Sullivan’s Island and the Dredging Project

Marine Biology Trip Chris D., Patrick, Erika, Javontae, Taylor, Lauren, and Tradd

[SPRING 2013]

To Dredge or not to Dredge: That is the question Dredging is defined as cleaning out the bed of (a harbor, river, or other area of water) by scooping out mud, weeds, and rubbish with a dredge. Dredging is often necessary for deepening channels to allow for ships that need deeper water to pass. Whether or not to dredge the Charleston harbor has become a hot topic in recent years. The dredging is very controversial because it will have major ecological and economic effects. Many people aren’t worried about the project because we have to dredge a little bit every year anyway to maintain channel depth. However, dredging of this measure will dig up sediments and minerals on a whole different scale. Businesses are pushing for the dredging to go through because the deepening of the harbor would allow for larger boats to come into our harbor with goods. This would most likely give a big boost in business and attract potential corporations such as Boeing to come here and create new jobs. The issue has become even more urgent recently because ports such as Savannah are also considering dredging and we don’t want to lose any of our shipping business. Also, the Panama Canal is going to be dredged over the next few years which will open up whole new opportunities of shipping with the Pacific. However, despite these economic benefits, many environmentalists are concerned about the effects that the dredging will have on our environment. The dredging will add tons of sediment and chemicals to the water which can kill or negatively impact marine life such as fish and corals. We also have a good deal of ecotourism due to our cities natural beauty and wildlife diversity and we wouldn’t want that to be affected by the dredging. While the dredging company does acknowledge that there are potential ecological hazards, they don’t believe that there are any significant issues. They realize that there is potential for problems, such as the affects the dredging may have on the wetlands and marshes, but they believe that any potential problems can be avoided with proper preparation and planning. Because this topic is so controversial and we were interested in how the dredging would affect areas near us, we decided to conduct a field study. We went to Sullivan’s Island near Fort Moultrie to conduct our research. We decided Sullivan’s Island would be an ideal place to begin our research since it is located at the mouth of the harbor, directly in the line of impact from the dredging. We spent several weeks studying and preparing for the trip, collecting necessary materials, and predicting possible outcomes of the dredging. We tried to be as thorough as possible and try and analyze all aspects of the beach to better understand the impact the dredging may have. We measured everything from erosion to soil composition, biodiversity to water chemistry. Before we went to the beach we were split into several groups to prepare. One group began an extensive field guide to try and prepare us for any species we may encounter during the trip. Another began a study on beach morphology: preparing to measure erosion, getting the tools to do GPS mapping, and checking tides and currents. We performed many tests such as seining and using cast nets to check biodiversity, taking soil samples to check sand composition, using floating objects to measure waves and currents, and taking water samples to check the chemistry of the water. We spent a lot of time analyzing our results and preparing a comprehensive report for future classes. The purpose of our study wasn’t so much to check the affect the dredging will have as to help future classes see what affect the dredging has had on the harbor and surrounding environment. We attended a conference held by the Army Corps of Engineering on the dredging project as well. They have been doing thorough studies on the potential affects the dredging may have and ultimately their recommendation will help decide whether or not the project is a go.

While we were at Sullivan’s Island we completed many water chemistry tests. These tests included measuring the Dissolved Oxygen, phosphates, nitrates, temperature, pH, salinity, turbidity and sand composition. o We used Standard LaMotte chemistry tests for the dissolved oxygen, phosphate, nitrate and ammonia tests. Directions/examples can be found with the QR code at the bottom of the page. o For the phosphate, ammonia and nitrate tests, we used a LaMotte standard tablet test. For example, for phosphate we put a tab in a 5ml water sample and shook it until it dissolved. We read the test by checking the color against a standard card. The bluer the sample, the more phosphate was present in the water. o To test the temperature we stuck a thermometer in the water and read off the temperature and then recorded it. o To test the pH we stuck a pH test strip in the water and matched the colors. o To test the salinity we used a refractometer. With the refractometer a drop of water is dropped on the device and the flap is closed. Then it is held up to the light and the salinity can be read. o For measuring the turbidity, we took a few samples of water and placed each one over the Secchi disc and looked at the water to match the color to the area they best corresponded to. o For doing sand composition we first dug a trench and took a sample. We took one sample to sieve and one to study under a microscope.

