record the locations of large debris items in North Inlet and Winyah Bay, as well as in the Charleston and Beaufort areas. Large marine debris such as abandoned vessels and lost fishing gear can have significant impacts on marsh habitats. Abandoned vessels can impair the surrounding habitat physically, while chemicals leaking from the machinery and engines can impact an even larger area within a tidal system by diffusing into the water and sediments. Lost fishing gear, such as crab pots or trawl gear, have proven to be extremely dangerous to diamondback terrapins and sea turtles. The extent of the distribution and impact of this marine debris on marsh habitats is unknown in South Carolina; the first step in addressing this issue is to identify locations to focus marine debris removal efforts. This effort is part of a joint project between the North Inlet-Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, SC DHEC-OCRM, the South Carolina Aquarium, and the Charleston Waterkeeper.
The distribution of clapper rails in the North Inlet marsh is being examined using a standardized call-broadcast method and GIS and spatial analysis techniques. The effects of habitat type, distance from the marsh/upland edge and the presence of developed upland area are being studied. The results of this analysis will further our understanding of the habitat requirements of this species and be used to assess the potential effects of land use change and sea level rise on the population status of clapper rails.
Shore Bird Nest Monitoring
The North Inlet – Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, has erected signs within the Reserve on dune, beach and high sand-shell property to protect shorebird nests. Due to the sensitive nature of the colonies, areas behind bird nesting signs are closed from April 1-October 15 each year providing sufficient time for the chicks to fledge. The reserve is working to develop a nest monitoring program to determine the nesting success and habitat requirements of shorebirds within the reserve.
Winyah Naturalist Program
The Winyah Naturalist Program provides training opportunities for community members to develop the skills necessary to become active volunteer stewards of coastal South Carolina habitats. As a part of the Winyah Naturalist program, the North Inlet-Winyah Bay NERR in partnership with Huntington Beach State Park serves as a training site for the South Carolina Master Naturalist program, a SC Cooperative Extension program administered through Clemson University. The Winyah Naturalist Program also offers advanced training opportunities for Master Naturalist graduates, as well as programs for the general public to explore the fascinating natural areas of coastal South Carolina.