In the Lowcountry, water is a way of life. It is a part of who we are and what we do. Our waterways support vital ecosystems, marine species, recreational activities and businesses. We all depend on clean water. As a maritime agency, SC Ports Authority relies on our waters to move cargo and support 1 in 10 jobs in the state.
SC Ports is committed to protecting and enhancing the health of South Carolina waterways. The Port is working to improve water quality, restore saltwater marshes and support marine ecosystems. These efforts represent a long-term commitment by SC Ports to ensure healthy waters for future generations of South Carolinians.
Drum Island restoration
SC Ports Authority created 22 acres of salt marsh in the middle of Charleston Harbor, fulfilling its environmental commitment related to the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal by reverting land on the southern end of Drum Island back into salt marsh.
Photo credit: English Purcell/SC Ports
More than 100,000 native species of marsh vegetation were planted to restore the area to its natural state. The resulting salt marsh improves water quality, supports surrounding ecosystems, and provides a nursery habitat for juvenile fish species and other marine life.
“Anyone walking or biking the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge can watch these plants grow over time,” SC Ports’ Permitting Manager Mark Messersmith said. “The restoration of this salt marsh is significant to the Charleston Harbor watershed and is an important environmental commitment of the Port.”
The native spartina plants have grown significantly since planting in summer 2019. The project will be monitored for at least 3 years. This restoration effort has restored Drum Island as an incredibly important ecosystem for Charleston Harbor.
Many species of birds, fish and other marine life are now thriving on the island, which is situated under the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston, S.C. Great egrets, snowy egrets, blue herons, white ibises, kingfishers, pelicans and fiddler crabs can be seen feeding daily on the island.
SC Ports has participated in the creation of 12 acres of new oyster beds around Charleston Harbor. A recent partnership with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources created an oyster bed on the eastern side of Drum Island within Charleston Harbor.
Oyster reefs are incredibly beneficial to our waterways. They provide habitat structure for small fish; protect and stabilize our shorelines; and greatly improve our water quality by filtering up to two gallons of water per hour per oyster. As an owner of vast amounts of shoreline in Charleston Harbor, SC Ports looks for opportunities to partner with others to further oyster restoration efforts in the future.
SC Ports’ stormwater ponds and best management practices at Wando Welch Terminal captures runoff from rain, and the Port’s stormwater management system removes pollutants from the water before it reaches the Wando River. This effort reduces the amount of sediment and impurities flowing into our waterways.
SC Ports is helping to monitor water quality in our waterways by contributing to the Charleston Waterkeeper’s bacteria monitoring efforts. SC Ports also contributes funds for the collection of water quality data through the Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester Council of Governments.
SC Ports’ environmental management systems prevent spills from occurring in the first place, as well as contain any spills if they do occur, helping to ensure contaminants do not enter our waters.
Supporting Operation Clean Sweep
SC Ports supports Operation Clean Sweep, a global commitment to ensure all handling of synthetic resins involves environmental stewardship and good housekeeping to protecting our waterways and environment.
SC Ports supports Operation Clean Sweep, encourages appropriate customers to join Operation Clean Sweep, and practices Operation Clean Sweep’s principles, including working with customers to ensure best management practices related to handling plastic cargo. SC Ports also interacts regularly with PLASTICS through webinars and conferences for educational purposes.
Protecting marine mammals
SC Ports supports research to help marine mammals thrive in area waterways. The Port funded a research study with the Medical University of South Carolina and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine any potential contaminate uptake in dolphins in Charleston Harbor. The Port also funded research in the mid-2000s to determine the migration pattern of right whales. This five-year study with Wildlife Trust provided aerial surveys to contribute to the knowledge base of North Atlantic right whales’ behavior, locations and population status. This information can prevent the overlap of whale migration patterns and ship routes, helping this endangered species to maintain and grow populations over time.
These efforts were done as part of environmental commitments related to the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project.
Managing dredge material
SC Ports implemented a sediment suspension system at Columbus Street Terminal, which reduces the amount of sediment sitting near the terminal on the harbor floor. This system minimizes the frequency of dredging and the amount of dredge material moved out of the system. By allowing sediments to remain and disperse within the harbor, SC Ports is supporting national efforts in regional sediment management, which strive to maintain or enhance the natural exchange of sediment within a watershed.