Biodiversity: All of the creatures listed in the table to the right we saw at least once on our trip to Sullivan’s Island. This shows that our beaches are very diverse in the type of marine life that they have. Even though we had a very long list of creatures that we could have seen on our trip, we were very lucky to see as many as we did. With the seining net we caught many fish (Osteicthyes) and along the beach we saw many jelly fish that had washed up on shore. With knowing what we saw and caught in a few hours, in the future if people have problems finding these animals in the same period of time we can conclude the dredging of the harbor affected our environments. Annelida Chondricthyes Cnidaria Shingled tube worm & lug worm Cow nose stingray Moon jelly , Mushroom Jelly, tricolored anemone, & northern star coral Blue crab, fiddler crab, ghost crab, speckled swimmer crab, portly spider crab, & acorn barnacle Atlantic keyhole sand dollar & grey sea star Cockle clam, knobbed whelk, eastern oyster, & moon snail Horseshoe crab Snowy egret, American herring seagull, & Pelican Pipefish, mullet, baby southern flounder, sheep’s head, stargazer, & eel


Echinodermata Mollusca Xiphosuras Birds Osteicthyes

Water Chemistry: Water Chemistry shows us how changes in the water affect our beaches. Knowing the water chemistry today, next year (if it changes drastically) we know that the dredging of the harbor has a negative effect of our beaches and marine life. Change in water chemistry can be harmful to the marine life and our economy, no fish means no fishing which means no income for some people.

GPS: (coordinates compliments of Kendall) Using the GPS we were able to map the beach and areas that we were seining and casting out nets in to the water. By doing this, in the future people will be able to tell where we were on the trip and conduct further research in the same area. By doing the further research it helps prove if the dredging is bad for our beaches and marine life. They could not get accurate results without conducting it in the same general area as our original one. Sand Composition: This shows us how the sand changes around the same beach. The Composition of the Sand helps us figure out why the sand is affected by changes in the environment.

Coordinates: 32 45’ 11” N 32 46’ 12” N 32 46’ 26” N 32 45’ 27” N 32 45’ 32” N 79 51’ 11” W 79 54’ 47” W 79 55’ 26” W 79 55’ 28” W 79 51’ 26” W

Currents: Currents tell us how the ocean moves around the barrier islands. It also tells us what can move to our beaches because of the current. Knowing the current movement helps determine why water chemistry may be different in two different spots on the same beach.



GPS Maps:

At Sullivan’s Island we caught many organisms which resulted in the conclusion that Sullivan’s Island is a healthy ecosystem (Refer to table below). Although there were a few dead stingrays we found on the beach that you can see in the pictures on the Ipad, we also caught living stingrays when cast netting. In relation to finding these stingrays we also found many other organisms such as fish, crab, jelly fish, sand dollars, seastars, clams, whelks, etc. We caught some of these organisms while seining and cast netting and others we saw just by looking at the water. There are also other organisms that live at the surface of the water that you can’t see that are very important to the ecosystem such as phytoplankton. Phytoplankton feed off of the sunlight at the surface of the water while other things feed off of the phytoplankton. Without phytoplankton, the rest of the food chain could not survive. Dredging stirs the sand up causing there to be a lot of turbidity in the water. This turbidity causes a huge problem for sunlight being able to get through the water to the organisms that need it to live such as the phytoplankton. Dredging also has an impact on the corals that are offshore. It blocks the sunlight from them too but also covers the coral with sand faster than the coral can clean it off which kills them. We also made current graphs and looked at waves. We learned that a wave does not pull or move an object side to side and that it just causes an object to bob up and down. A current is the actual cause of objects in the water being pulled a certain direction in the water. These currents might cause the sediments that have been stirred up by the dredging to travel to numerous places causing turbidity in other and more areas. It could also cause less oxygen in the water because there are so many sand sediments taking up room so there is not enough space for the normal amount of oxygen. While Sullivan’s Island is considered a healthy ecosystem right now, dredging will be the cause of it becoming an unhealthy ecosystem.

