The line of cars stretched for miles, the steady glow of their headlights illuminating a day dimmed by clouds. Drivers drummed nervously on steering wheels. Passengers texted worried relatives.
Unlike the usual melting pot of I-26—businesspeople, beach-goers, families visiting grandparents—these cars all were traveling in the same direction. And all for the same reason. To the south loomed a fury of wind and water that the forecasters called Hurricane Matthew. It was headed their way.
Two years, two storms
As residents returned to their homes after Matthew, many encountered flood damage that felt uncannily familiar. Just 12 months earlier, the state had withstood historic rains that drowned the Lowcountry and Midlands, then left millions of gallons of water stagnating along the coast.
Hurricane Matthew’s track and timing made it less devastating to South Carolina than originally feared, but North Carolina incurred more than $1.5 billion in damages and 26 deaths from the storm.
“We hadn’t had a big storm in a while in South Carolina,” says Mary Conley, The Nature Conservancy’s southeast director of marine conservation. “A flood and a hurricane back-to-back have returned a reality to our awareness and preparedness.”
We all hope for calm waters and clear skies. When the next big storm hits, though, your support will have helped our most vulnerable communities to prepare.
Mary Conley, The Nature Conservancy’s southeast director of marine conservation, helps install an oyster reef off Goldbug Island near Mt. Pleasant, SC. © Joy Brown / TNC
A tradition of land conservation
The Conservancy’s first steps toward coastal and storm resilience mirrored our overall conservation strategy: protect the land. Preserving barrier islands limits new risk from additional construction, while protecting forested floodplains gives rising waters a place to go.
LAND PROTECTION CASE STUDY: Botany Island, 1987
The Conservancy’s first conservation easement in South Carolina was on Botany Island, 30 years ago. This barrier island lies southwest of Charleston. It protects the mainland by slowing wave energy from coastal storms, is a nesting site for sea turtles and is home to blue herons and bald eagles.
LAND PROTECTION CASE STUDY: Waccamaw River Tract, 2015
While the Waccamaw River brings beauty, culture and tourism to the City of Conway’s downtown, it also brings the risk of floods. In 2015, the Conservancy helped Conway mitigate that danger by protecting 494 acres of floodplain forest directly across from the city’s Riverwalk. During the October 2015 flood, the property absorbed an estimated 700 million gallons of water.
Waccamaw River Tract © Melissa Strickland/Lisa Sparer / TNC
getting our toes wet
While land conservation is an important step in mitigating storm risk, land itself can be threatened – by erosion – if it is stripped of its coastal defenses.
In a storm, oyster reefs help blunt damage from angry waves, while healthy salt marshes absorb storm surge. Under normal conditions, sand and mud naturally build up behind shoreline reefs, restoring eroded coastline and encouraging the growth of stabilizing marsh grasses.
COASTAL DEFENSE CASE STUDY: Goldbug Island Reef, 2016
Goldbug Island near Mt. Pleasant, SC, suffers from heavy erosion due to boat wakes and rising tides. The Conservancy stepped in to stabilize this important coastline by constructing a 240-foot oyster reef in April 2016, with the help of 170 volunteers. Tests show strong sediment buildup behind the reef, as well as oysters already three inches long!
Goldbug Island reef construction © Emily Kaufman / TNC
COASTAL DEFENSE CASE STUDY: Botany Island Reef, 2017
While Botany Island is protected by a conservation easement, it still experiences erosion from waves and river discharge. The Conservancy recently was awarded $15,000 from energy-holding company SCANA to install a 50-foot oyster reef near the island’s lodge.
FORGING NEW CONNECTIONS
The Conservancy has spent years piloting and evaluating the impact of natural defenses against costal storms and flooding. The next step was to scale up those efforts by getting that data into the hands of town planners.
COMMUNITY RESILIENCE CASE STUDY: North Coast Resilience Project, 2016
Coastal communities in Horry and Georgetown counties were hit with severe flooding from both the October 2015 flood and Hurricane Matthew. Their increased risk made the area ripe to join a multi-state Conservancy pilot study of natural threats and defenses. The program launched with a summit in September 2016 that encouraged town planners to define risks, learn to use advanced mapping tools and consider how nature can protect their communities.
A NEW WAY FORWARD
For more than 30 years, Conservancy supporters have led the way in protecting our state’s most beautiful and critical places. Thanks to you, that legacy now also is defending our coasts from future floods and storms.
Goldbug Island reef at sunrise © Joy Brown / TNC