Kiawah Island to support Lowcountry animal activist’s petition to add no-wake zone

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 9:43 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 8, 2021 at 4:07 AM EST

KIAWAH ISLAND (WCSC) – The Town of Kiawah Island has voted to support the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network’s efforts to add a no-wake zone to an inlet that separates Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island.

Lauren Rust, the founder and executive director of the organization, spoke before the town council on Tuesday about her petition to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to add a no-wake zone to Captain Sam’s Inlet to protect strand feeding dolphins.

“Strand feeding is a unique feeding strategy where dolphins trap fish against a bank, and they momentarily strand themselves on a beach or a mud flat,” Rust said. “By doing that, it creates a tidal wave. It pushes the fish ahead of them. They beach themselves, grab the fish and then wiggle back into the water.”

Strand feeding happens in only in South Carolina and Georgia on the East Coast, according to Rust. She added the inlet is important because it’s where the dolphins eat and care for their young.

Rust said speeding boats through the inlet also disturb their behavior.

“When the dolphins are trying to feed and a boat comes through, it will typically disturb the fish,” Rust said. “It’ll cause waves. It’ll cause the fish to move around, which makes it harder for the dolphins to feed. There’s also a risk of dolphins getting hit.”

Town of Kiawah Island Mayor John Labriola and the town council agreed to support Rust’s petition to the Department of Natural Resources during the meeting.

The Town of Seabrook Island held a committee meeting on Tuesday and also discussed Rust’s letter.

Seabrook Island council members said the Department of Natural Resources denied the mammal network’s request last year.

“A section of state statute that deals with how close boats are to a marina or docks or swimmers and really didn’t take into account, or at least didn’t mention, in their denial letter the unique situation up in the inlet with our dolphins,” Seabrook Island Council Member Jeri Finke said.

In her letters to both Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island, Rust hopes to get the Department of Natural Resources’ approval by taking a different state law into account.

“This time taking into account another section of state law where boaters are not supposed to harass or disturb wildlife,” Finke said.

Seabrook Island council members said they will request some edits before possibly voting on whether to support it at the next council meeting.

“Dolphins are also federally protected, so it’s against the law to disrupt any behavior, whether it’s feeding, nursing, resting,” Rust said.

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