State of the Beach/State Reports/SC/Beach Ecology

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South Carolina Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access98
Water Quality54
Beach Erosion8-
Erosion Response-6
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures7 5
Beach Ecology4-
Surfing Areas25
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


To the casual observer, beaches may simply appear as barren stretches of sand - beautiful, but largely devoid of life or ecological processes. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Sandy beaches not only provide habitat for numerous species of plants and animals, they also serve as breeding grounds for many species that are not residential to the beach. Additionally, beaches function as areas of high primary production. Seaweeds and other kinds of algae flourish in shallow, coastal waters, and beaches serve as repositories for these important inputs to the food chain. In this way, beaches support a rich web of life including worms, bivalves, and crustaceans. This community of species attracts predators such as seabirds, which depend on sandy beaches for their foraging activities. In short, sandy beaches are diverse and productive systems that serve as a critical link between marine and terrestrial environments.

Erosion of the beach, whether it is “natural” erosion or erosion exacerbated by interruptions to historical sand supply, can negatively impact beach ecology by removing habitat. Other threats to ecological systems at the beach include beach grooming and other beach maintenance activities. Even our attempts at beach restoration may disrupt the ecological health of the beach. Imported sand may smother natural habitat. The grain size and color of imported sand may influence the reproductive habits of species that utilize sandy beaches for these functions.

In the interest of promoting better monitoring of sandy beach systems, the Surfrider Foundation would like to see the implementation of a standardized methodology for assessing ecological health. We believe that in combination, the identified metrics such as those described below can function to provide a revealing picture of the status of beach systems. We believe that a standardized and systematic procedure for assessing ecological health is essential to meeting the goals of ecosystem-based management. And, we believe that the adoption of such a procedure will function to better inform decision makers, and help bridge the gap that continues to exist between science and policy. The Surfrider Foundation proposes that four different metrics be used to complete ecological health assessments of sandy beaches. These metrics include

  1. quality of habitat,
  2. status of ‘indicator’ species,
  3. maintenance of species richness, and
  4. management practices.

It is envisioned that beach systems would receive a grade (i.e., A through F), which describes the beach’s performance against each of these metrics. In instances where information is unavailable, beaches would be assigned an incomplete for that metric. Based on the beach’s overall performance against the four metrics, an “ecological health” score would be identified.


South Carolina’s Coastal Management Program (SCCMP) was approved by NOAA in 1979, and is administered by the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). The coastal management program gives the state permitting authority in “critical areas,” which include coastal waters, tidelands, beaches, and primary oceanfront sand dunes. The DHEC’s Office of Ocean & Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) regulates the coastal zone through the Coastal Tidelands and Wetlands Act.

The Beachfront Management Act was passed in 1988 and became part of the Coastal Tidelands and Wetlands Act. The Beachfront Management Act includes several policies to protect beaches’ natural components. These policies aim to:

  • Protect, preserve, restore, and enhance the beach/dune system.
  • Create a comprehensive, long-range beach management plan and require local beach management plans for the protection, preservation, restoration, and enhancement of the beach/dune system, each promoting wise use of the state’s beachfront to include a gradual retreat from the system over a forty-year period.
  • Encourage the use of erosion-inhibiting techniques which do not adversely impact the long-term well-being of the beach/dune system.

The Beachfront Management Act (S.C. Code Ann. § 48-39-250 et seq) establishes the statutory guidance and state policies that direct all state beachfront activities and decisions. The Act is implemented through a variety of mechanisms at the state and local levels, including through the State Comprehensive Beachfront Management Plan and Local Comprehensive Beach Management Plans.

