Here’s a glimpse of what we’ve been up to lately.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 10.51.31 AM

Today is Lowcountry Giving Day 2016 — a day to unite your community by supporting the work of your favorite local nonprofit organizations. Stand for your favorite local waterway by making a donation today: (or text “cleanwater” to 33923).

Great news: a very generous donor agreed to match your Lowcountry Giving Day gift — dollar for dollar — up to $5000. That means your $25 gift during Lowcountry Giving Day is actually worth $50. That’s twice the impact for your favorite waterway!

But that’s not all. Our friends at Stereo 8 stand for clean, healthy waterways too and are donating 20% of sales today to Charleston Waterkeeper for Lowcountry Giving Day! Join us at Stereo 8 tomorrow on James Island (951 Folly Rd) and dine with a purpose for Lowcountry Giving Day.

Charleston Waterkeeper stands for your right to safely fish, swim, paddle, or just simply enjoy clean, healthy waterways. Our vision is a Lowcountry where all local waterways and the life they support are healthy and fully protected by an engaged community of waterway stewards just like you. Stand with us on Lowcountry Giving Day: (or text “cleanwater” to 33923).

Every Wednesday, from May through October, we test bacteria levels at 15 hotspots for water-based recreational activity. That way, you know when and where it’s safe to swim, paddle, kayak, and sail. Sign up today to receive weekly water quality updates in your inbox so you have easy access to all the latest information: get water quality updates.

Stand up for your favorite local waterways during Lowcountry Giving Day. Make a donation at:

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 5.42.14 PM

Stand up for your favorite local waterways during Lowcountry Giving Day. Make a donation at:

Here in the Lowcountry, the salt marsh is often the first sign of the changing seasons. As the water and air warm during Spring, last year’s gray-brown Spartina gives way to a flush of new growth rising from the pluff mud in a cycle of yearly renewal. In just a few weeks, last year’s growth will decay, providing essential nutrients for the marsh ecosystem, and the new Spartina will rise in a spectacular, showy pop of vibrant green color.

Hobcaw Creek

Spring’s warmer air and water also bring a renewed flush of swimmers, paddlers, kayakers, and sailors enjoying our tidal creeks and marshes. Here at Charleston Waterkeeper, that means we’re hard at work preparing to launch our weekly water testing program for the season. Testing kicks off next week and this year, you can receive weekly water quality alerts sent directly to you: sign up here.

Our tidal creeks, rivers, and marsh never cease to amaze. Be sure to follow along as we post updates from the water on Instagram and Twitter every Wednesday.

Local scientists have also studied these dynamic systems as “sentinel” habitats that signal the health our entire estuary. What they’ve found is sobering — when only 10-20% of the land around a tidal creek is developed, polluted stormwater causes it’s health to decline. That means our suburban and urban tidal creeks like Shem Creek and James Island Creek aren’t as healthy as they might look, and they need our help.


Shem Creek, for example, fails to meet its water quality standard for safe swimming. We also uncovered that DHEC doesn’t provide Shem Creek with the strongest water quality standard for uses like swimming and paddling. That’s why we petitioned DHEC to upgrade Shem Creek’s water quality standard to better protect the public’s health and force a quicker clean up. Read more about the work from Bo Peterson in the Post and Courier:

Sullied Shem Creek not safe to swim; state challenged to force clean up.

It’s tough when our testing work reveals the special places we all love aren’t healthy. Especially, popular spots like Shem Creek and James Island Creek. But, as a community, we have to confront these problems to make them better. That’s why it’s inspiring when folks like James Island Creek locals Mary Edna Fraser and John Sperry stand up and become stewards for their special creek. The Post and Courier’s Bo Peterson tells James Island Creek’s story here:

Cleaning the creeks; pollution problems likely up to residents to fix.

Solutions won’t come quick or be easy. Combating polluted stormwater and renewing the health or urban and suburban tidal creeks is a community effort. It works best when we’re all engaged and working together as waterway stewards. As your Waterkeeper, we promise to remain vigilant and work diligently to ensure all your waterways are clean and healthy for fishing and swimming.