Welcome to the January edition of our South Coast newsletter!
Despite the biting cold and gray skies that often mark this time of year, I always feel hopeful at the start of a new year, excited to see what opportunities it will bring. For instance, as you’ll read below, we are excited to see the adoption of regional stormwater standards across our local counties, cities, and towns that will support conservation and restoration of our extensive Lowcountry wetlands. As our region continues to experience significant population growth and development, it is more important than ever that we protect our special wild places and their natural functions, like water filtration, that they provide us free of charge. Thank you for your continual support and we look forward to taking on the new challenges ahead!
South Coast Wild Things
A swamp at McAlhany Nature Preserve in Colleton County. Photo by Jake Zadik.
While many are drawn to the sweeping vistas of water and tall grass in the Lowcountry’s salt marshes, fewer people understand and appreciate our forested wetlands, more commonly known as swamps. These wetlands are often portrayed as dark places filled with pests and predators that should be avoided or drained and used for new development. But these misrepresentations ignore the beauty of our swamps and the role they play in keeping us and our environment healthy.
Locally, each of our swamps is different, creating an offering of unique species every season. Want to see the golden gleam of a prothonotary warbler? Go birding on the Edisto Nature Trail in Colleton County in late spring. Curious about our state’s only epiphytic orchid, the greenfly orchid? Peer through ancient branches at Beidler Forest in Dorchester County in late summer. Want a taste of the pawpaw, the largest native fruit in North America? Poke around at B&C Landing in Jasper County in early fall. Hoping to catch a glimpse of our state amphibian, the spotted salamander? Ramble through Webb Wildlife Center in Hampton County throughout winter.
All year long, swamps quietly improve our quality of life. They absorb and remove dozens of tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year, helping to combat climate change. They are nurseries for animals that support aquatic food chains. And, perhaps most notably, they protect public health and property by both filtering toxins—like fertilizers, bacteria, and chemical runoff—out of millions of gallons of flood and stormwater each year and storing them in the process. Healthy swamp systems can naturally clean as much water as traditional water treatment plants, without the cost of infrastructure and maintenance. Instead of draining them, we should embrace, protect, and restore them.
The Conservation League in the South Coast
Stormwater and flooding in the Mossy Oaks neighborhood in Beaufort. Photo by Rikki Parker.
Protecting and restoring forested wetlands is one of the many reasons we have been working to support an overhaul to current stormwater management regulations in Beaufort and Jasper counties. Spearheaded by the Southern Lowcountry Regional Board, staff from across both counties have been developing a new and improved set of standards for how we handle and treat stormwater runoff.
These new standards offer incentives that encourage developers not to drain swamps but to instead take advantage of the natural filtration systems they offer.
Both Beaufort County and Bluffton have begun to officially adopt and implement the new and improved rules. Jasper County, Hardeeville, Port Royal, and the city of Beaufort will be adopting them as well sometime in this new year. The new standards will improve water quality by preserving and enhancing forested wetlands and the tree canopy, discouraging clear-cutting, prioritizing green infrastructure and low-impact development standards, supporting the incorporation of natural areas and open spaces in new development projects, and providing long-term maintenance of implemented stormwater management systems throughout the life of development projects.
Equipped with these new strategies, we can now, more than ever before, make sure we protect and restore the natural function and health of our local wetland habitats. We hope you join us in supporting them along the way. And we will keep you updated on how you can do that.
Supporting the new standards for stormwater isn’t the only way we hope to achieve better protections for wetlands this year. We’re teaming up with local conservation groups to coordinate protections for the Port Royal Sound watershed, which spans four counties. We’re also working with Beaufort city officials to improve building materials standards to prevent unintentional pollution of our wetlands and waterways. With each of these initiatives, we’re hoping 2021 will be the year of cleaner water and more resilient communities.
Events, Activities, Meetings
Due to Covid-19, many public meetings are being canceled or are streaming live to protect public health. Please check the status of each meeting prior to attending.
Wild Birds Unlimited Bird Walk – February 13 at 7:45 a.m., WBU Beaufort, 2139 Boundary Street, Suite 106, Beaufort. Join Juliana Smith for a bird walk in Beaufort! Only ten spaces are available, and reservations are required. She hosts bird walks monthly, so stay tuned for future walks!
Beaufort County Council –February 8 at 6 p.m., Beaufort County Government Robert Smalls Complex, 100 Ribaut Road, Beaufort. Agendas, when posted, can be reviewed here.
Colleton County Council – February 2 at 6 p.m., Council Chambers in the Old Jail Building, 109 Benson Street, Walterboro. Agendas, when posted, can be reviewed here.
Hampton County Council – February 1 and 16 at 6 p.m., Council Chambers Administration Building, 200 Jackson Ave, East Hampton. Agendas, when posted, can be reviewed here.
Jasper County Council – February 1 and 16 at 6:30 p.m., Jasper County Clementa C. Pinkney Government Building, 358 Third Avenue, Ridgeland. Agendas, when posted, can be reviewed here.