How to do your part to save South Carolina’s Lowcountry | Opinion

People of the South Carolina Lowcountry are feeling less like a dolphin gliding through open water and more like sardines packed in a can.

A reader sent this summary: “The business interests of profits over ‘natural landscape’ will continue to deplete the beauty of Hilton Head Island by wanting more customers. The growing customer base will reach a break-even point and the attraction of the island will be lost forever, if not already.”

Concern about stacks of people, houses, cars and boats clogging an area known for its subtle beauty roared to the front again in May as a great victory for the local environment was celebrated. The Town of Hilton Head Island recognized the Hilton Head Fishing Cooperative’s role in fending off a BASF petrochemical plant from the banks of the Colleton River in 1970.

David Lauderdale

David Lauderdale

That was a clear victory for the waterways. But it placed “we the people” as the heavy industry. And even those who won the BASF fight were soon chiding the people for not doing enough to protect the Port Royal Sound estuary.

When I wrote about that on June 2, another reader responded: “What is the call to action? I was hoping the piece would conclude with a clear invitation to join a cause to increase thoughtfulness. Please pass on any contacts whom we could join in this effort.”

The call to action has several phases: Get out into nature, then find answers to all the new questions about “what is this” and “why is that,” and soon you’ll care much more about it. Then, you’ll fight for it.

A local activist told me there are many steps you can take: volunteer, talk to your neighbors, vote, attend meetings and vocalize your opinion, and get involved with organizations leading the fight.

Organizations you might consider include the Coastal Conservation League based in Charleston, the S.C. Environment Law Project based in Georgetown, and the Southern Environmental Law Center based in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It also includes the Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton, Open Land Trust in Beaufort, Lowcountry Land Trust based in Charleston, the Edisto Island Open Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, Open Land Institute and Ducks Unlimited.

These local groups can help you learn, and get out there: Coastal Discovery Museum, Port Royal Sound Foundation and its Maritime Center in Okatie, the Lowcountry Institute of Spring Island, Audubon Society, and Outside Foundation of Hilton Head.

Become a Master Naturalist or Master Gardner, watch Tony Mills on the “Coastal Kingdom” TV show, buy a state fishing license that funnels some money to conservation. Support organizations that help our sea turtles.

Learn about stormwater runoff and the ways each household can treat water responsibly. Beaufort County’s website has a lot of practical information.

Download the Cornell Lab app that enables you to record the birds you hear in your yard and instantly identify them.

Serve on your planning commission, zoning review board, town council or county council.

Support all referenda to buy land and development rights. Support the South Carolina Conservation Bank. The greatest enemies we’ve seen are zoning changes, massive development agreements and annexations. People can fight them, and sometimes win. The purchase of public land and development rights — and conservation easements voluntarily placed on large tracts by landowners — have been our greatest successes.

Charles G. Lane of Charleston, who chaired the ACE Basin Task Force for years as he worked to protect 350,000 acres in the Lowcountry, said, “There was an awakening in coastal South Carolina. We could have lost the whole thing, but now it is a working landscape. What the ACE Basin did was show people that we can save it, but only if we get up off our butt and do something about it.”

When Al Segars retired from 20 years of protecting the Lowcountry with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, I asked what ordinary citizens can do to protect the environment that draws so many here. He said: “It all comes down to individual responsibility.”

David Lauderdale may be reached at