Category Archives: Education

You may remember meeting Kea Payton a few years ago when she first started going out with us to grab samples. Fast forward 2 years and now Kea has finished her thesis and is ready to share what she’s learned!

Have you ever wondered about plastics in our local waterways? Kea sure did! Her project explored 4 main questions.

Question 1: How are Microplastics Distributed in the Charleston Harbor?

No significant difference was found in microplastic concentrations between several water quality monitoring sites and Breach Inlet. This means that microplastics were well-mixed, no hot-spots were found, and there doesn’t seem to be a significant contribution of microplastics coming from the ocean.


Question 2: Are Microplastics Aggregating at Flood Tidal Fronts?

Higher levels of microplastics were found within the tidal fronts. Results suggest that microplastics are aggregating at these tidal fronts with influxes of particles coming from land-based sources.


Question 3: Do Fronts Serve as a Vector for Microplastics to Enter the Marine Food Web?

Only 1% of zooplankton examined contained these synthetic particles within their gut. This means that there are microplastics available in the tidal fronts, but zooplankton aren’t eating them. This suggests that frontal zones may not serve as a vector for entry into the food web and that our primary consumers (those at the bottom of the food web) are more selective feeders than originally thought.


Question 4: Are Microplastics Found in our Local Fish Population?

All recreational fishes examined in this study contained microplastics in their GI tracts; fishes studied include Croaker, Flounder, Mullet, Red Drum, Sea Trout, Spot, and Whiting caught in the Charleston Harbor.

Broader Impacts

On average, 3 microplastic particles per liter (43 – 100 μm) are being found in the top meter of the water column in Charleston Harbor. Physical damage (i.e suffocation, blocked and/or torn digestive tracts) from the ingestion of these small particles can contribute to various health risks for the organism and the composition of the particles have been reported to leach and sorb chemical contaminants. Such properties make these small synthetic polymers a greater ecological concern as damage and chemical uptake could expand up the food web through trophic transfer. These particles were detected in local zooplankton and fishes, but the evidence of trophic transfer remains unclear. The overall presence of microplastics in Charleston, however, does suggest a potential threat to the local marine food web.

FUN FACT:  Using data collected from this study (3 particles per liter), assuming even distribution and the estimated area (36.26 km2) with the historical (3.65 m) and the maximum (15.84 m) depth of the Charleston Harbor, it is estimated that 396,937,500 to 1,722,600,000 microplastic particles (43 – 100 μm) are suspended in the water column in the Charleston Harbor; using historical and maximum depth respectfully.

On October 23, 2015, Charleston Waterkeeper’s Staff Scientist travelled to Greenville, SC, to attend the 2015 South Carolina Marine Educators Association (SCMEA)’s Annual Conference. SCMEA is a non-profit organization that aims to improve and expand marine education in South Carolina. SCMEA holds an annual conference intended to keep members up-to-date on the latest resources available. The 2015 conference was held from October 23-25 in Greenville, SC, at the Roper Mountain Science Center. Charleston Waterkeeper was invited by the SCMEA Board of Directors to give a presentation about Charleston Waterkeeper’s watershed education work. Here, Cheryl recaps the experience.

During the conference, I gave a presentation on the value of our Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program and how it serves as an asset to SCMEA’s membership base and the Charleston community. Click here to see my full presentation: CarmackC_SCMEA. However, the greatest value of attending the SCMEA annual conference comes not from presenting, but from the abundance of new information, resources, and contacts obtained. SCMEA members provide a wealth of knowledge regarding environmental and marine education all across the state of South Carolina.


Not all marine educators work in a traditional classroom setting. I attended sessions led by marine educators from the Watershed Ecology Center (through USC Upstate), Patriot’s Point, South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, DNR’s ACE Basin NERR, and graduate students from Clemson University. It is inspiring to hear about the variety of programs being offered by passionate educators from across a wide span of backgrounds. Presentations included ways to incorporate art into your lessons, simplifying difficult concepts using a story, and a day camp dedicated to teaching kids all about the importance of our oceans. Learn more about these efforts by visiting the websites provided above. These hard-working folks are dedicated to providing the necessary tools to help ensure conscious stewardship of our state’s natural resources for generations to come.

