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Cape Romain NWR

Site Facts

Country, State, Province/Region:

United States of America, South Carolina

Relative Location:

Awendaw, Charleston County


32°53'N; 79°39'W 



Basis for Designation:

Supports over 10% of the wintering population of American Oystercatchers along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. Peak counts during spring and/or fall equaled or exceeded 15% of the eastern U.S. totals for eight species (American Oystercatcher, Short-billed Dowitcher, Dunlin, Willet, Whimbrel, Wilson’s Plover, and Semipalmated Plover)


64,000 acres, or 100 square miles


March 1995

Site Owner/Steward:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Site Partners:

S.C. Department of Natural Resources
The Nature Conservancy
Clemson University

Human Population within 100 km:

Approximately 260,000.


Cape Romain NWR
Awendaw, South Carolina
Tel: 842-928-3368

About Us

Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is characterized by five habitats: open (salt) water, uplands, salt marsh, and fresh and brackish marshes. Within the area, conditions are primarily natural; few man-made structures remain.

Most Atlantic shorebird species utilize the refuge at some time. Numerous shorebird species rely on the refuge for spring breeding, year-round feeding and roosting, and wintering.

Shorebird species at Cape Romain NWR include:
Piping Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Stilt Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Wilson’s Phalarope
Red Knot

This refuge is also of critical importance for other species of wildlife. For instance, Bulls Island is home to several hundred American alligators, and utilized by the endangered American Falcon, Wood Stork, Bald Eagle, and Cooper's Hawk, among others. An average of 1,000 threatened Eastern Brown Pelicans nest on the refuge each year. Cape Romain also supports the largest loggerhead sea turtle rookery north of Florida, averaging 1,000 nests per year.

Ecology & Conservation

Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is comprised of 66,287 acres extending 22 miles along the South Carolina coast. The refuge consists of barrier islands, salt marshes, tidal flats, oyster bars, and open water.  Due to the diverse habitat within the refuge and the remote nature of many of the areas at low tide, a diverse and abundant number of shorebirds use the refuge throughout the year.  Twenty-two different species of shorebirds have been observed in Cape Romain NWR (The Chat, Spring 2001).  The refuge and the neighboring islands owned by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is collectively known as the Cape Romain Region. This region ranked second only to Delaware Bay in spring, and higher than all presented Atlantic Coast sites during fall in shorebird density (The Chat, Spring 2001).  In addition to shorebirds, Cape Romain NWR supports one of the only natural seabird nesting colonies in the state. The area is also important for Neotropical migrants.  It also supports the highest density of loggerhead sea turtle nesting north of Florida.  The top two threats to the refuge are climate change followed by human population expansion.  

Current research being conducted within the refuge focuses on reproductive success of the seabird nesting colonies. In addition, past and current shorebird high-tide roost surveys are being put into GIS and analyzed.  Monitoring currently looks at seabird nesting, shorebird nesting (Oystercatcher and Wilson’s Plover), and shorebird high-tide roost surveys.  

Documents and refernces:  The Chat, Fall 1991 and  Spring 2001; Waterbirds 27(1): 83-88, 2004.

Land Use:
Recreation, hunting, fishing.

Land-use restrictions include policies for day-time use only and closed areas for nesting seabirds.

Current Threats:
Human population expansion and development, climate change and rising sea levels, and potential for major oil spill(s) or other contamination from nearby Charleston Harbor.   



Cape Romain NWR
5801 Hwy 17, North
Awendaw, South Carolina 29429
Tel: 842-928-3368
Fax: 843-928-3803