Sharon & Dick Stewart: Supporting the Sound

Sharon & Dick Stewart

SUPPORTING THE SOUND

story by WENDY NILSEN POLLITZER            photos by SvG PHOTOGRAPHY

Front: Grandkids, Alex and Drew Blum Back (l to r): Son-in-law Andy Blum, Dick Stewart, Daughter Leigh Blum, and Sharon Stewart

Port Royal Sound Foundation Announces Inaugural Research Grant Request for Proposals and gives long-deserved naming recognition to Sharon and Dick Stewart.

We live in the area I like to call the “Georgia bite,” also known to most or all of you as the Lowcountry. Using a bit of imagination, a map of the southern East Coast looks like a shark took a great big bite out of the southern tip of South Carolina, coastal Georgia, and the northern part of Florida, hence the nickname. It is also the area where the most water rushes in twice daily, giving the area the highest tides on the East Coast.

Right smack dab in the middle of that bite is the magnificent and pristine Port Royal Sound. An estuary defined by exceptionally high tides and its unique geology, the Port Royal Sound is a vast expanse of salt marsh and marine habitat. Its resources are critical to the ebb and flow of the barrier island ecology…you know…those islands that protect the mainland (us) from storms and hurricanes, the marsh that is a habitat to so many species that feed us, the small organisms that naturally filter the waters of the rivers and creeks that make up the Sound. It all works together you see. The spartina grass grows majestically in the spring and summer to feed aquatic life swimming through its creeks. As the grass dies in the autumn and winter, it becomes habitat and nourishment for countless species hiding from prey. Some of the brown grass floats to the beach to collect sand and form natural dunes that protect the maritime forest from erosion. And we can all be thankful for that because those barrier islands dot our coast and defend our Sea Islands from disaster.

So, yes, the Port Royal Sound is worth saving. But is it lost? Not yet. Sharon and Dick Stewart understand that could be a possibility, however. With the rising population in Beaufort County, the Stewarts recognize that more education and research should be provided to those that live here. Sharon grew up in Savannah, and Dick in Bluffton and Beaufort. They both have a profound respect for the waterways that surround home and the environmental impacts of invasive species, pollution, and waste. Sharon’s brother was a commercial shrimper, so they also know the importance of the economic and cultural benefits of our beloved coast.

They took a trip to the Chesapeake Bay years ago and started to compare the two similar East Coast ecosystems. The Bay area spent millions of dollars restoring the coastal estuary to sustain its seafood industry, then millions more to preserve it. Though we are not anywhere near needing to restore the Port Royal Sound, we must act now to preserve the delicate balance of its biodiversity.

Recognizing that we live in a unique, high-saline ecosystem with large sea turtles, rays, and other saltwater species found miles inland from the ocean, the forward-thinking Stewarts and the Port Royal Sound Foundation (PRSF) began collaborative initiatives toward preservation. Sharon and Dick, along with their daughter Leigh and son-in-law Andy, have proposed funding for Port Royal Sound education and research so that their grandchildren, Alex and Drew, may continue to enjoy the pristine waterway as we do today.

In 2014, the PRSF opened the Maritime Center, a museum and aquarium that welcomes thousands of visitors and school children annually to learn about the Port Royal Sound. The former Lemon Island property sat vacant for over six years, and was purchased and donated to the Foundation by the Stewarts — to create an educational resource and destination for the community and its visitors. The Foundation will formally recognize and thank Sharon and Dick Stewart for their extraordinary generosity by announcing the renaming of its museum, the Sharon and Dick Stewart Maritime Center.

“Dick and Sharon’s love for our beautiful Lowcountry environment, combined with their dedication to our community is what led us to where we are today. They have always understood the vital role that this unique body of water plays. Guided by their vision, the Port Royal Sound Foundation has educated tens of thousands of visitors, created strong strategic partnerships, and is now embarking on important research that will better inform us about the health of the Sound. We are beyond grateful for the Stewart’s ongoing devotion to the Foundation and the greater good of the community,” says Jody Hayward, Executive Director of PRSF.

The mission of the Port Royal Sound Foundation – to preserve the Port Royal Sound for the environmental, cultural, and economic well-being of our area – is important to the Stewart family.

“We feel a strong sense of responsibility to be proactive citizens of Beaufort by supporting and contributing to organizations that invest in economic development through ecological, educational, and historic initiatives,” says Dick Stewart.

The more knowledge we have of the Sound and the life within it, the better we can take action to protect it. Recently, the Foundation announced its new grants program and the opening of its Request for Proposals (RFP). This will allow the Foundation to support and partner with researchers developing additional information on the waters of the Port Royal Sound; lands and watersheds around the Sound; culture and history of the Port Royal Sound area; and the lives of plants, animals, and humans — past and present — that are an important part of this special place. This area is a major economic driver with a rich cultural history — the largest expanse of salt marsh in the Southeast and largely understudied. All research supports the PRSF mission to preserve the Port Royal Sound for the environmental, cultural, and economic well-being of our area. One role of PRSF is to provide direct or matching funding to researchers and to assist in convening parties interested in providing funding for research.

“In 10 years, I would love to see a fully functioning maritime center with a research center, classrooms, and dormitories for all to study and enjoy,” smiles Sharon, as she explains her vision of the new grants program.

Thank you to Sharon and Dick Stewart and the Port Royal Sound Foundation for making this possible. The children of the Lowcountry will eventually thank you too.

Request For Proposal Information:

The more knowledge, awareness, and appreciation we have of the Sound and the life within it, the better we can take action to protect it. PRSF looks forward to growing our grants funding program and further facilitating this expansion of our knowledge in the future.

Eligible organizations and researchers shall be engaged in research, education, or conservation, or shall demonstrate their ability to conduct research of the nature being proposed. Applicants are preferred who are associated with public agencies, educational institutions, or non-profit entities.

Guidelines for proposals are available at www.PortRoyalSoundFoundation.org/RFP. Proposals will be due by 5 PM by 12/31/21. Questions regarding this RFP can be directed to grants@portroyalsoundfoundation.org. More information about PRSF can be found at portroyalsoundfoundation.org.

Award notification is projected for end of March 2022 with funds potentially available by May 2022. The PRSF Research Committee consists of individuals with broad and diverse backgrounds in research, education, conservation, and management. This committee will be charged with review, evaluation, and ranking of each proposal. Outside experts may also be consulted for review.

At A Glance

Calendar

From creature feedings to nature hikes, we’ve got exciting events for the whole family to enjoy.

Directions

We are centrally located in Beaufort County, where S.C. 170 crosses the Chechessee River. Just take the right exit from either direction at the bridge.

Field Trips

Fun for all ages, field trips enhance students’ classroom curriculum and gives them a unique understanding of our coastal environment.

Volunteer

Truly the heart of our Foundation, volunteering is the perfect way to learn more about what makes the Sound so important to us.

Ways to Give

Help us make a more profound impact for generations to come, not only for the Sound but for our community too!

Text "Happy" to 243725 to donate $7.00 in honor of the Maritime Center turning 7!
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