South Carolina's coast is rapidly developing but there are no dedicated coastal acidification monitoring programs in the state. pH data is collected by several academic and government funded sites and could be used in the near future to determine the state of acidification across South Carolina waters. Like other estuaries, marsh habitats and tidal creeks can have extremely high carbon dioxide content and low pH as a function of biological activity. Nevertheless, shifts in these extremes could impact South Carolina's culturally and economically important coastal resources.
Research and Partnerships Around South Carolina
Impacts to Organisms
OYSTERS AND CLAMS: There has been little research to evaluate potential impacts on South Carolina Oyster and clam populations. The pH in marsh habitats is frequently well below the pH documented to have significant effects on female reproduction (pH <7.1). Research suggests large pH fluctuations do not necessarily protect organisms from acidification. Research evaluating the impacts of high CO2 and insecticides on clams and oysters found higher larval clam mortality in high CO2 conditions than with the insecticide alone.
SHRIMP AND BLUE CRABS: Studies of blue crabs in other states have shown that acidified conditions do not affect juvenile crab food consumption or growth, but that there may be impacts on larval development. There are no studies of acidification effects on species of shrimp commonly found in South Carolina, but northern shrimp show greater impacts from increased temperature than decreased pH.
COLD-WATER CORAL: Cold-water corals can be found in deep waters off the coast of South Carolina. Large reefs of Lophelia were recently discovered 160 miles offshore of Charleston. Studies of this species from other regions show high variability in how calcification responds to low pH conditions. Though corals may still be able to calcify, there may be risks of acidification to the whole reef framework.
FISH: Economically important species, such as cobia, only show effects in extreme conditions. Similarly, scup does not show the effects of high CO2 conditions on their growth or survivability. Larval fish could be more susceptible, with research showing reduced survival and growth in silversides.
ACE BASIN AND NORTH INLET-WINYAH BAY: These two estuarine sites are part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) with ongoing water quality sampling programs and pH measurements. The NERRS data can be accessed here.
LONG BAY AND MURRELL'S INLET: For almost 12 years, weather quality pH, temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen have been collected throughout the coastal marshes of Horry County, SC and at piers up and down Long Bay. In collaboration with Coastal Carolina University, SOCAN undertook research in February 2022 to assess acidification in SC.
ECOA: The East Coast Ocean Acidification (ECOA) cruise (formerly the Gulf of Mexico and East Coast Carbon Cruise) passes by once every 3 to 4 years with a transect off the South Carolina coast. The research cruise is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Ocean Acidification Program.
OYSTER HARVESTING: Oyster landings increased seven-fold in South Carolina between 2007 and 2016 with the state accounting for a large portion of the oyster production in the South Atlantic Region. Due to a 2014 moratorium on oyster seed imports from states north, nearly all oyster seed for South Carolina oyster mariculture comes from a single hatchery. There is evidence that other species of oysters can be bred to be more resilient to acidification.
OYSTER RESTORATION: Organized oyster restoration efforts in South Carolina began in 2001. These efforts place bags of oyster shells along shorelines that attract oyster larvae to settle on them. Research in the Chesapeake Bay shows these restoration efforts can help buffer against low pH conditions.
SOCIAL VULNERABILITY: South Carolina's social vulnerability of shellfisheries to acidification is considered medium because of the sensitivity of harvested species, poorly buffered rivers and localized potential for acidification, and low adaptation capacity.
Cultural Heritage Partnerships and Outreach
The Gullah/GeeChee Nation and The Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which stretch from Jacksonville, NC to Jacksonville, FL, extends through most of the SOCAN region. The South Carolina Sea Islands are rich in Gullah/GeeChee community and history. SOCAN frequently collaborates with Queen Quet Marquetta Goodwine, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation on funding proposals and stakeholder needs, as well as outreach.
Recently, Queen Quet, a member of SOCAN's Stakeholder Working Group, and former Corridor Commission member, was awarded a NOAA Education Minigrant to develop educational materials on acidification in coastal waters. These materials are free for public use and can be downloaded here.
The stakeholder connection and partnerships with the Gullah/GeeChee provide important important economic, societal, and citizen science information to SECOORA, SOCAN, and SCDRP. The Gullah/Geechee have also developed their own Acidification Action Plan based on the Ocean Acidification Alliance principals and are a dedicated to preserving the coastal zone.
Additionally, representatives from the Gullah/GeeChee Cultural Heritage Corridor collaborate on other SECOORA affiliated programs, such as the Southeast and Caribbean Disaster Resiliency Program (SCDRP). The Gullah/Geechee community has farmed and harvested shellfish in SC waters for almost 200 years and are still champions of wetland protection, pollution and acidification mitigation, and natural resource restoration.