The Floods to Come pt. 1:

by Grayson E Sussman Squires March. 26, 2017 2005 views

Sea Level Rise in South Carolina 

In February, 2017, I traveled to Edisto Island, South Carolina. Besides its famous plantations, I knew almost nothing about the island. Edisto lies just south of Charleston. I swung through on my way from Charleston to New Orleans. 

Today, much of what made Edisto renowned has disappeared into the coastal woodlands and wetlands. Gone are the vast coastal cotton plantations. Edisto Beach remains the only economic lifeline for the island; tourism has replaced agriculture as the lifeblood of Edisto. 

The island is relatively diverse, consisting of 56 percent white residents, 39 percent African American, with the remaining 5 percent either Latino, Native American, or of multiple races. However, across all racial divides, one common thread persists through the year-round residents: poverty. The median household income for year-round residents on the island was just $25,962. Nearly 21 percent of the year-round population lives under the poverty line. 

From the series The Floods to Come pt. 1- Feb. 18, 2017.

Elderly residents of Edisto witnessed incredible change in their lifetimes; when this man was young, the primary industries on the island were fishing and cotton. 

Underlying the poverty, the falling rates of tourism, and the struggle to save the island's only public school, Edisto's greatest threat comes from the sea. Like so many coastal locales, Edisto stands to lose the most from the impending sea level rise fueled by climate change. As polar icecaps melt at a faster pace, global sea levels rise higher and higher. And current scientific data shows that due to the release of potent greenhouse gases from within melting icecaps, the rise in global temperatures may continue at an exponential rate regardless of potential falls in Human emission rates.

From the series The Floods to Come pt. 1- Feb. 18, 2017.

Although not visible in these photos, Edisto is not a bleak place;  palmettos grow abundantly across the vividly green landscape. I was there in Winter.

Couple rising sea levels with warmer sea temperatures from the melting of sea ice and the disruption of the Gulf Stream, and what we get is an ocean environment ripe for more destructive storms and hurricanes. And that's the last thing Edisto Island needs. The island's average elevation is just over seven feet above sea-level. According to NOAA, if sea levels were to rise just six feet by 2100, a fair estimate if emission rates aren't curbed ambitiously, Edisto Island would almost entirely be overtaken by the sea.  


From the series The Floods to Come pt. 1- Feb. 18, 2017.

The dredged sand-water pours from the piping.

But even before the sea levels rise to swallow the island, the danger posed by coastal erosion brought on by storm surges is one that cannot be overlooked. In October, 2016, Edisto was slammed by Hurricane Matthew, which caused extensive damage on Edisto, washing away some 900,000 cubic yards of sand. Matthew followed Hermine, which roared to shore in early September. 


From the series The Floods to Come pt. 1- Feb. 18, 2017.

Costs from coastal property damage will skyrocket if nothing is done about the root cause: Climate Change.

When I arrived in Edisto Beach, I found the usually sleepy, off-season town in a state of chaotic work. A $17 million project to replenish the beaches of Edisto was well underway. Crews were working day and night to get the beaches ready for the tourists in the late Spring. The project consisted of a large dredging operation off the coast, pumping sand back to shore to replenish the beaches. Bulldozers then spread the sand out, pushing back the creeping sea. The work crews planned to also lengthen the rock groins that stabilize the sandy beaches. 

I spent the better part of my day on Edisto watching the work. The dredged sand was pumped from the vessels offshore, down the length of a pipe that ran three miles down the beach. The sandy water exploded out from the piping, and the bulldozers pushed it into place. 

From the series The Floods to Come pt. 1- Feb. 18, 2017.

The project manager and town officials asked that citizens not stand by and watch the work; no one listened.

The locals watched the work too. They didn't mind the inconvenience. They need this beach to be strong. They need the tourists to come to the beach. But for how much longer will these dredging operations cut it? How much longer will these short fixes provide safety to coastal residents? And what will happen when these temporary solutions fail? 

From the series The Floods to Come pt. 1- Feb. 18, 2017.

New lengths of piping were added as the work progressed up Edisto Beach.

Climate change is the most pressing reality of our time. Science has made that clear, and science cannot be combed through to support selected opinions. Whether public opinion, which overwhelmingly supports the notion, no, fact, that Humans are causing the vast majority of changes in the climate, can influence policy makers on this topic remains to be seen. However, for places where the sea creeps closer and closer with every passing Hurricane Season, for places like Edisto Island, time is running out. 

From the series The Floods to Come pt. 1- Feb. 18, 2017.

When all is said and done, the sea always wins: nothing erodes like the sea- well, maybe time.



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Antonio Gil 4 years, 1 month ago

Same problem here. Portugal's coast is eroding fast. Great work

4 years, 1 month ago Edited
Grayson E Sussman Squires Replied to Antonio Gil 4 years, 1 month ago

Thank you! Yes, it's a real problem everywhere. I'd love to shoot a story in Portugal!

4 years, 1 month ago Edited
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