Priority Issues

Watershed and Water Quality Protection

It is projected that development of the North Inlet and Winyah Bay watersheds will expand as existing housing communities continue to build-out and new communities are scheduled for construction. As development grows, the amount of impervious surfaces, such as roof tops and roads, also increases. Impervious areas channel pollutants directly into water bodies without their being processed by first passing through the soil. This non-point source pollution from urban/suburban areas is now recognized as the primary threat to water quality in the United States. It is the goal of the NI-WB NERR to work with local stakeholders, including home owners, land developers, and municipal and county-level staff and officials to maintain the health of the North Inlet and Winyah Bay estuaries.

Conservation of Habitats and Species

Coastal and estuarine habitats provide homes to numerous species of plants and animals, help to protect against flooding, improve water quality, provide recreational opportunities, and support commercial fisheries and tourism. Direct impacts to habitats, such as land clearing for development and the filling of wetlands, are often highly visible and the consequent loss of habitat functions are easily recognized; however indirect impacts, such as those caused by an invasive species or storm water runoff, are often more inconspicuous but can have equally adverse impacts on habitats and the species that depend upon them. Habitat mapping and species monitoring programs provide information that is used to evaluate conservation and restoration issues within the reserve.

Invasive Species and Biodiversity

Invasive species are those whose introduction cause or are likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. After habitat loss, the major threat to endangered species is invasive species. In fact, invasive species may constitute the largest single threat to our ecosystem, our economy, and human health in the coastal region. The introduction and spread of non-native species can reduce biodiversity by out competing natives and by altering habitat suitability for associated species.

Climate Change & Sea Level Rise

Climate change and associated sea level rise will alter habitat distribution as temperature, precipitation, and tidal flooding regimes are affected, and the maintenance of critical habitat types is dependent upon our responses to a changing landscape.

Promoting Stewardship and Coastal Conservation Practices

A well informed community that is aware of and concerned about estuarine conservation issues is increasingly important as the residential population along the South Carolina coast continues to grow, and area tourism expands. Education and training programs are conducted for recreational and commercial resource users that emphasize the importance of habitat diversity and conservation, the potential threats of non-native invasive species, and watershed protection measures. Volunteers are trained and involved in long-term stewardship projects in the reserve and local community, and the reserve sponsors public short-term participation projects, such as beach and marsh sweeps. The quarterly reserve newsletter Estuaries Illustrated reports on projects and events that promote conservation.

NOAA National Estuarine Research Reserve System University of South Carolina Baruch Institute-USC Belle W. Baruch Foundation