Moving mud by hand: State officials work to restore West Ashley marsh

Environmentalists and volunteers went to work in West Ashley to restore some marshland and fix ongoing water problems in the area.
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 6:34 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 23, 2023 at 7:57 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Environmentalists and volunteers went to work in West Ashley to restore some marshland and fix ongoing water problems in the area.

Volunteers helping SCDNR, the Charleston Waterkeeper and the South Carolina Aquarium worked for hours over the course of five days. They moved and dug out mud by hand to build a new water inlet near the Ashleyville and Historic Maryville neighborhood.

Charleston Waterkeeper Staff Scientist and Volunteer Coordinator Cheryl Carmack says it has been a great few days seeing people come together and learn about the program and the neighborhood.

“This is a historic neighborhood,” Carmack said. “So it’s exciting to come out here and help daylight this creek and get volunteers involved in every step of the process and to make such a huge impact for our water quality in the Ashley River.”

Environmental workers say the neighbors came to them when they realized the marsh was dying to see what could be done. Ashleyville residents were worried they would lose the valuable natural resources. Now, environmentalists are trying something new to help.

Michael Hodges is a Wildlife Biologist at SCDNR. He also manages the South Carolina Oyster Shell Dropoff Recycling Program there. He says the marsh is suffering from hurricane destruction and drought dry-up. Going forward, the channels will help retain water, and give incoming water a place to go.

“This is not something that has been done in South Carolina through hand excavation of new tidal channels,” Hodges explains. “Which is fancy words for moving mud, about 100 feet of new tidal channel which will be between two and six inches deep from front to back.”

One small scoop at a time, bucket by bucket, the volunteers are hoping to make a big impact on the marsh.

“It will help to combat with the projected sea level rise that we’re going to see here in South Carolina,” Hodges says. “By planting more marsh grass in here, that can actually increase the surface elevation of the shoreline. It can help with a little bit of flooding that could take place.”

Work wrapped on one inlet Thursday, but the groups will be back to plant marsh grass this year and continue digging two more channels within the next few years.

Sara McDonald, the director of conservation at the South Carolina Aquarium, says their team has been involved on this project for years, helping with the paperwork and grant writing to make it happen. She explains that a lot of their work happens outside the office.

“We work with communities and empower them to collect data and connect data with decision makers to help create solutions to problems such as plastic pollution, coastal flooding as a result of sea level rise and climate change,” McDonald says.

Their work with the marsh in Ashleyville is far from over, with more plans to plant marsh grass and dig channels. Hodges says it will be exciting to see how the project plays out over the next couple years.

A federal grant from wildlife and fisheries is funding parts of the project.