As humans move into our coastal watershed and change the way land is used, the ability of estuarine habitats to function normally is challenged. The Charleston Metropolitan Area (Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville) is one of the 10 fastest growing metropolitan areas in the US. In Charleston, for example, the population grew by 40% from 1973 to 1994 while size of the urban area grew by 240%, creating urban sprawl and greatly increased impervious land cover (e.g., roads, sidewalks, driveways and parking lots that prevent water from being absorbed into the soil). The size of the urban area is expected to increase to 868 square miles by 2030, covering 65 percent of the land area.
Tidal creeks in particular are intimately linked to human land-based activities through the stormwater that runs off into them from developed land and impervious surfaces, carrying with it a cocktail of pollutants from gasoline and oil, fertilizers, pet wastes, sediments, etc. SCECAP (South Carolina Estuarine and Coastal Assessment) is an ongoing joint state and federal program that assesses the health of our coastal habitat, including our sensitive tidal creeks. Data from 1999-2008 has been analyzed and, for that period, the rivers draining into Charleston Harbor showed a persistent pattern of degraded habitat quality (based on water and sediment quality as well as the biological community). This is likely the result of a combination of historical industrial activity and high-density urban development. Learn more about human impacts in our watershed.