BEAUFORT, S.C. (WSAV) – The biggest threat to Parris Island may be climate change.
That is why more than a million dollars in federal money could be key to giving the Marine Corps Recruit Depot’s shoreline new life.
“We are working in the areas where we think we can have an immediate impact,” says Michael Hodges of the SC Department of Natural Resources.
The area where there is an immediate need, and that impact can make a difference near Parris Island.
That’s where $1.2 million from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to Parris Island, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the Coastal Conservation League, the Sustainability Institute, and PEW Charitable Trusts comes in. The money, from Fish and Wildlife’s National Coastal Resilience Fund, is designed to create a self-sustaining reef that can help solve some of the coastal issues for years to come.
The money provides the ability to construct more than 4,500 wire oyster reefs over two acres along the water, most of which are near Parris Island. Loose-bagged oyster shells will cover another 1.3 acres of land through a program called living shorelines. In all 390 acres will benefit.
“Living shorelines are used to help stabilize our shorelines by buffering wind and wave energy and providing a lot of habitat for a lot of fish and bird and mammals,” says Rachel Hawes, Coastal Conservation League’s Land, Water, and Wildlife Project Manager. “A lot of those animals are recreational and commercially important species for us.”
“Is it an end all solution, absolutely not,” continues Hawes. “Is there more than can be done, sure? But we are excited to see the department of defense prioritizing coastal resilience.”
“We are letting a nature-based solution take place,” said Hodges.
Hodges is an oyster restoration biologist with the DNR who runs the community-based program through the state’s South Carolina Oyster Recycling and Enhancement Program or SCORE.
Hodges says this program will help slow down the flooding issues and erosion on the base.
“Oyster reefs are magical species, there are eco-system all-stars,” says Hodges. “In the way of what they are providing to us, not only as a food source and consumption purposes but ecosystem benefits and environmental benefits.”
“It’s providing habitat for those species that utilize those waters. It’s providing water quality and clarity throughout those rivers and streams adjacent to these project sites, So it’s important to do more than just the upland adjacent to the project site. It’s important in the sense that it is improving those estuarian habitats in the geographical region.”
“(Oyster reefs) provide habitat, a structure to attract animals. It attracts small animals for refuges, for nurseries to lay eggs, to breed, protection for some, spawning grounds, and feeding grounds for larger species to come in. All those are connected together.”
The shells will also improve water quality in the area according to Hodges.
“They are filter feeders so they are filtering in water in between their bivalves and removing particulates from the waters,” says Hodges. “Including sediments, pollutants in the water, bacteria in the water, fecal coliform bacteria, sewage, things they can draw in between their shells.”
In addition, the loose shells can help stabilize the shore, combining and bulking up the marsh.
“These structures save a lot of sediment on the side of the reef and trap sediment that allows that side of the marsh to expand seaward and waterward and create new marsh,” said Hodges. “By marrying the marsh grass with the oyster reef you are benefitting two of the more predominant habitats we have up and down South Carolina’s coast.”
That is where the volunteers come in. Hundreds will be needed to lay out the oyster shells, most of which are recycled through the SCORE program.
Hodges and Hawes both say community support was part of the reason the area got this money and they are not concerned about getting the people they need to get the job done.
The project will start sometime this Spring. The agencies are just waiting to receive the money from the Federal government first.