The State Comprehensive Beachfront Management Plan was completed in 1992 and states several requirements for the consideration of biological resources. These requirements include development of guidelines to accomplish:

  • development of a database for the state’s coastal areas to provide essential information concerning the management of the beach/dune system
  • beach/dune restoration and nourishment
  • maintenance of an ecologically stable, dry, sandy beach
  • protection of all sand dunes seaward of setback lines
  • protection of endangered and threatened species as well as critical habitats
  • regulation of vehicular traffic upon the beaches and beach/dune system
  • development of a mitigation policy for construction allowed seaward ofsetback line
  • development of a public education and awareness program on the importance ofthe beach/dune system

The Act requires ocean beachfront counties and municipalities to prepare Local Comprehensive Beach Management Plans in coordination with DHEC-OCRM. These plans must include a minimum of ten specific elements. Once adopted by the community, local comprehensive beach management plans are then submitted to DHEC for review and state approval.

Local comprehensive beach management plans are an important and effective management tool for local governments. These plans provide guidance to state and federal agencies on local policies, regulations, and procedures related to beachfront management. Local comprehensive beach management plans are required to be reviewed by the local government every five years.

One of the ten specific elements required for local plans calls for the protection of beach ecology: an inventory of turtle nesting and important habitats of the beach/dune system and a protection and restoration plan if necessary.

When different management practices within an area conflict with one another, often resulting in harm to coastal resources, a Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) is developed to reconcile these issues and protect the natural resources. SAMPs have been developed for the Cooper River Corridor, Murrells Inlet, Ashley River, Beaufort County, and the Charleston Harbor Project. More information on these plans, as well as an overview of the SAMP program, can be found here.

DHEC's Critical Area Permitting Regulations provide guidelines for protecting beach and salt marsh ecology on the thousands of small islands off the South Carolina Coast. As stated in the document:

"(1)(a) South Carolina has several thousand coastal islands, including barrier islands, sea islands, back barrier islands and marsh hammocks. Almost all of these islands are surrounded by expanses of salt marsh, occasionally bordered by tidal creeks or rivers. Historically, few of these islands have been built upon or altered, and most have been protected by their remoteness and inaccessibility. In recent years, however, a trend toward greater potential for development of these islands has stimulated questions and concerns about the ecological significance of these islands. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources conducted a field study of a number of non-barrier islands. Their report, An Ecological Characterization of Coastal Hammock Islands, December, 2004, has shown that these islands are unique ecosystems with diverse flora and fauna. That study recommends protection and buffering of important habitats and resources associated with these islands."

In 2008, NOAA completed an evaluation of South Carolina’s Coastal Management Program. The agency concluded that between 2004 and 2008, the state overall had successfully implemented and enforced its coastal management program. One of SCCMP’s successes during this period relates to beach ecology:

"The SCCMP continues to work with local governments in the revisions to local comprehensive beach management plans and worked with the City of Isle of Palms to develop its initial comprehensive beach management plan. The SCCMP has also initiated a multi-year Shoreline Change Initiative to organize existing data collection and research efforts, identify additional research needs, and formulate policy options to guide the management of South Carolina’s estuarine and beachfront shorelines in light of continued pressures on those resources."

South Carolina monitors benthic fauna on beaches as part of nourishment and other beach modification projects. The state has completed biological inventories of Myrtle Beach, Folly Beach, Kiawah Beach, Hilton Head Beach, all related to beach nourishment projects.[1]

Sullivan’s Island Accreted Land Management Plan

As reported by Jessica Johnson on December 7, 2009 in The Post and Courier, the town of Sullivan’s Island has been working on a new plan to manage its accreting coastline:

"On Sullivan's Island, more than $100,000 and thousands of hours have been expended in order to decide how to manage 90 acres of beach that slowly have accumulated over the years. Public input has been sought and Sullivan's Island Town Council hopes to take the next step in directing a consultant to write another draft of a management plan for the accreting beach. A study written by Coastal Science & Engineering gives residents four management options:
  • Do nothing and allow a maritime forest to take root.
  • Keep doing what they are doing now, which is to allow some adjacent landowners to cut a few species of trees.
  • Allow more extensive management of the land by creating different kinds of habitat and removing some of the early forested areas.
  • Build a dune along the shore by digging sand up from other areas.
Doing nothing is what the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of the Interior's Fisheries and Wildlife Service suggest is the best of the four solutions for the endangered and threatened animals and plants found there. The forested area of the beach offers protection for nesting and hatching sea turtles, provides habitat for nesting and migrating land birds and supports more than 125 plant species, according to Bob Perry, director of DNR's office of Environmental Programs. Three of 13 state or federally protected animals have been spotted in the area. The other 10 have the potential to live there. Removing the forest likely would impact the endangered loggerhead sea turtle because it depends on a "dark beach to navigate the water," Perry said.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Field Supervisor Timothy Hall has suggested allowing the land to evolve into a forest "as was historically typical of South Carolina's barrier islands."
How to maintain the area held in public trust since 1991 long has been an issue in the community. All residents seem to agree that the land has to be managed. The question is--how?" [2]

