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Study Group: Creating a GIS-Based Siting Tool for Mariculture Site Selection

Request for Proposals

The South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium (Consortium) is seeking faculty and their students to team up with S.C. Sea Grant Consortium Program Specialists to form a research-student-specialist study group to identify data needs and create a GIS-based siting tool to facilitate the shellfish mariculture site selection process.

Teams from Consortium member institutions are invited to apply.

Full proposals are due by February 11, 2022.

Project Summary

This project aims to create an online GIS-based tool to facilitate the process of selecting an appropriate shellfish mariculture lease location in coastal South Carolina with the overall goal of supporting siting decisions that will bolster the healthy and sustainable growth of the South Carolina shellfish aquaculture industry. The tool will be used by shellfish mariculture industry entrants and current growers to successfully locate usable, environmentally- and economically-beneficial sites as they work through the regulatory process.

The Consortium has engaged with shellfish aquaculture stakeholders (shellfish growers, SCSGC Specialists, SCDNR, SCDHEC, shellfish researchers, etc.) to identify essential site selection factors broadly stated to encompass regulatory requirements, environmental factors, economic factors, and social aspects. Through this study, researchers will create a GIS-based siting tool to display identified data layer needs derived through the shellfish aquaculture stakeholder engagement. The Consortium and project team members will develop a demonstration workshop to share the finalized tool with stakeholders.

About the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium

The S.C. Sea Grant Consortium’s mission is to generate and provide science-based information on issues and opportunities to improve the social and economic well-being of our coastal residents while ensuring the optimal use and conservation of our marine and coastal natural resources.

The Consortium serves to support and share research, education, training, and advisory services in fields related to ocean and coastal resources. These program priorities align with the context of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Sea Grant College Program Strategic Plan and the Consortium’s FY18-23 Strategic Plan.

The Consortium enthusiastically supports projects that thoughtfully engage and are developed through collaboration with historically marginalized communities.

Strength in Partnerships

Proposals are invited from faculty and graduate student teams to be considered through a competitive proposal and external review process. The faculty member(s) and student(s) will form a Study Group with a Consortium Program Specialist to complete the project. Applicants will be faculty/student teams from Consortium member institutions. For this call, applicants will engage with the Shellfish Aquaculture Specialist, Sarah Pedigo, and others as appropriate as a member(s) of the Study Group to develop and submit their proposal. Specialist(s) will involve Sea Grant communications staff as needed. We encourage project proposals which can become part of the student’s honors thesis or capstone paper, or serve as an earned-credit internship.


In coastal South Carolina, shellfish mariculture largely pertains to culturing eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) and/or hard clam (Mercenaria spp.) in tidally influenced creeks and estuaries. The mariculture process involves leasing a portion of public water space through an interagency permitting agreement and deploying a species-specific gear type to grow the shellfish to a market size. The scale of the industry and volume of production in S.C. is relatively small in comparison to other Atlantic and Gulf coastal states.

With a burgeoning demand for local product the industry has potential to expand, though siting new leases and completing the permitting process have been identified by industry stakeholders as barriers that hinder expansion of the South Carolina shellfish aquaculture industry. When selecting a site for a proposed lease, growers must consider regulatory requirements, nearby property owners, other potential human use conflicts, biological and environmental parameters, and economic feasibility. Therefore, a tool that can integrate these multi-factor considerations will significantly reduce the burden and enhance equity for industry stakeholders.

Agencies within coastal states that have well-established mariculture industries often develop and host online map applications using spatially referenced data in the form of GIS analytical tools for industry stakeholders to evaluate locations that accommodate all factors under consideration (Example). When combined with on-site verification, the use of this type of spatial tool enhances the ability to locate potential sites before initiating regulatory processes to identify relative areas that are within regulatory boundaries, are economically feasible, environmentally sound, and limit social conflict.

In South Carolina, mariculture activities occurring within Critical Areas (coastal waters, tidelands, beaches, and beach/dune systems) must meet regulatory criteria set by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), and United States Army Corp of Engineers (USACE). Data regarding exclusionary and cautionary standards have been formatted into a map application by SCDNR for use by South Carolina shellfish aquaculture industry stakeholders.