Learn more about Charleston Waterkeeper’s Education Program here.

Charleston Waterkeeper is pleased to present this guest blog post by Dr. Vijay Vulava of the College of Charleston. Dr. Vulava is a professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences and Director of the Hydrochemistry Research Laboratory. He also serves on Charleston Waterkeeper’s Board of Directors where provides scientific expertise and insight for our programatic activity. In this post Dr. Vulava recounts his recent visit to New Delhi, India with students from his study abroad course: Water Resources and Pollution in the Developing World.

CofC Group with Yamuna Waterkeepers

The College of Charleston maintains a close relationship with Charleston Waterkeeper, especially in their efforts to monitor water quality along Charleston’s many tidal creeks and rivers to ensure that the water is safe for all users.  Several students from the College volunteer their time to help Charleston Waterkeeper, while others work with them on research projects.  Recently a group of students and faculty members, including myself and Dr. Timothy Callahan of the Geology department, visited India for a biennial study abroad course to study water resources and pollution along the much revered Ganges River. With Charleston Waterkeeper’s help, we had the opportunity to meet with the Mid Upper Yamuna Waterkeeper, Ms. Minakshi Arora, and her husband Kesar, the Lower Yamuna Waterkeeper, in New Delhi this past June.

The Yamuna Waterkeepers are working very hard to help clean up, what is possibly, the most polluted river in India.  The Yamuna River is a major tributary of the Ganges River, and like Ganges River, has headwaters in the glaciers of the Himalayas.  However, as the river passes through pristine headwaters into the plains of northern India, the river water is heavily used for potable water, farming, industries, waste disposal, and energy production by a very densely populated region of India.  Point- and non-point source pollution discharged into the river makes it highly polluted, while the inept and corrupt local, state, and federal governments make cursory effort to clean up the river.  Incidentally, this river is also a major drinking water source for India’s capital, New Delhi, but downstream of the capital, the river is no more than a wastewater canal.


During our visit to New Delhi, Ms. Arora and Kesar (they are the entire Yamuna Waterkeeper) graciously visited with us on a very short notice and took time to talk about their advocacy and ground-level efforts to help clean up rivers in the Yamuna basin using traditional and conventional methods.  They work on a shoestring budget (charitable donations are their main source of funding) and partner with local universities and other nonprofits.  Ms. Arora answered a lot of our questions and also led a field trip to the banks of Yamuna near ITO barrage, which is a major drinking water intake for New Delhi.  However, the water here is already polluted and stench from the river was quite strong – one can only imagine how hard Delhi’s water treatment plant has to work to make this water potable. Downstream of the city the river receives all the treated (and untreated) wastewater that is discharged by the city’s wastewater treatment plants.  This river continues south along Agra and majestically flows in the background of the famous Taj Mahal.  Along the way the river continues to be abused and more waste from industries as well as numerous farms and towns is dumped indiscriminately – the river is no more than a vast sewer behind Taj Mahal during most of the year, until the monsoon rains revive the river at the end of summer.


Overall, it was a very interesting visit and meeting with the Yamuna Waterkeepers.  The College’s students learned about the role that nonprofits, such as Yamuna Waterkeeper, play in raising awareness among the common populace about water pollution and its link to societal wellbeing.  They not only learned a wide range of scientific issues regarding water use in India, but also the role that the government and the Indian culture plays on how water is used in this part of the world.  It was an eye-opening experience for us all.

Yesterday, I had the great privilege to spend the morning with my sister’s 4th grade class at Oakbrook Elementary School in Ladson. One might suspect that as an organization dedicated to protecting the Charleston Harbor watershed, Charleston Waterkeeper’s efforts are limited to areas adjacent to the actual harbor. However, as we all know, our watershed is influenced by much of what happens upstream. For this reason, the students at Oakbrook Elementary School can be considered, in fact, the first line of defense when it comes to protecting the health of Charleston Harbor.