In July 2010, the draft final Accreted Lands Management Plan was completed. The report incorporated issues raised by the public as well as a scientific assessment of the coastline, and evaluated the four management options outlined in the article excerpt above. The draft plan then recommended dividing the land into four management zones, or “recommended planning units,” and implementing a different management plan for each unit. In addition to the suggested management plans, the report gave seven key findings:

  1. The western end of the AL contains more mature vegetation, which favors a more passive approach, allowing future vegetation to evolve in a continued natural succession.
  2. The eastern end of the AL contains less mature vegetation and adversely altered habitat (e.g. – near-monoculture of pruned wax myrtle), which favors a more active approach, including conversion of some scrub shrubland to grassland.
  3. Fire poses a threat, which can be best managed by means of open buffer zones, wider pathways, and less undergrowth so as to create numerous fire breaks.
  4. Dense undergrowth (the result of years of pruning), which predominates in some sections of the AL, provides attractive habitat for rodents and should be reduced for purposes of controlling rat populations.
  5. Invasive species have been introduced to the area and should be eradicated because they impair ecological function and diminish the beauty of the AL.
  6. Some management practices recommended herein may be subject to federal or state regulation depending on the type and location of the activity. Several agencies have jurisdiction within portions of the AL.
  7. Manipulation of topography should be avoided in favor of vegetation management based on the consensus of the community.[3]

The town is considering the options in the draft plan and continues to work toward adopting a final management plan.

Seabrook Island dogs on beach

According to an article in the Charleston Post and Courier by Bo Petersen on May 23, 2006, the Seabrook Island Town Council has been struggling with a contentious law that allows unleashed pets on a stretch of beach considered critical habitat for shorebirds and loggerhead turtle nests.

On one side, more than 300 of the 1,200 residents on the private resort island have signed a petition to allow unleashed dogs on the beach. On the other side, U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jennifer Koches has stated "It's going to put individuals who run their dogs in the critical habitat at risk of violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing their dogs to harass the piping plover." Nancy Vinson of the Coastal Conservation League was quoted as saying "That would leave us no choice but to consider legal action."
The contention worsened in early May 2006 when the town scraped sand from the habitat beach to shore up a breach in the dunes.
"There seems to be this attitude out there that, because we're behind the private gate, we can do whatever we want until we are stopped. I think they've done irreparable harm. The critical habitat has been left to wrack and ruin. It's a clear 'We don't care,' said resident Lori Hilker." [4]

Residents of the town formed the Seabrook Island Dog Owners Group, or “Seadogs,” to rally the Town Council to accept the proposed ordinance and allow dogs on a designated part of the beach. The ordinance was adopted on May 22, 2007.

But the threats to sensitive beach species did not stop here. Another article by Bo Peterson in The Post and Courier on August 11, 2010 stated that the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association plans to cut a new channel through Capt. Sam’s Inlet, which would destroy critical habitat for the piping plover.

