PRS Research Symposium 2024

Local, state representatives worked to ensure health of local watershed

 OKATIE, South Carolina – More than 45 people representing 15 governmental and non-governmental organizations attended the Port Royal Sound Foundation’s (PRSF) Third Annual Research Symposium, held last month on the campus of the Maritime Center, and focused on the most important and unsung mission of the not-for-profit organization: research.

The sole purpose of the annual event was to convene a diverse and knowledgeable group of subject-matter experts to identify and define indicators for monitoring the health of the Port Royal Sound, the watershed that extends from Allendale to the Atlantic. “The Port Royal Sound is a living, breathing gem that surrounds us and it is our mission to watch over it, to conserve it, and protect it for ourselves and future generations,” says PRSF Research Coordinator, Courtney E. Kimmel, Ph.D., who convened the event.

Anyone who frequents Highway 170 in Okatie is familiar with the sight of the tower at the base of the Lemon Island Bridge, the landmark of the Maritime Center. And while tens of thousands of visitors have passed through its doors over the past 10 years, precious few understand what the tower – and Foundation – represent and are doing FOR the Port Royal Sound.

Kimmel, who has spent her career working in watersheds in the Chesapeake Bay and beyond, emphasizes the importance of the work that is being done locally to conserve the sound, and especially how it differs from work in other areas.

“Many waterfront communities are struggling with remediation, or cleaning up messes we created in the past,” Kimmel says. “We’re in the unique position of conservation and protection – maintaining what we have! That’s a rare and privileged position to be working from.”

With representatives present from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), SC Sea Grant, The Nature Conservancy, and the University of South Carolina at Beaufort (USCB) to name a few, the group held productive brainstorming sessions to develop a ‘health checklist’ of indicators that should be used by the Port Royal Sound Foundation to monitor and track the health of the sound and changes in the watershed.

“If you think of this in human terms, it’s like going to your primary care provider for a check-up,” Kimmel says. “You have to establish a baseline so you can monitor your health and work with your doctors if things appear to be off-kilter.”

Symposium participants split into small groups based on expertise, each tasked with developing a set of indicators that should be monitored for signs of change. The groups then developed recommendations for goals, data sources, and partners who can support PRSF in tracking these indicators.

“This truly was a meeting of the brightest minds to help ensure PRSF is watching the right things to conserve the watershed that is a crown jewel of the Lowcountry,” Kimmel says.

Kimmel presented the group’s work and next steps to the PRSF Executive Committee in late April, and has begun working with local, regional, and state partners to fine-tune and implement their plans. The goal is to develop these indicators into a data-driven tool that communicates the health of the watershed, illustrates changes, and helps prioritize the organization’s work, including grant funding.

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