Dec 14 2021

No-wake Zone Recommended For Captain Sam’s Inlet

By Theresa Stratford for The Island Connection

(Photo by Chris Roxon)

It was another win for the dolphins at the Dec. 7 Kiawah Island Town Council Meeting. Town Council unanimously supported a recommendation by Lauren Rust, executive director for the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network, for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to enforce a no-wake zone through Captain Sam’s Inlet. This recommendation came directly from the Town’s Environmental Committee as a request to support. The reason she recommends that boats no longer come through the inlet above idle speed is because of the disruption it causes to the behavior of the dolphins that live there. Rust and her team have been documenting the dolphins in Captain Sam’s Inlet for the past four years. During her presentation to Town Council about the recommendation, she mentioned that they have recorded on multiple occasions dolphins abandoning their feeding efforts, leaving the area or separating when a boat “whizzes” by. “We can confidently say that Captain Sam’s Inlet is a critical feeding habitat for dolphins as we have documented them daily, monthly, seasonally and now yearly for over four years now,” she explained. The Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network calculated over 800 strand feeding events in 2020. Rust personally went through what she has seen lately in the inlet: “There is currently a mother teaching her calf to strand feed, a newly independent calf that I just saw the other day who grew up in the inlet and learned to feed there. This area is definitely a critical feeding habitat and should be protected as such.” For the Town, Rust urged them to support the effort because of the perception that she said many of the bystanders have as being their responsibility. “I know you all do not control what goes on in the water. That is DNR,” Rust continued. “But the bystanders don’t understand that and I have heard many people ask why the Town allows boats to speed by and disrupt the dolphins like they currently do. Your support will show DNR that you are interested in protecting strand feeding and want to make an effort to do so.” The no-wake zone that Rust is suggesting would go around the spit until the boaters “turn that corner.” Rust reported that they have recorded dolphins strand feeding all around the spit. Rust requested that the inlet be designated a no-wake zone in 2019 by DNR, but was denied. Mayor John Labriola asked why that was. “Usually DNR designates no-wake zones in areas that would be hazardous for people if boats were at higher speeds, like marinas or fuel docks – places where wakes could harm a person,” Rust said. “But DNR has designated no-wake zones before for other wildlife. It is important if it disturbs wildlife.” Councilwoman Maryanne Connelly asked if the dolphins would go onto the shoreline to feed if the inlet area made it difficult for them to feed on the spit. Rust answered, “Yes, absolutely, and that puts them in danger of being closer to people at the beach.” Rust said that DNR has protected other areas for the benefit of local wildlife, like the Crab Bank and nesting for sea turtles. She also mentioned that not all dolphin strand feeding areas in Charleston will be able to have a no-wake zone, but that she believes, based on her research, that Captain Sam’s Inlet has the most activity of all the areas she has studied and that it is vital to protect it. 

“It is necessary here,” Rust said. 

Rust will also ask the Town of Seabrook for a letter of support. She plans to present both letters from the Towns when she asks DNR again for Captain Sam’s Inlet to become a no-wake zone. 

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