The far-flying plover, which summers in the Arctic, is an endangered species in some states and a threatened species in South Carolina. The re-channeling work might also impact endangered sea turtle's nesting and fish species like the red drum. Plans for the golf hole and dog walk were adjusted to mitigate impacts on the birds and turtles.
Birders say enough is enough.
"Examining each 'beachfront alteration project' in a vacuum paints a false picture. In fact, piping plovers' critical habitat on east Kiawah was recently degraded and has not yet fully recovered. Two detrimental projects are being proposed for critical habitat at Captain Sam's Inlet, and degradation also is being proposed for critical habitat at Hilton Head," said Nathan Dias of the Cape Romain Bird Observatory.
"Such simultaneous degradation of multiple critical S.C. sites is unacceptable -- especially with problems like increasing disturbance by humans and dogs at most South Carolina wintering sites, which is much worse than in 1996," he said. The birds need more time to adjust to critical habitat changes.
"We must ensure the threatened and endangered species that use this area are not disturbed with this project," said Nancy Vinson of the Coastal Conservation League.
The work proposed in the application includes moving the inlet east about a fifth of mile to its location in 1963; the inlet has a natural tendency to migrate west toward Seabrook Island. A sand berm, or wall, would be pushed up to stop its current flow. The work would prevent the loss of critical habitat along the now eroding west bank of the inlet and will not include post-project sand scraping as a concession to environmental interests, according to the application.
"Periodic relocation has less environmental impact than what happens if we don't relocate -- we lose all the beach. The whole beach erodes and all you have is sea wall," said John Thompson, executive director of the property owners association.The application is being reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the S.C. Ocean and Coastal Resource Management office and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. [5]

Other Federal Programs

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to designate portions of island and mainland coastal beaches in six states along the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico as critical habitat for the Northwest Atlantic (NWA) population of loggerhead sea turtles. In total, 90 nesting sites in coastal counties located in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi were identified for possible designation as critical habitat for the NWA population of loggerhead sea turtles. These sites incorporate about 740 shoreline miles: about 48 percent of an estimated 1,531 miles of coastal beach shoreline, and consist of nesting sites with or immediately adjacent to locations with the highest nesting densities (approximately 84 percent of the documented nesting) within these six states.

In July 2014 NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the proposed rule was final, designating critical habitat for the turtle out of some 700 miles of beaches and nearly 300,000 miles of ocean along the Southeast and Gulf of Mexico. Details and maps.


Sea Turtles

Baby Loggerhead Sea Turtle

It was feared that a 22-year-old turtle protection project on Pritchards Island could come to an end in 2004 under Gov. Mark Sanford's budget proposal to remove $70,000 in funding from the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Coastal Zone Education program. The governor's budget proposal would have to be approved by the state House and Senate before going into effect.

Since 1982, about 2,260 nests have been recorded on the 2.5 miles of oceanfront beach on Pritchards Island. The program also has done research projects that include tagging some turtles to track their movements and analyzing DNA from nesting turtles to determine what sub-population of loggerhead turtles they come from. There are about 20 turtle protection projects along the state's coast. Each covers a specific area, recording information about turtle nests and hatchlings.

Turtle project volunteers and paid workers at the Pritchards Island project protect the endangered loggerhead turtles by moving nests out of the way of the ocean's waves and predators. Typically, one out of every 10,000 loggerhead turtle eggs laid will survive to sexual maturity.

Kim Jones, Hilton Head Island's Coastal Discovery Museum's Sea Turtle Protection Project coordinator, said losing the Pritchards Island turtle program now would mean stopping research just before the program reaches the 25-year mark. Female turtles reach sexual maturity at 25 years old and return to the beach of their birth to lay their eggs. After 25 years, the program could begin to predict the number of nests laid based on the number of nests laid at least 25 years earlier. She said that information is rare.[6]

In 2005, more loggerhead turtle nests were observed on Hunting and Fripp Islands in the first six weeks of the nesting season than their totals for all of 2004. The number of nests on Hunting Island dropped from 67 in 2003 to 19 in 2004, but 26 nests were observed by mid-June in 2005. On Fripp Island the totals were 54 in 2003, just nine in 2004, and 10 nests as of mid-June 2005. Similar increases were seen at Harbor Island, Pritchards Island, and Hilton Head Island. Another good sign for loggerheads in 2005 was a decline in the number of shrimp trawling boats whose nets can entangle the sea turtles. Loggerheads nest between May and August.

