Port Royal Sound, Lowcountry’s ‘bathtub,’ needs protection. More research is in the works
BY KARL PUCKETT UPDATED DECEMBER 22, 2021 8:51 AM
The Port Royal Sound Foundation is pushing to conduct more research on the inland sea that serves as the Lowcountry’s “bathtub,” given its vital role renewing the coastline and salt marshes where land and water meet and producing a “rich soup” of nutrients. The foundation is also honoring two of its biggest supporters by renaming the maritime center along S.C. 170 where the highway crosses the Chechessee River. Both developments were announced at the center Monday. The museum and education facilities are now the Dick and Sharon Stewart Maritime Center. The couple donated the land on which the center opened in 2014. The Stewarts also are helping to fund an initiative to solicit and pay for research proposals in the Port Royal Sound.
“This research push will drive more intellectual activity and knowledge about the Sound so we’ll be able to maintain its health,” said Jody Hayward, the organization’s executive director. The sound, the deepest natural harbor of the East Coast, is an inland sea. Its rivers and creeks are the salty fingers of the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean channel between Beaufort and Hilton Head Island feeds vast expanses of salt marsh,and stretches as far inland as Jasper County. It contains almost half of South Carolina’s salt marshes. And tidal fluctuations of up to almost 10 feet carry in nutrients and carry away pollutants. “We’ve got to take care of our Sound,” Hayward said. “It’s our bathtub.” The Port Royal Sound Foundation’s mission is to preserve the 1,600 square-mile Port Royal Sound, education and research. The Stewarts are chipping in at least $20,000 for the research effort this year and have contributed $100,000 to past research efforts. The foundation is now advertising for research proposals.
“I’d like to know what’s down there,” said Dick Stewart, referring to the Sound. Stewart is a Beaufort businessman who serves as treasurer of the Port Royal Sound Foundation’s board. Protecting the Sound and salt marshes are critical if you want to fight global warming, Stewart said. He noted that salt marshes sequester carbon more effectively than other environments. And the daily tides provide a nutritious and “rich soup” that bathes everything, including oysters, crabs and shrimp, Stewart said. The sound also serves as a nursery for many species, including apex predators such as great white sharks.
“We believe that education and involvement are important to preserve what we do have,” Sharon Stewart said. Sharon Stewart said the couple became interested in preserving Port Royal Sound after seeing massive efforts to restore Chesapeake Bay. In 2014, the Foundation opened the Maritime Center, a museum and aquarium that welcomes visitors and school children to learn about the Port Royal Sound. The property was purchased by the Stewarts and donated to the Foundation. The center was renamed in honor of the Stewarts because “basically, we wouldn’t be here without them,” Hayward said.
This story was originally published December 21, 2021 11:45 AM. KARL PUCKETT 843-256-3420 Karl Puckett covers the city of Beaufort, town of Port Royal and other communities north of the Broad River for The Beaufort Gazette and Island Packet. The Minnesota native also has worked at newspapers in his home state, Alaska, Wisconsin and Montana.
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