Before English settlers arrived in the Charleston Harbor Watershed, about 1000 Cusabo survived on subsistence farming, hunting, and fishing. These activities had a minimal impact on the watershed’s tidal creeks, salt marsh, and rivers. Population growth spurred by founding of Charles Town in 1670 led to increasing human impacts on the natural functions of the areas estuarine habitat. Rice and cotton cultivation in 1700 and 1800‘s, the Charleston peninsula’s land expansion, and the Santee Cooper Hydroelectric Project in 1939 forever altered natural functions of the Charleston Harbor Watershed’s salt marsh, tidal creeks, and rivers. Learn more about the human impacts and physical changes to our watershed.
- Charleston Waterkeeper
- General News
- Industrial Polluters
- Port/Shipping Activity
- Recreational Activity
- Stormwater Runoff
- Take Action
- The Great Oyster Point Runoff
- The Water Ball
- Water Quality Monitoring Program
- Waterkeeper Alliance
- Waterway Profile
The tidal rivers that flow through the salt marsh support mussels and clams as well as oysters. Oysters, common inhabitants of intertidal areas along our rivers and creeks, build reefs where small invertebrates like juvenile shrimp and larval crabs find shelter from predators. Many fish like flounder, black sea bass and Atlantic spadefish use the reefs as nursery habitat. Other fish species come to the oyster beds to feed. Learn more about the Charleston Harbor watershed’s estuarine habitat.
Tidal creeks begin in uplands, draining into larger creeks until they join a tidal river or bay where their waters flow into the ocean. Tidal creeks represent about 17 percent of the state’s estuarine waters by surface area. Numerous tidal creeks like James Island and Shem Creek wind through the salt marshes of the Charleston Harbor Watershed, forming a network of highly productive habitat and serving as critical spawning areas and nursery habitat for fish, shellfish, birds and mammals. Seatrout, jack crevalle, flounder, spadefish, spot, black drum, blue crab and brown and white shrimp are among the many aquatic animals the mature in the shelter of these shallow, muddy-bottomed creeks before moving into deeper waters. Learn more about the Charleston Harbor watershed’s estuarine habitat.
Salt marshes fringe estuarine waters, forming the intertidal zone (between high and low tide) along beaches and tidal rivers. South Carolina has more salt marsh than any other state on the east coast (about 400,000 acres) and Charleston County has the most salt marsh of any county in South Carolina. Salt marshes are complex and ecologically productive, with fluctuating levels of salinity and temperature as the tides move in and out.
Most low salt marsh areas (nearest to the water) are dominated by smooth cordgrass (Spartina). A mix of plants including Spartina and black needlerush (Juncus) are found in the higher areas of marsh. As the marsh grass decays in the fall, it decomposes into a rich soup of nutrients providing food for both fish and invertebrates like shrimp, blue crabs, stone crabs and clams. Fiddler crabs, marsh snails and marsh mussels are also typical marsh inhabitants.
Salt marshes also serve as high quality bird habitat, attracting, for example, blue herons and American and snowy egrets, seaside sparrows, clapper rails and marsh rails as year-round marsh residents. Waterfowl (ducks and geese) and wading birds find shelter in the marshes over the winter. Other inhabitants of our coastal marshes include muskrats, rabbits, diamond back terrapins and even alligators in less salty areas. Learn more about the Charleston Harbor watershed’s estuarine habitat.
During much of its history, the Cusabo, a group of tribes with familiar names like Edisto, Kiawah, Stono, and Wando, were native to the South Carolina coast. Before English settlers arrived in the area, about 1000 Cusabo enjoyed the wealth of fish and game available in the Charleston Harbor Watershed.
The watershed familiar to the Cusabo included 1400 square miles of hardwood and longleaf pine forests, roamed by cougars, red wolves, and white-tailed deer. Salt and freshwater marshlands were drained by pristine rivers and streams. Abundant fish and oysters were found from Shem Creek up to the Wando River and along the tidally influenced portions of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. Learn more about the history and economics of our watershed.