South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR)is responsible for monitoring sea turtle nesting activity in the state. The SCDNR began monitoring sea turtle nesting activities and strandings in the late 1970s. Information gained from this program contributes to ongoing sea turtle nest management and protection projects on all of the state's beaches. There are approximately 300 kilometers of ocean-facing sandy beaches in South Carolina that provide suitable nesting habitat for sea turtles. To date, loggerheads, green turtles, leatherbacks and rarely Kemp’s ridleys sea turtle nests have been recorded on South Carolina beaches. By far the most common nesting species is the loggerhead. In South Carolina, nesting surveys and nest protection measures are carried out by a variety of public agencies such as the SCDNR, USFWS, South Carolina Department of Parks and Recreation and Coastal Carolina University. Several private organizations and numerous volunteers are also actively involved with sea turtle protection work. Altogether, more than 1100 individuals participate in nest monitoring activities in South Carolina each year. Results from all South Carolina sea turtle nesting beach projects are submitted to the SCDNR and compiled for the State and made available to federal agencies. These data are crucial in monitoring populations, formulating protective regulations, making management decisions, and maximizing reproduction for recovery.

Sea turtle nesting data for South Carolina are made available to the public by The website has data from 2000 to present.

More information on sea turtle nest monitoring through the DNR and more general information.

There is an active turtle watch program at Folly Beach. As mentioned in the beach fill section, volunteers from this group (Folly Beach Turtle Watch) monitored the 2005 beach fill project at Folly Beach to rescue stranded turtles and relocate nests. The following text from their Website discussed the impact of the beach fill project and light pollution from coastal development on turtle nesting:

The "new" renourished beach is 4-5' higher than before, 100' wider, and much flatter. While wonderful for us humans, these changes present a major disorientation risk for hatchlings. Without dune shade and slope, hatchlings will be more easily drawn to street lights and house lights. The City of Folly Beach and SCE&G have worked to reduce light pollution on the beach. SCE&G has added "cobra head" fixtures and yellow bulbs to all of the street lights north of The Washout. This has greatly reduced illumination on the beach, and we're especially grateful to SCE&G for getting that work done before August 1st when nests in that area are expected to begin hatching.

The Folly Beach website discusses several threats to nesting turtles, including beach nourishment, construction, and beach vitex.

During the past 25 years, erosion has claimed about 1,200 acres from four primary barrier islands in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge nature north of Charleston, according to statistics provided in late 2013 by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Those include Bulls Island, the refuge’s signature land formation. Islands in the 66,000-acre Cape Romain refuge provide important nesting habitat for loggerhead sea turtles, federally protected reptiles that deposit their eggs in sand dunes for protection. But many of the dunes are washing away. More info

Piping Plovers

Piping Plover

An interesting controversy arose in early 2006 regarding a plan by the town of Kiawah Island to rebuild dunes used to protect the Ocean Golf Course's 18th hole. Piping plovers forage along a sand spit that would be the source of sand for the dune-rebuilding project. The Army Corps of Engineers issued a "cease and desist" order for the golf course to stop piling sand on the beach. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service then began preparing a "biological opinion" on the project in preparation for considering whether to allow permits.

A compromise was announced in March 2006 which allowed dune rebuilding to protect the 18th and 16th holes of the golf course and the driving range but reduced by half the amount of sand taken from the sand spit which is the piping plover's habitat.

