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Five Unique Towns, One Common Goal: to Work as a Community and Preserve Their Working Waterfronts

Sep 12, 2017

By Christopher Katalinas, National Sea Grant Office

Working waterfronts in South Carolina are hotspots for tourists to enjoy the local seafood and immerse themselves in nature. This has not always been the case, however, with most waterfronts historically focused around commercial businesses and industry. While some communities embrace this change towards a more recreational focus, others fear that commercial fishing and the “traditional identity” of the town will suffer.

In response to community needs, the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium led a series of studies that examined the status of five working waterfronts along the S.C. coast. Researchers and extension specialists from Sea Grant, Clemson University and College of Charleston gathered community members for focus groups and in separate semi-structured interviews in Murrells Inlet, Georgetown, McClellanville, Mount Pleasant and Port Royal. The goal was to better understand the past and present complexity of the challenges, including economic pressures on traditional commercial fishing, the space crunch as tourists flock to the waterfronts, and the increasing threat of sea level rise.

A group of people around a conference table.

Focus groups brought stakeholders together, in this case McClellanville, S.C., to discuss the past, present, and future of their working waterfronts. Photo by April Turner, S.C. Sea Grant Consortium.

The information gathered from the focus groups and individual interviews were shared at five community forums. Joey Holleman, the Science Writer and Public Information Coordinator with the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, stated that “all five meetings were filled to capacity. They weren’t coming for the free cookies and iced tea. People really care about this issue.”

Questions posed in these community forums challenged participants to “define their working waterfront,” determine the “top priorities for their waterfront community,” identify the “main economic drivers in their working waterfront community,” and “envision the future of their working waterfronts.”

Boats at docks in an industrial area.

Two of the main economic drivers for the Georgetown working waterfront: a shrimp boat in the foreground with the International Paper mill pumping out steam in the background. Photo by Joey Holleman, S.C. Sea Grant Consortium.

“Attendees seemed to really appreciate Sea Grant’s efforts to provide a venue for community stakeholders to hear about the project findings as well as discuss the issues surrounding South Carolina working waterfronts,” said April Turner, S.C. Sea Grant Consortium’s coastal communities program specialist.

Responses to the questions posed in discussions indicated that each town has a unique history and definition for their own working waterfront, but they all shared a common goal of wanting to be involved in shaping the future of their respective communities.

This study laid the foundation for communities involved to address their needs. Stakeholders can take what they learned from these workshops and resources provided by the National Working Waterfront Network to best implement strategies that will shape the future of their working waterfront communities.

“Each of the communities has a unique vision for its working waterfront,” Turner said, “and S.C. Sea Grant hopes to continue as a facilitator throughout the process of realizing that vision.”

A satellite photo marked up in pen.

Stakeholders in Murrells Inlet, S.C defined their working waterfront areas during a focus group. Photo by Jennifer Calabria, Clemson University.