In 1932, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge was established to conserve habitat for migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, seabirds, and resident species. Stretching for 22 miles along the coast, the refuge is an area rich in natural resources covering 66,267 acres including barrier islands with long sandy beaches, dense maritime forest, fresh and brackish water impoundments, emergent salt marshes and intricate coastal waterways. In the shallow estuarine wetlands, the incoming tides carry juvenile fish, crustaceans and other invertebrates, combining the nourishment of the ocean with the nutrient-laden fresh waters of several small rivers to make one of the most productive environments on earth.
Over the years, refuge objectives have expanded to include managing for endangered and threatened species such as the endangered Red wolf and threatened Loggerhead sea turtle, protecting the 29,000 acre Class I National Wilderness Area, preserving the Bulls Island maritime forest, and offering wildlife-dependent recreation. Activities within Cape Romain include: managed hunts, fishing, wildlife viewing, photography, two hiking trails, beach combing and shelling, Bulls Island excursions, various tours, events, and educational programs. The refuge is noted as one of 500 Important Bird Areas by the American Bird Conservancy and is designated as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site of International Importance, one of only four on the Atlantic Coast of the United States.
Established in 1932 as a migratory bird refuge, Cape Romain NWR encompasses a 22-mile segment of the southeast Atlantic coast. The refuge consists of 66, 287 acres which include a fascinating expanse of barrier islands, salt marshes, intricate coastal waterways, long sandy beaches, fresh and brackish water impoundments, and maritime forest. Points of interest include Bulls Island, Cape Island, and Lighthouse Island where two lighthouses, no longer operational, still stand.
The refuge’s original objectives were to preserve in public ownership habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds and resident species. In recent years, objectives have expanded to include: managing endangered species, protecting the 29,000 acre Class IWilderness Area, and preserving the Bulls Island and Cape Island forests and their diverse plant communities. Currently, the refuge is actively working to aid the recovery of the threatened loggerhead sea turtle.
Getting to Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge
The Refuge Headquarters and Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center, located 20 miles north of Charleston on US Highway 17, and Garris Landing (public boat landing) are the only mainland sites. As Cape Romain is a barrier island refuge, the remainder of the refuge is accessible only by boat. There is a public dock on the leeward side of Bulls Island suitable for craft 12 – 17 feet in length. The dock is first-come, first-serve. Large boats often anchor in Price’s Inlet, an inlet south of Bulls Island that separates Bulls Island and a state-owned island called Capers Island. Access to other refuge islands requires “beaching” of private boats. To provide public accessibility, the refuge contracts with a private company, Coastal Expeditions, Inc. to transport passengers from Garris Landing to Bulls Island (and other refuge islands according to demand).