Concern about impacts to piping plover habitat also surfaced in 2010 in connection with a plan to relocate Captain Sam's Inlet. The Seabrook Island Property Owners Association applied for state and federal permits to cut a new channel for the inlet between their beach resort and Kiawah Island resort across the inlet. The association previously performed similar projects in 1983 and 1996. The work proposed in the application includes moving the inlet east about a fifth of mile to its location in 1963; the inlet has a natural tendency to migrate west toward Seabrook Island. Here is the public notice for that project.
Update: An article published in the Post and Courier in May 2015 stated that state regulators have approved a new permit that would allow development of Captain Sam’s Spit. The move came a little more than five months after the state Supreme Court ruled against granting an earlier permit. The DHEC stormwater permit provides for the construction of a sheet pile wall nearly a half-mile long that will hold up a road across the narrow neck of the spit to the high ground where 50 homes are proposed. The permit also allows preliminary work on sites for the homes. Captain Sam’s Spit is a wildlife-rich, 150-acre sand strip along Captain Sam’s Inlet between Kiawah and Seabrook islands. Like other inlet areas, it is continually reshaped by waves and wind, eroding and accreting. The spit was left undeveloped while most of the rest of the island was built on, and is now one of the few undeveloped barrier island spits the public has ready access to because of the adjacent Beachwalker Park.

Another area where protection of piping plover habitat is an issue is on oceanfront parcels on Morris Island and the northern tip of Folly Beach. The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission has conducted a study weighing what sort of development and public access should be allowed on the northern tip of Morris Island, also known as Cummings Point, and the northern end of Folly Beach, an abandoned Coast Guard site. The county already owns the Coast Guard site and is working with the Trust for Public Land and developer Bobby Ginn to manage Cummings Point, 62 acres on the island's undeveloped northern end just south of Fort Sumter.

Both Cummings Point and the northern tip of Folly are visited regularly by the public, but neither has clear signs or paths. Reportedly, some visitors who bring their dogs or off-road vehicles to Cummings Point are causing damage. The study shows which parts of the island are most sensitive, mostly because of the habitat they offer. The study also suggests options for providing access.

On Cummings Point, the two options are: Adding only a kiosk with a list of rules and an interpretive sign near Fort Sumter, or building a dock, a moldering toilet facility (one with no running water) and a boardwalk linking the dock with the beach. The boardwalk would follow the route of an old road bed. On Folly, the options include combinations of a trail system, signs, a large interpretive center with air conditioning and restrooms, a parking area and an overlook to the Morris Island Lighthouse across the inlet.

The SC Department of Natural Resources manages the protection of shorebirds and their habitat. Information regarding piping plovers and other migratory shorebirds can be found here. The City of Charleston currently manages public use and access of Morris Island; and the northern tip of Folly Beach is under the authority of the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission. Information regarding management plans should be obtained from these entities.

Invasive Species

The following article discusses the dangers posed by beach vitex or Vitex rotundifolia. This plant has been called the "kudzu of the beach" and threatens Carolina dunes by driving out native species of plants and creating a "monoculture" on the beach. Its fibrous roots can trap turtles and destroy eggs. Besides impacts on sea turtles, beach vitex could threaten sea beach amaranth and sea oats. It has been seen on Pawleys Island, Debordieu, Garden City, Surfside, Litchfield, and Isle of Palms. The plant is still being sold in local nurseries, as well as wholesale growers in Texas, Virginia, and Alabama. Planting on the dunes is regulated by the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, which requires people to get a permit before planting in dunes under its jurisdiction. Permits are only granted for planting sea oats, American beach grass, and panic grass, though there is no requirement that other plants be removed.

Officials in North and South Carolina are engaged in what will likely be a years-long battle to eradicate beach vitex from the coasts of both states. Clemson University has begun tests on four sites on Pawleys Island to determine the best method of getting rid of the non-native, invasive plant, and Bald Head Island, N.C., is conducting an eradication program.

The deciduous, ground-cover plant is native to Korea and was first introduced to area beaches as a way to repair dunes after the devastation of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. It produces attractive purple flowers along with pleasant-smelling, gray green foliage during warm months and has been sold in commercial nurseries as a landscaping plant. It can grow from any part of runners that may be up to 60 feet long or from an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 seeds produced per square meter. But it has been found to inhibit the nesting of sea turtles, crowd out native dune plants and be less effective at holding and building dunes than things such as sea oats and bitter pannicum.

