Search Santee Cooper
Power Source
Summer 2017

................

South Carolina Notable State

................

All Stories From The CEO News Source Download PDF Past Issues
The serene view from the shore of Waties Island.
The serene view from the shore of Waties Island.

More Than Meets The Island

When you enter the gate onto Waties Island, it feels as if you have taken a step back in time. Back to a time when life was slow and quiet and untouched by the sometimes-harsh realities of progress.

In actuality, Waties is advanced in ways that do not quickly catch your eye. Through daily research, this barrier island is providing vital statistics and education that can help future generations better understand and combat the negative side effects of growth, development and progress. That data is being used to discover solutions for change that will impact the quality of life for many coastal and marine species.     

One of the few undeveloped barrier islands on the South Carolina coast, Waties is a nature preserve left in trust by the Tilghman Boyce family to the Coastal Educational Foundation.  It is protected by the Nature Conservancy, which guarantees it remains an undeveloped property.

“It was the wish of Anne Tilghman Boyce and her family that the property entrusted to us be left in essentially its natural form to be used for educational and research purposes. It is our job to ensure that it remains just that,” said W. Stovall Witte Jr., chief executive officer of the Coastal Educational Foundation.

Coastal Carolina posts signs and gates to let visitors know what areas are restricted and protected.
Coastal Carolina posts signs and gates to let visitors know what areas are restricted and protected.

Undeveloped in no way means unuseful. Waties is an island that educates.

“This property offers undeveloped ocean frontage, salt and fresh water marshes, as well as wooded areas,” said Michael Roberts, vice president for research and emerging initiatives at Coastal Carolina University (CCU). “It provides vital research opportunities for our marine science program as well as students studying biology, archeology and many other fields.”

Students and lecturers alike come to the island to learn. One of the lecturers, George Boneillo, is in marine science at CCU. During visits, Boneillo and his students regularly take water samples from the island creeks to test for phytoplankton and plastics. Phytoplankton are single-celled microorganisms at the base of the food chain. As Boneillo twisted the lid on a liter size jar of water he retrieved as a sample from under the causeway bridge, he explained how 1 liter can hold anywhere from 50 to 100 pieces of plastic microthreads.

“Mussels and oysters are filter feeders, and filter phytoplankton out of the water. The problem is that microplastics are the same size as some species of phytoplankton,” said Boneillo.  “Therefore, the mussels and oysters are actually filtering the plastics out of the water. We are also looking at fish and finding plastics in their stomachs.”

Clockwise from left: Eric Rosch enjoys hanging out with the crabs who call the island home. George Boneillo examines oysters in the marsh area and explores the effects of plastic micro threads on their reproduction. This liter size sample collected from the water running under the causeway bridge contains plastics not visible to the human eye.
Clockwise from left: Eric Rosch enjoys hanging out with the crabs who call the island home. George Boneillo examines oysters in the marsh area and explores the effects of plastic micro threads on their reproduction. This liter size sample collected from the water running under the causeway bridge contains plastics not visible to the human eye.
Clockwise from left: Eric Rosch enjoys hanging out with the crabs who call the island home. George Boneillo examines oysters in the marsh area and explores the effects of plastic micro threads on their reproduction. This liter size sample collected from the water running under the causeway bridge contains plastics not visible to the human eye.
Clockwise from left: Eric Rosch enjoys hanging out with the crabs who call the island home. George Boneillo examines oysters in the marsh area and explores the effects of plastic micro threads on their reproduction. This liter size sample collected from the water running under the causeway bridge contains plastics not visible to the human eye.

Those plastic particles can not only clog the fish’s stomach, but can also act as a mechanism to accumulate toxins in the fish. We then eat those fish or shellfish and put those ingested or filtered plastic threads into our own bodies. The trash we create comes back to us in ways we may never realize or consider.

Walking around the island, plastics in different stages of decay are visible. Some are small and indistinguishable. Other pieces are larger, like partial bait buckets. Boneillo explained that as the plastics get exposed to the elements, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces. He said they believe many tiny pieces, or microthreads of plastics found, come from sources like dishwashers and washing machines. He said the most they have found in 1 liter of water taken from the island is 500 microthreads.

Looking across the marsh on Waties, areas are marked where student projects are ongoing. They often mark the research area to make sure the samples they retrieve are really comparing “apples to apples.” Students observe and learn about the habits and habitats of crabs, oysters, mussels, fish and other crustaceans and marine life that all survive and even thrive on Waties.

Eric Rosch is a lecturer at CCU and is also a frequent visitor on the island. He brings students here for their marine biology labs and is a very crabby guy, studying the habits of the various crabs on the island with his students. Walking through the marsh pluff mud, Rosch pointed out different colors, sizes and other markings on sand, red and marsh crabs. Some have evenly sized claws and some do not. A particular type of male crab, for instance, can use his larger claw as protection and will even clip that claw off and fling it away to outsmart a predator.

The beauty of Waties can take your breath away and renew your spirit.
The beauty of Waties can take your breath away and renew your spirit.

Other marine species, like oysters, clean up the waters in which they live. “That bed of oysters,” Rosch said, pointing to a large cluster of them in the creek, “is keeping the surrounding water cleaner by siphoning or sucking in water, along with the particles in the water that make it look cloudy. They can suck in as much as 1 to 2 gallons of water per hour.”

