South Carolina

Myrtle Beach town hall meeting addresses climate change and rising sea levels

A rising sea level, beach erosion, more intense storms, drainage and water quality issues are some of the problems impacting the coast because of climate change, experts said.

While the affects of climate change reach around the globe, initiatives are being created at local levels as leaders, organizers and residents gather together to bring awareness and construct ways to tackle the issues that stem from them.

A town hall meeting event that started Saturday morning and spanned the afternoon at Ripley’s Aquarium at Broadway at Beach was held to focus on the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels on coastal communities to educate the public and talk about solutions.

“The potential impacts in South Carolina can be quite dramatic,” said Dr. Paul Gayes, directer of Coastal Carolina University’s School of Coastal and Marine Systems Science.

A panel of experts and officials that included CCU, Medical University of South Carolina, Allen University, other scientists, state and local aquarium officials, as well as other state and local leaders, spoke and gave presentations on the issue before a crowd of roughly 40 people.

Attendee Mary Schneider, who is a coordinator for the South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts organization in the Pawleys Island and Litchfield area, said several concerns led her to come to the event.

“I’m very interested in not only what it’s (rising sea levels) doing to the sea turtles, but also as a resident in the Lowcountry,” she said.

She voiced worries over a beach house that’s been in her family for many years, coastal insurance issues, as well as what would be left for future generations. She said she planned to spread the knowledge she learned at the event to others.

The South Carolina Aquarium, the Medical University of South Carolina, South Carolina ETV, Allen University and the U.S. Department of Energy all partnered to host the event at Ripley’s Aquarium, along with officials there, as part of the newly-formed Resilience Initiative for Coastal Education (RICE), which strives to bring awareness to the public about the issues of climate change and rising sea levels and their local impacts.

Gayes said issues stemming from climate change are already impacting the area, and more intense storm systems, like last fall’s historic flooding, are one of the side effects.

Beach re-nourishment has been done because of erosion, but it’s not a long-term fix, Gayes said.

“Beach re-nourishment is a mid-term solution to this long-term problem. The sea is going to continue to rise,” Gayes said.

There are coastal communities already struggling with the economics brought on by the expense of erosion, Gayes said.

As sea levels come up, some areas struggle with flooding, he said. It also impacts drainage systems, which can in turn affect water quality, Gayes said and added there is a complex web of issues here.

While thinking about tackling the issues from environmental, economic, energy, and defense standpoints is important, residents should make strides toward consuming less water and producing less carbon dioxide, Gayes said.

“Any ways we could improve the conservation of our resources would be very beneficial,” Gayes said.

He also said putting fewer infrastructures at risk along immediate coastlines and flood-prone areas would be effective in reducing costs when storms hit.

Local fisheries are also plagued with issues, according to Melvin Bell, Director of fisheries management with the S.C. DNR.

Albert George, II, Director of Conservation at the S.C. Aquarium in Charleston, said local understanding of the issues is key as well as streamlining communication regionally among leaders and residents to preserve and protect the coasts.

“I’m a Lowcountry product. I’m from this part of the world. I have two sons, and it’s my hope that their sons will enjoy this thing called the South Carolina coast and the Lowcountry for generations to come,” he said.

Panel moderator, Kevin Mills, president and CEO of the S. C. Aquarium, said Charleston saw 37 king tides last year, and 30 years ago five per year was the norm.

“Fast forward another 30 years, and we anticipate there will be 180 king tide events in Charleston. That’s every other day. It would be the new norm. So when does the nuisance become the sounding alarm,” he said.

Sea level rising threatens salt marshes, residents, including those in lower-income areas, wildlife, billions in real estate, tourism, unique culture, industries and the prospect of future industries, Mills said.

“I think rising sea levels are being ignored in a lot of places. … Our shores are taking a beating. People are moving inland because the ocean is rising. There’s just no getting around it,” said event attendee Berni Bader, who was there with her husband Chuck Bader.

The couple lives in the Pawleys Island area, and were once active in an organization that protests off shore drilling. They were there to learn more about changing levels of the ocean and the impacts on the Grand Strand.

A similar town hall event was held in Charleston in July, and another will be held in Savannah, Ga., in October as the group strives to educate coastal communities on an issue it says is crucial to our communities.

Elizabeth Townsend: 843-626-0217, @TSN_etownsend