A letter from Charleston Waterkeeper’s Andrew J. Wunderley

James Island Creek, photo by Mary Edna Fraser

James Island Creek, photo by Mary Edna Fraser

The Keeper’s Report

When fall sets in and the salt marsh turns a beautiful golden brown, it’s time to take a breath and reflect on what’s been done and what’s been left undone during the year. It’s a tradition I always anticipate because it nicely parallels the natural cycle of renewal beginning in our salt marsh. Taking stock of 2017, it’s one for ages.

Plastic pollution continues to be a problem in every one of our local waterways. We attacked it head on this year. First, we got the plastic industry lobbyists to butt out of our local communities when they tried to interfere with South Carolina’s long tradition of Home Rule. Then we set to work building a groundswell of support and awareness through partnerships with local artists, hosting a film screening of A Plastic Ocean, and organizing regular cleanups of your rivers and creeks.

Plastic litter isn’t the only problem our creeks and rivers face, high levels of bacteria mean that many are unsafe for swimming. For years, state environmental health officials ignored the problem. That’s why we started testing and reporting local water quality conditions—to keep you safe no matter whether you like to swim, paddle, or sail. And, now after 5 years of testing, 1000s of samples, 100s of water quality alerts, press reports, and several spin-off projects, that work is driving action by the state and local communities to clean up waterways like James Island Creek and Shem Creek.

That’s important because tidal creeks and wetlands bear the burden of polluted floodwater and aggressive development more than our larger rivers. They are the bellwethers for protecting our entire estuary and that’s why we focus our work in these dynamic systems. Local artist and activist Mary Edna Fraser once described our approach as restoring our estuary “creek by creek.” She’s right (and said it much better than I ever could).

Taking Mary Edna’s idea one step further, restoration also happens “local by local.” This year alone we mobilized more than 600 volunteers for cleanups, oyster reef builds, and water quality testing. Our Volunteer Corps helps locals renew their personal connection to our surrounding marsh and waterways. All it takes is a few hours and some wet, muddy boots.

A bit of perspective, the Volunteer Corp removed 14 tons of debris from your creeks and rivers this year. Most of it from New Market Creek and Filbin Creek—two urban tidal creek systems that still need our help but are no longer forgotten. Our volunteers also built two new oyster reefs in Wappoo Cut and filled 411 bags for future reef builds. Those projects create new habitat, protect your marshes from erosion, and will filter water for generations to come.

That work also renews our commitment to Charleston’s next generation of waterway leaders. Through partnerships with local schools like the College of Charleston and organizations like Earth Heart Growers and Youth 2 Ocean, we reached more than 900 local kids to teach stewardship for Charleston’s creeks and rivers through action.

There is much left unresolved and yet to do. We must defend our local communities from the plastic lobbyists again, protect our creeks and wetlands from aggressive development, and hold local and state authorities accountable for cleaning up local waterways. And, we’ll probably have to defend our coastline from the oil and gas industry again too.

As we renew our dedication, I am grateful for you. Your support lifts Charleston Waterkeeper up and empowers action for cleaner, healthier waterways. We need you now more than ever, get involved today: http://charlestonwaterkeeper.org/get-involved.

Thank you and best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!


Andrew J. Wunderley
Your Charleston Waterkeeper

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