Rosch went on to say that the plastic microthreads found in water samples make their way into the ecosystem and have a diminishing effect on oyster reproduction. This revelation serves as a reminder that every single piece of trash can leave a lasting impact.

Lecturers and professors understand the value of the information they gather from Waties. The CCU students who have the opportunity to conduct research also appreciate what they learn at Waites. They seek to take the information they gather and use it to make changes that impact the future. Both Rosch and Boneillo said they use the gathered information to create ideas and discover new ways to improve marine and beach health everywhere. Some students and educators even get the opportunity to present their findings and recommendations at conferences across the United States.

Emily Asp is a CCU graduate student in the field of coastal marine and wetland studies. She is spending time at Waties to specifically observe sea turtles and their habits. Her concentration is on the impact that light, even soft or ambient light, has on the sea turtles’ navigation. Light can affect the pregnant female turtles who return to the same area where they were born to look for a dark, quiet place to nest. It can also have an effect on the newly hatched offspring that follow the brightest light, which should be the moon reflecting off the water or white crests of the ocean waves, to lead them to the ocean.

“I have seen 20 nests emerge and make their way to the ocean,” Asp said. “Each nest we see can have anywhere from 100 to 130 eggs and those small hatchlings face hazards from holes in the sand, to predators and artificial light, as they try to navigate their way to the sea.”

Asp calls Massachusetts home but has traveled as far as Costa Rica to do research on different  types of turtles. She said the opportunity to do research at Waties is a chance of a lifetime and accessibility makes it even easier.

Clockwise from top right: Demusz and Boneillo retrieve pieces of a damaged dock that washed up onto Waties’ shore courtesy of the moving tide. Emily Asp explained how the circle of life works as the sea turtle carcass has become a meal for crabs. Rosch and Barbara and Steve Demusz examine the remains of a sea turtle found in the dunes. The volunteers will document this turtle’s size, location and other information to aid in turtle research.
Clockwise from top right: Demusz and Boneillo retrieve pieces of a damaged dock that washed up onto Waties’ shore courtesy of the moving tide. Emily Asp explained how the circle of life works as the sea turtle carcass has become a meal for crabs. Rosch and Barbara and Steve Demusz examine the remains of a sea turtle found in the dunes. The volunteers will document this turtle’s size, location and other information to aid in turtle research.
Clockwise from top right: Demusz and Boneillo retrieve pieces of a damaged dock that washed up onto Waties’ shore courtesy of the moving tide. Emily Asp explained how the circle of life works as the sea turtle carcass has become a meal for crabs. Rosch and Barbara and Steve Demusz examine the remains of a sea turtle found in the dunes. The volunteers will document this turtle’s size, location and other information to aid in turtle research.
Clockwise from top right: Demusz and Boneillo retrieve pieces of a damaged dock that washed up onto Waties’ shore courtesy of the moving tide. Emily Asp explained how the circle of life works as the sea turtle carcass has become a meal for crabs. Rosch and Barbara and Steve Demusz examine the remains of a sea turtle found in the dunes. The volunteers will document this turtle’s size, location and other information to aid in turtle research.

Barbara and Steve Demusz are neither lecturers nor students. They are two of the more than 50 volunteers who walk the beaches of Waties Island every day from May through October – as they have done for 12 years. Barbara and Steve are specifically looking for signs of sea turtle nests. They also work to make sure any nests they find are not disturbed or tampered with.

These volunteers also do their share of beach cleanup. They see firsthand the damage trash and other items left behind have on the species that inhabit the island. They have found everything from a bag of money to a full set of dentures during their daily treks.

“I found out about the opportunity to volunteer at an OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) class at Coastal Carolina University,” Barbara said. “We love the beach and have grown to love the turtles, and we enjoy the daily walk and just the pristine beauty of the beach here. We are happy to do our part to ensure it remains that way.”

Boneillo, graduate student Emily Asp and Roush walk through the marsh picking up what does not belong in this little slice of paradise.
Boneillo, graduate student Emily Asp and Roush walk through the marsh picking up what does not belong in this little slice of paradise.

And speaking of the beach, it is an amazing site at Waties. The beach seems wide for a barrier island, even at low tide. Sand dunes are majestic and from the land side are tall enough to completely obscure the view of the ocean. Signs of erosion from Hurricane Matthew however are still visible even as winds whip and carry sand back to those dunes, helping to rebuild them.

Even storms teach lessons on Waties Island. After Hurricane Matthew churned up the coast in October 2016, a grant was established and Waties is being used for testing and improving new technology for a project geared to improve flood modeling.

There’s a warmth and peace on the island itself. Combined with the helping hands that teach, nurture, gather information and help maintain this beautiful place, Waties is indeed a natural gem in South Carolina.

On Waites there are many different species of crabs. Students learn to spot the differences that make each unique. On Waites there are many different species of crabs. Students learn to spot the differences that make each unique. On Waites there are many different species of crabs. Students learn to spot the differences that make each unique. On Waites there are many different species of crabs. Students learn to spot the differences that make each unique.
On Waites there are many different species of crabs. Students learn to spot the differences that make each unique.