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Second Transaction Completes Open Space Institute’s Permanent Protection of Coastal Barrier Island in South Carolina

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (Feb. 18, 2022)—The Open Space Institute (OSI), Charleston County Greenbelt Program, and Ducks Unlimited today announced the completion of a second land protection project resulting in the permanent protection of Pappas Island, a pristine island in McClellanville, South Carolina. The island’s protection will prevent development of an inholding waterfront property within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, while securing contiguous habitat for hundreds of sensitive coastal species. 

The 20-acre property is made up of spartina marshes on tidal waters and maritime forest uplands on the Intracoastal Waterway. With its protection, OSI will donate the property to the USFWS for inclusion in the CRNWR, where it will be a valuable coastal buffer against intensifying storms and rising seas.

Protection of the property builds upon OSI’s 2016 protection of an adjacent 105 acres to the west, also transferred to CRNWR that year. Both properties, which had been at imminent risk of development before their protection, together constitute the entirety of the 125-acre Pappas Island — now conserved within CRWNR for habitat preservation and passive public recreation such as photography, bird watching, kayaking, fishing, and environmental education.

“The full protection of Pappas Island within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge prevents disruptive coastal development, provides barrier protection for vulnerable mainland communities from intensifying storms, and secures vital habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife,” said Nate Berry, OSI’s senior vice president in South Carolina.

OSI’s protection of the property was supported by funds from the Charleston County Greenbelt as well as a grant subaward from Ducks Unlimited utilizing USFWS North American Wetlands Conservation Act funds.

“We are always pleased to work with our partners to further Charleston County Greenbelt Program goals. The Pappas Island II project protects critical Lowcountry natural resources including wetlands and rural lands,” said Beezer Molton, Chairman of the Charleston County Greenbelt Advisory Board.

“Ducks Unlimited is proud to continue our long-standing partnership with OSI and Cape Romain NWR in the permanent protection of Pappas Island,” said Emily Purcell, Ducks Unlimited Director of Conservation Programs, South Atlantic. “Acquisition of this tract and incorporation into the Refuge not only provides coastal resilience benefits to local communities, but also expands the availability of permanently protected habitat supporting hundreds of thousands of migratory birds that utilize coastal South Carolina and the Atlantic Flyway.”

A designated United Nations Man and Biosphere Preserve, the 22-mile CRNWR is a federally protected, 66,000-acre expanse of barrier islands, salt and brackish marshes, beaches and dunes, maritime forest, and coastal waterways. CRNWR provides habitat for over 293 bird species including waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds, and several at-risk and endangered animals including Woodstork, Piping Plover, West Indian Manatee, Bald Eagle, and the most significant nesting area north of Florida for the loggerhead sea turtle.

By protecting the island in South Carolina's Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, OSI saved precious habitat for the painted bunting and other migratory songbirds.
By protecting the island in South Carolina's Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, OSI saved precious habitat for the painted bunting and other migratory songbirds.
Image Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Adjoining the CRNWR is the Francis Marion National Forest, which stretches almost 260,000 acres and is critical to the state’s long-term longleaf pine restoration efforts. Since 2014, OSI has protected 17,907 acres for addition to the national forest.

Together, the CRNWR, FMNF, and adjacent Santee River floodplain and delta contain a half million acres that comprise the Santee River Focus Area, one of the largest, most intact, and diverse habitat blocks remaining on the east coast of the nation. In 2021, OSI and The Nature Conservancy protected three properties, totaling more than 5,700 acres, within the Santee River Focus Area for climate mitigation and habitat protection.

Beyond its ecological importance, Pappas Island contains a critical cultural and historical inheritance.

Once used by the Sewee Native Americans, the island is home to “shell middens” — refuse heaps of oysters, shellfish, and other organic materials whose concentration creates a uniquely calcified soil type and gives rise to unusual plant communities.

The land is also within the culturally significant Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, designated by Congress in 2006 to recognize the important contributions made by Africans and African Americans known as Gullah/Geechee.

With its conservation, the Pappas Island property brings the total of acres conserved by OSI in South Carolina to more than 36,000 since 2014.

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