Organisms we found at Sullivan’s Island
Osteicthyes(6 types) : one Pipefish, one Mullet, five Baby Southern Flounder, one Sheepshead, one Stargazer, one Eel Cnidaria (4 types): one Moon jelly, five Mushroom jellies, one Tri-colored Anemone, one North Star Echinodermata(2 types): three Atlantic Keyhole Sand Dollar and two Grey Seastar Coral Annelida(2 types) : five Tube Worms and two Lug Worms. Chondricthyes(1 type): four Cow Nose Stingray Crustacea(6 types): one Blue Crab, four Fiddler Crab, one Ghost Crab, one Speckled Swimmer Crab, one Portcy Spider Crab, four Acorn Barnacles Mollusca(4 types): one Cockle Clam, five Knobbed Whelk, five Eastern Oyster, one Moon Snail Birds(3 types): two Snowy Egret, four American Herring Seagull, one Pelican Xiptlosuras(1 type): two Horseshoe Crab

Collectively as a group, we believe that the entire Sullivan's field trip went well. There was little that we would change about the trip. Madame Van Koughnett and the fort Moultrie staff did an excellent job in preparation. The one thing we would suggest changing would be have more options for finding biodiversity. Seining and the cast nets were helpful, but other things like fishing rods would have also helped with finding more biodiversity. We were still able to catch animals such as sting rays, sheep head, jellyfish, sea urchins, glass minnows, mullet, flat worms, horseshoe crabs, flounder, crabs, conch shells/snails, star gassers, pipe fish, blue fish, eel, oysters, barnacles, anchovies, oysters, shrimp, croakers, and clams. Also, during the trip we conducted tests to test the water chemistry. In one water chemistry test, the phosphate test, the level of phosphate came back very low in the water samples we collected (measured in ppm). The major part of this trip has yet to be completed. It is up to Madame Van Koughnett's future classes to go back to Sullivan's in the years to come to compare their data to ours. Then we will be able to see if the dredging has caused any problems or changes. Dredging is a way to make revenue in the Charleston ports flow more effectively, but at the same token, it may cause harsh environmentally damage. We believe that in order to create a concert opinion on the dredging project we will have to wait for the quantitative data to come back.

Personal Reflections:
Lauren: I liked doing the project on dredging. I thought it was fun and liked working in groups. I think we got good research from going to Sullivan’s. I feel like if we did not go to Sullivan’s to research dredging we wouldn’t understand it, waves, and currents as well. I think we can put together good reports and had fun doing this project. Javontae: A personal reflection I’ve had with the dredging pro ject is finding out how much dredging actually effects Charleston’s economy and environment. I’ve researched and examined many data from the beach also. I’ve learned a lot through this project. Chris: Overall I believe that the project was a success. I had fun doing it. I believe that all the groups put forth a lot of effort to collect the data and personally I believe that the dredging won’t have an effect on Sullivan’s but only time will tell. Taylor: I think it was a fun and interesting project. It could have been more organized on the trip too. I am still not sure if they should dredge the harbor. The only thing that truly frustrates me is the fact that they did not do research before they started dredging. The good part is that our islands are healthy and hopefully the dredging won’t ruin that. Those are my thoughts and concerns on the dredging project. Erika: I think that we should do dredging in the harbor. It brings in a lot of money for the state. I think that the trip was a lot of fun. My favorite part was the seining and eating the watermelon. I think we got really good staff for our research. The dredging will mess with the sea life, but I don’t think it will have devastating effects. Patrick: The dredging project has given me a new perspective on how industry and progress can affect the environment. The Army Corps of Engineers presentation of their research has helped me to better understand how thoroughly they research these massive undertakings before they take action. Despite the possible negative effects on the environment, I still believe that the dredging project should go forward because I think that the economic potential outweighs the environmental cost. In the new era of bigger boats and greater world trade, a deeper harbor is necessary for Charleston to remain a port of importance and influence. Tradd: My thoughts on the harbor dredging project are very split. I do enjoy the financial influx we will experience from the new ships sizes. On the other hand the amount of ecological damage it will cause is dangerous to the fishing industry and coastline. I feel that the Army Corps of Engineers will put down the ecological effects in order to make more money.