I spent the early part of the day talking about the connection between their school and the location of Charleston Waterkeeper’s office downtown. Considering they only had three days left of school, I was quite appreciative of Google’s interactive maps to help keep them entertained. To put into perspective the geographic relationship between them and the harbor, I showed the map below:

You’ll notice two red dots on the map above: the upper-left dot represents the location of Oakbrook Elementary School and the lower-right dot is the location of Charleston Waterkeeper’s office. We zoomed in and showed the path that water takes to get from their school to the open vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. The beginning stretches of the Ashley River, located just a stone’s throw from the school, winds “like a snake” and eventually flows into Charleston Harbor.

I discussed the concept of stormwater runoff. I mentioned that our actions on land have the potential to impact our favorite fishing spots, our favorite beaches, and the backdrop to an afternoon stroll on the Battery. Between fluids dripping from our vehicles, to pet waste, to cigarette butts, to trash, many of the pollutants that find themselves on the land around the students’ school can quite easily find their way into Charleston Harbor the next time it rains.

The students were incredibly excited about sharing all of the ways they would play a part in protecting our right to clean water. Many spoke of picking up trash they see near storm drains, while others promised to encourage their parents to recycle or properly dispose of trash and other forms of litter. I asked that each student draw two pictures: one picture of what our waterways will look like if they take action to protect them and the other picture was the same scene, but as if no one does anything to keep clean our waterways. The images were incredibly talented and quite inspiring!

Many students drew images of them taking an active role in educating others about not polluting. Here, a student prevents litter from being tossed into our waterways by declaring, "STOP!" The polluter in response admits his guilt, "Busted!"

On one side, this drawing shows a seagull trying to eat cigarette butts while standing in gasoline that will soon be washed into the nearby stormdrain during the next rainstorm; on the other, the same bird enjoys a pristine environment thanks to those taking efforts to stop pollution.

As we have explained in the past, there is no silver bullet when it comes to protecting our waterways; instead, there are many angles from which these dynamic issues must be addressed. Considering the fact that each of us has a role in protecting our right to clean water, it is essential for us to be aware of such responsibility. And thus, enter the role of education. In the time I spend talking with clubs, classrooms, and even my peers, it is evident that younger generations are becoming significantly more aware of fundamental concepts like stormwater runoff, other forms of water pollution, and the impact we have on our natural resources as individuals. Until recently, many of these concepts have not introduced in educational systems at an early age. Instead, they have been reserved for only the dedicated and the passionate ones who have had a known and invested interest in protecting our rivers, creeks, and wetlands.

During my visit to Oakbrook, however, I felt encouraged by the level of awareness these students had. There is no arguing that in 20 years, these individuals will be the decision-makers throughout our world, and I am comforted that as long as we are investing in our educational system, and promoting concepts of environmental stewardship and leadership, we are securing a future with abundant fish, clean beaches, and crisp rivers; however, if we neglect to educate ourselves and the future generations on the importance of protecting our waterways, we will fail before we even know.

I’m looking forward to watching Ms. Buffum’s 4th grade class of Water Warriors grow to be responsible users of our waterways and protectors of this fundamental right.

Thanks for a wonderful day, guys; I was deeply inspired! It was such a pleasure meeting all of you!

Ms. Buffum's 4th grade class of Water Warriors at Oakbrook Elementary School (May 24, 2011).

A few weeks back, the Charleston Chapter of the League of Women Voters held a water forum to educate their members on a variety of current issues pertaining to the quality of our local waterways. Charleston Waterkeeper’s Cyrus Buffum was invited to be a panelist alongside Katie Zimmerman of the Coastal Conservation League and Captain John Cameron of the Charleston Branch Harbor Pilots.

While Captain Cameron spoke about the environmental impacts of dredging the Savannah River and Katie Zimmerman spoke about the League’s efforts to address the potential impact of cruise ships on our waterways, Charleston Waterkeeper took the opportunity to introduce our newly established water quality monitoring program to the public.

The League of Women Voters posted a great followup from the evening on their blog here >