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Celeste Hedequist Discusses Bulls Island, South Carolina

The first thing to know about Bull's Island is that it's not an island. For around two-thirds of the year, it's a peninsula. The second thing to know is that this place has always been a little peculiar.

At one time or another, Bulls Island has also served as a home base for pirates, smugglers, and bootleggers during Prohibition. World War II-era soldiers trained for the D-day invasion, and it was used as a missile base. However, more recently, it's become popular with artists, nature lovers, and conservationists like Celeste Hedequist of Boston, MA.

A few words on the history of Bull's Island:

Bull Island has a long history of inhabitation. Before Europeans first settled there in 1630, Native Americans used the island as a hunting ground and as a place to make salt from nearby brackish springs. In 1777, British troops built Fort Watson there for defense against American rebels during the American Revolution.

A century later, colonists from New Hampshire attempted to establish a community at Bulls Island but quickly retreated due to mosquitoes and malaria.

Coastal Expeditions

Coastal Expeditions, according to Celeste Hedequist, is a company that offers tours of Bulls Island, as well as kayak trips on the Broad River and fishing excursions on Lake Hartwell. For those who have their own boats, there's a waterfront campground with 56 sites for pitching tents or parking RVs.

The habitats you'll pass on the river and inlets as you meander around the island—marshes, swamps, tidal rivers—are some of the most diverse in the state. And because Bulls Island attracts so many migratory birds, it's been designated an important birding area by Audubon South Carolina. Bulls Island is accessible only by passenger ferry service. The Bulls Island Ferry runs year-round, taking passengers to Bulls Island from Garris Landing in Awendaw. Following a 30-minute ecotour through Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, the Ferry docks at Bulls Island and passengers depart to explore the island.

Garris Landing

Garris Landing is the only part of this area that is on the mainland. It is best known as the spot where you take a ferry to Bulls Island, but it is well known environmental experience spot as well. There is a long dock which allows you to get over 100 yards out into the salt marshes and mudflat.

Boneyard Beach

Boneyard Beach on Bulls Island, which is part of the Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge in Charleston, SC, is a beach area full of old, weathered trees strewn across the sand. It is located at the Northern end of the island with hundreds of bleached oak, cedar, and pine trees covering the area. Their pale color makes them look like bones, which gives Boneyard its name.

Conservation Through Education

Coastal Expeditions is also helping to conserve this environment through education; the marina on the island is home to five of Coastal Expeditions' solar-powered, floating classrooms. Here, according to Celeste Hedequist, kids can learn about the history and ecology of Bulls Island, the importance of protecting clean water, and what it takes to be a safe paddler.

The Wildlife of Bulls Island

Bulls Island has many species of birds, but the island is also home to green anacondas and gators. There are very few black bears on the island, though they have been seen.

Bull's island is also home to the red-necked swamphen or gallinule, a bird usually found in Africa or Asia. These birds were probably either escaped pets or were purposely released into the wild by someone who thought that this animal wouldn't survive outside of its native environment.

The Gators

According to Celeste Hedequist, "the last alligator count was done on Bulls Island (in the mid-90s), shows we have a healthy population of roughly 1,000 alligators. But is it safe for tourists to walk along the Jetties? Well, in the wild, Alligators are generally docile creatures. Most view humans as predators and will avoid humans if possible.

Protective Yourself From The Gators

Everyone who visits Bulls Island should remember to stay away from gators. Although they are not aggressive creatures, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't give them space if one is near you. Anytime you find yourself in an area with a high concentration of gators, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Stay calm and don't run--Alligators mistake rapid movements for fleeing prey and will attack faster because of it

  • Face the alligator and back away slowly – Alligators have binocular vision, so facing the animal head-on decreases the chance that it will attack

  • Never approach or try to handle/grab a baby alligator–this may trigger a predatory response from its mother

Hiking Trails

The island contains five well-marked and easy-to-follow hiking trails. These trails range from the half-mile-long Woodland Trail to the 1.3 miles long-Long Cove Trail. For those who want an easier experience, there's also a series of dirt roads that crisscross the island's interior and provide wheelchair access and biking and jogging opportunities for those so inclined.

The Jetties

On Bulls Island, you will find three natural bridges called "Jetties." Water currents form them over time which has eroded at rocks forming small islands with naturally deep, calm pools between them where visitors can swim or kayak through during a Wildlife Expeditions tour. These areas are completely safe to visit—the gators in the ponds are shy and stay away from crowds.

Final Thoughts on Bulls Island

Bulls Island is a great place to visit if you want a combination of gorgeous scenery and fun outdoor activities. Many people enjoy the kayaking, fishing, hiking trails, and an exciting look at the wild side of nature.

The Coastal Expeditions Outfitter is a South Carolina-based company that offers guided tours for paddlers of all skill levels along the rivers and creeks near Charleston and sea kayak tours around coastal barrier islands such as Bulls Island. They also provide equipment rental, kayaking lessons, and school field trip packages to area schools looking for an outdoor education experience.

Coastal Expeditions sat down with Celeste to answer some general questions.

How long has Coastal Expeditions been running ferries to and from Bulls Island?

Coastal Expeditions has been the soul concessionaire to the Cape Romain NWR since 1993. Boat charters, ferry service, and kayak tours are all apart of the concession.

How many alligators are on Bulls Island?

USFW biologists in Cape Romain tell us that according to the last alligator count done on Bulls Island (in the mid 90s) we have a healthy population of roughly 1,000 alligators.

How safe is it for tourists to walk along the jetties?

Cape Romain has never encountered an aggressive incident with an alligator. The American Alligator in it’s natural environment away from human interaction is an incredibly docile animal. They are fearful of humans usually and often respect us as predators. Humans hunted alligators to near extinction not long ago, and alligators alive in our wild places today behave accordingly.

What are some of the protective factors that might be specific to Bulls Island which explain why alligators on the island behave in a docile manner around tourists?

It’s when alligators and people start to live and play close together we notice more aggressive behavior. Often because we don’t know how to behave ourselves around these wild animals. People will feed alligators, removing their natural fear and encouraging more close encounters in the future. We also like to spend our recreation time around these water features (playing golf, walking dogs) often without understanding fresh water is also habitat. Alligator habitat in the southeast.

In reality, alligators are normally interested in small prey (birds, turtles, fishes) that can be swallowed whole. Humans just aren’t on the menu.

How does Coastal Expedition work to protect the ecosystems on Bulls Island and what can people learn about alligators on Bulls Island versus those in threatened habitats?

The best way to fix something is to first understand it. Our best tool for conservation is through education. Coastal Expeditions creates a fun and safe learning environment for folks to explore South Carolina’s natural resources. With a little respect and understanding, we can coexist safely with this amazing native animal, a keystone species in the low country.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or the management of EconoTimes

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