Additional considerations for selecting a site within appropriate environmental, economic, and social boundaries are unable to be offered from a mariculture regulatory agencies’ purview and must be completed by the applicant based on individual needs. The lack of multi-perspective information to base site selection decisions increases uncertainty in operation feasibility, may exacerbate inequalities between those who have resources to hire consultants to assist in this process, and inevitably can hinder industry entrance.

Providing a basis of information for site selection through a user-friendly and readily accessible mapping tool will foster healthy and sustainable growth of the South Carolina shellfish aquaculture industry.


The key objectives for this research opportunity include:

  1. Phase 1 a: Engage with shellfish aquaculture industry stakeholders (shellfish growers, SCSGC Specialists, SCDNR, SCDHEC, shellfish researchers, Ace Basin NERR personnel, North Inlet NERR personnel, etc.) to identify specific data layers to be created. Essential site selection factors must consider regulatory requirements, environmental factors (e.g., biophysical and environmental impacts), economic feasibility, and social aspects (e.g., user conflicts and zoning ordinances). By engaging with industry stakeholders, specific data needs which will be formed into data layers within these categories will be identified.
  2. Phase 1 b: Conduct research to locate and compile data and associated metadata as identified through stakeholder engagement.
  3. Phase 2 a: Develop and test the GIS siting tool. The study group will develop an initial GIS siting tool that may incorporate existing data layers or integrate new layers based on stakeholder needs. The team will test the tool by assessing effectiveness and accuracy in selecting sites. Current and prospective industry stakeholders will be engaged to test and provide feedback for optimizing tool usage.
  4. Phase 2 b: Develop public-facing GIS tool and associated report. Report sections must include 1) display data and metadata sources as well as data layer definitions, 2) a summary guide for users on how to utilize the tool, and 3) a data management and maintenance plan for the tool. The PI(s) will collaborate with Consortium extension specialists to organize a demonstration workshop at the end of the project to share the finalized tool with stakeholders.

Preparation of Proposals

Proposals should be detailed but not to exceed 10 pages as detailed in the Outline for Study Group Proposals, and must include the faculty, affiliation, and interest in the project, and the graduate student member(s) and their interest and qualification; a discussion of the proposed approach to the project; and a budget form and budget justification. Budget should be used to support student time, travel, and workshop materials.

Indirect costs (IDCs) are not allowable as the projects are supported by Sea Grant funding, but they can be used to meet the match requirement. The budget must include a 50% match in time, supplies, salaries, or IDCs, or a combination of some or all.

Available Funding

Up to $35,000 is available for this project. Student support is encouraged, as well as compensation for stakeholders’ time.

The study group will engage the shellfish industry stakeholders and partners during both phases to determine any formative adjustments that will be made for completion of Phase 2. A non-federal match of 50% is required.

Electronic Submission of Full Proposals

The Consortium requires electronic submission of proposals. Proposals should be submitted through the eSeaGrant research and fellowships management system.

At least one week prior to the submission deadline, you will need to register in the eSeaGrant research and fellowships management system in order to receive login credentials. Please click on the “Register” tab to create an account. As soon as registration is complete, you should receive a “Welcome” email with your login credentials. If you do not receive a “Welcome” email, please contact Susannah Sheldon at or 843-953-2083.

Indirect Costs on Sea Grant-Funded Projects

In the spirit of cooperation among Consortium member institutions, and to maximum benefit from Sea Grant funds, it is the long-standing policy of the Consortium Board of Directors not to use Sea Grant funds to pay indirect costs to its member institutions; however, indirect costs may be used to satisfy the National Sea Grant College Program’s 50% matching fund requirement.

Proposal Timeline

  • Full Proposals Due at Consortium Office, Signed and Endorsed – February 11, 2022
  • Notification of successful proposals – March 11, 2022
  • Start Date for Project – April 8, 2022
  • Phase 1 Progress Report due – September 9, 2022
  • Phase 2 Final Report due – January 10, 2023


Questions and discussion about individual projects should be addressed to one of the individuals listed below:

Sarah Pedigo, Shellfish Aquaculture Specialist,

Matt Gorstein, Asst. Director for Development and Extension,

Graham Gaines, Living Marine Resources Specialist,

Questions about proposal process should be addressed to:

Susannah Sheldon, Research and Fellowships Manager,