In South Carolina, the Eastern oyster is an ecosystem “all-star.” It filters huge volumes of water, creates habitat for commercial and recreational fisheries, and is a local delicacy. Thriving oyster reefs serve as natural breakwaters protecting South Carolina’s fringing marshes from wave action and erosion. The loss of oyster reefs—whether caused by development, pollution, overharvest, disease, or sea level rise—accelerates coastal erosion and causes ecosystem health to decline. These impacts are especially apparent along the state’s heavily trafficked Intracoastal Waterway and its barrier islands, which historically have protected the mainland from the Atlantic’s waves and storms.
In response, the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve engaged community volunteers in a 2012 Collaborative Research project to restore vital oyster reefs and build coastal communities’ resilience to storms and sea level rise.