The plant has been banned by governments in Pawleys Island and Georgetown County in South Carolina and in Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Caswell Beach and Bald Head Island in North Carolina. The town of Oak Island, one of two places it is known to exist in Brunswick County, has not banned it. It has also been spotted along beaches in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. It is known to exist along much of the S.C. coast and as far north as Ocracoke Island in North Carolina. N.C. officials are concerned it could take hold on uninhabited barrier islands that are important wild bird nesting sites.

Bald Head appropriated $30,000 for plant removal, which started in January 2006. The village received a $15,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue the program through summer 2006. Clemson officials have applied for a $133,000 grant from the federal Fish and Wildlife Foundation to battle the plant in South Carolina. Officials in both states are hoping that beach vitex will be declared a federal noxious plant, which would ban its sale throughout the United States.

More information on beach vitex can be found on the website of the Beach Vitex Task Force.

Other Coastal Ecosystems

South Carolina relies on federal law to protect wetlands. In practice, isolated wetlands aren't protected because the DHEC doesn't have its own set of regulations or guidelines concerning development in wetland areas. In 2006 and again in 2007, state Sen. Larry Grooms and Sen. Chip Campsen introduced a bill creating a state permitting system.


Oyster Reef

It is not the typical role of scientists to manage a huge roster of volunteers, but researchers in South Carolina have developed a community-based program that not only increases oyster habitat at a minimum expense to taxpayers, but also expands research opportunities.

Increased public awareness and support are added bonuses of the South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement (SCORE) program, says Loren Coen, associate marine scientist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources' Marine Resources Research Institute.

Researchers are using the reefs to study a variety of approaches and environmental impacts to improve how the state agency builds and restores larger habitats.

"We are utilizing our reefs to learn something about restoration," Coen says. "Above and beyond that, we are creating ambassadors out in the community who are helping keep up public interest and state funds flowing."

Coen and two program staff members use a Website and an e-mail database to coordinate volunteers who take part invarious aspects of the lengthy restoration process.

During the winter, volunteers are encouraged to collect shells from oyster roasts, restaurants, and caterers. While oyster shell is considered the best material for building oyster reefs, it often ends up in landfills, or is used for driveways or other decorative purposes. With many restoration efforts along the east and gulf coasts, it is getting harder to purchase oyster shells, and the cost often is prohibitive.

Many of SCORE's volunteers participate in the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Shell Recycling Program. The shells must sit for two months to ensure that no organic tissue remains before volunteers put the recycled and purchased shell into thousands of mesh-net bags that are about two-feet long and weigh 25 to 35 pounds each.

The bags are used to build reefs at sites scientists and regulators have carefully selected. Coen says that sites should have a gentle slope, some existing shell or a somewhat firm substrate, and be in an area that does not have too much sedimentation or boat traffic.

SCORE is so successful, Coen says, that they are helping groups in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina develop similar programs.

"I really feel this program is going well," Coen says. "The hardest thing for all the scientists here in our department and agency has been taking on the role of involving community groups and educating the public. That's not the typical role of a scientist. But without the volunteers, the program wouldn't exist."

For more information on SCORE, point your browser to You may also contact Nancy Hadley at (843) 953-9841 or Michael Hodges ( at (843) 953-9241. For more information on related research, contact Loren Coen at (843) 953-9152.[7]

Since 2001, the SCORE program has constructed 188 reefs at 35 different sites with the help of over 8,000 volunteers. The recycling program currently has 21 sites to drop off oyster shells. More information about the SCORE program can be found here.

Estuarine and Coastal Habitats

The Marine Resources Division of South Carolina Department of Natural Resources produced the report The Condition of South Carolina's Estuarine and Coastal Habitats During 2005-2006. There is also an Executive Summary, the Coastal Habitat Condition Update that has the following summary:

The good news is that the results of SCECAP monitoring indicate a majority of South Carolina’s coastal and estuarine habitats are in good condition. The bad news is that the impacts of coastal development are becoming more apparent. The two most urbanized estuaries in the state, Winyah Bay (near Georgetown) and the Charleston Harbor estuary, both contained particularly high concentrations of sites with fair or poor habitat quality. Unexpectedly, the upper portions of the ACE Basin, an area valued for its natural beauty, had a substantial number of sites with only fair overall habitat quality. Agricultural activities surround this area and may contribute to the reduced habitat quality through runoff of nutrients. Overall, our estuaries have shown a recent trend of decreasing water and sediment quality and biological integrity coincident with increased rainfall. It is critical to continue monitoring habitat quality to determine whether the increasing impairment poses a long-term threat to the health of our estuaries, particularly as extensive development continues along our coastline.

Marsh Islands

There are almost 3,500 marsh islands in South Carolina, many of which are undeveloped and whose coastal habitats are relatively undisturbed because there is no bridge access to them. Regulations written in the early 1990s governed access to small islands in the coastal zone until February 2005, when the South Carolina Supreme Court declared the regulations invalid because they were too vague. Even before that decision, issues of vagueness had arisen during permitting with regard to demonstration of ownership and the lack of a definition of public need. The previous evaluation findings recommended the SCCMP continue to address issues surrounding the development of marsh islands. After the state Supreme Court decision, the issue became even more urgent. Prospective developers, the environmental community, and regulators charged with making permitting decisions all needed unambiguous, precise regulations.

The DHEC convened a Marsh Islands Advisory Committee in mid-2005, which was charged to prepare recommendations that could be used to formulate regulations to protect the quality of the coastal environment and promote economic and social improvement of the coastal zone. The Committee’s six members were drawn to represent a wide range of stakeholders. The Committee members reached consensus on recommendations and also proposed regulatory changes that were supported by all members. The proposed changes were used by the SCCMP to promulgate regulatory amendments that were passed by the General Assembly. The regulations became effective in June 2006. At the time of the evaluation site visit, the SCCMP had reviewed or was currently reviewing applications for 15 bridges of varying widths and lengths—five were withdrawn or cancelled, one was granted, and nine were under review.

Edisto Island

The mission of the Edisto Island Preservation Alliance (EIPA) is to "preserve Edisto Island’s rural and agricultural way of life through community driven growth management and proactive initiatives to preserve its historical and cultural heritage and its natural beauty." To meet this goal, EIPA is implementing numerous conservation initiatives and working to improve the county’s comprehensive plan. The alliance is made up of several Edisto Island protection groups, including the Edisto Island Open Land Trust, Historic Preservation Society, and local government officials.

NOAA's Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps provide a concise summary of coastal resources that are at risk if an oil spill occurs nearby. Examples of at-risk resources include biological resources (such as birds and shellfish beds), sensitive shorelines (such as marshes and tidal flats), and human-use resources (such as public beaches and parks).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Services Center, in partnership with NatureServe and others are developing the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS), a standard ecological classification system that is universally applicable for coastal and marine systems and complementary to existing wetland and upland systems.

Contact Info

Michael Arendt
Marine Biologist
Department of Natural Resources

Bill Eiser
Wetlands Section Project Manager
Ocean and Coastal Resource Management
SC Department of Health and Environmental Control

Bob Van Dolah


  1. 2011 coastal zone manager beach ecology Surfrider survey
  2. "Town to talk about beach management" by Jessica Johnson. The Post and Courier. December 7, 2009.
  3. Coastal Science & Engineering, Sabine & Waters Inc, Dewberry. 2010. Draft Final Accreted Land Management Plan Town of Sullivan's Island South Carolina.
  4. "Will beach go to the dogs? Seabrook council to decide" by Bo Petersen. Charleston Post and Courier. May 23, 2006.,3344750&dq=charleston+post+and+courier+petersen&hl=en
  5. "Plover to disrupt inlet move?" by Bo Petersen. The Post and Courier. August 11, 2010.
  6. "Turtle protection project may lose funding" by Jessica Flathmann, The Island Packet, January 27th, 2004.

State of the Beach Report: South Carolina
South Carolina Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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