The value of local communities as crucial partners in the development of regional resilience strategies is immense, yet largely underutilized. The efficacy of empowered communities is perhaps best exemplified by the Maryville-Ashleyville neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina, a locale rich in history as the first African-American Township in the state and the birthplace of renowned marine biologist Ernest Everett Just. Concerned over the massive die-back of the tidal marsh bordering their neighborhood near Charles Towne Landing, residents of Maryville-Ashleyville have leveraged historical site knowledge and citizen science to bring together an impressive cadre of experts in support of what will be the most ambitious planting of saltmarsh vegetation at a single site in the history of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). Given the importance of green infrastructure (e.g. natural areas like salt marshes) in bolstering an area’s natural defenses against flooding and severe weather events, this collaborative restoration effort will help ensure the health and safety of surrounding communities for decades to come.

Funding Restoration of the Maryville-Ashleyville Salt Marsh

A key collaborator in this salt marsh reestablishment effort is Dr. Joel Kostka, a research professor specializing in coastal ecosystem restoration projects and microbial ecology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Enthralled by the site’s research potential and capacity to deliver critical ecosystem services, Dr. Kostka was the primary author of a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) grant to fund the generation of engineering design plans to inform restoration of a 293-acre tract inclusive of the Maryville-Ashleyville site. Eligibility for this NFWF grant was proactively secured by Albert George, Director of Conservation at the South Carolina Aquarium (SCA), via engagement in a three-year study that produced the 2019 Coastal Resilience Assessment of the Charleston Harbor Watershed. This Assessment delineated numerous Resilience Hubs within the Charleston Harbor region, including the prioritized West Ashley Resilience Hub containing the Maryville-Ashleyville marsh, crucial to protecting human and wildlife communities and assets from the negative consequences of coastal storms and sea level rise.

Climate Resiliency Requires a Team Effort

On-the-ground research and restoration work at the Maryville-Ashleyville site has proceeded rapidly over the past few years thanks to the impressive collaborative synergy between project contributors. Since Albert George of the SCA first met with Maryville-Ashleyville homeowners in 2018 to listen to the community’s concerns and aspirations related to the dying salt marsh, numerous strategic partners have stepped up in supportive roles. Dr. James Morris, a distinguished professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina and Fellow of the Society of Wetland Scientists, generated LiDAR-derived digital elevation maps of the entire marsh as a means to evaluate causative factor(s) for the die-off, as well as potential remediation strategies. Michael Hodges, an oyster restoration biologist with the SCDNR, has not only shared his expertise and time in the propagation and transplanting of Spartina alterniflora, but also has led numerous site visits to restore the marsh’s vegetative biomass. Notably, local homeowner Mr. John Carr, whose family has resided in historic Maryville for generations and who catalyzed the project’s initiation with his time-lapse photography evidencing the historically vigorous marsh ecosystem, has graciously provided project partners with frequent access to his land and the adjacent marsh research and restoration site.

Achieving Long-Term Climate Resiliency

The early signs of success in establishing transplanted Spartina alterniflora in various research plots within the Maryville-Ashleyville tidal marsh are encouraging. New stands of this saltmarsh cordgrass, many of which have been grown from seeds in SCDNR greenhouses, have successfully persisted across the seasons and show clear signs that they will continue to thrive and proliferate. It is anticipated that the engineering design plans currently being generated with NFWF funds, in conjunction with the guidance of project scholars like Dr. Kostka and Dr. Morris, will intelligently guide forthcoming efforts to holistically restore the health and productivity of the Maryville-Ashleyville tidal marsh, as well as surrounding habitats within the West Ashley Resilience Hub. Over the long term, green infrastructure restoration projects serve to efficiently reestablish ecosystem services provided by natural landscapes and can be an invaluable contributor to a region’s overall climate resiliency, particularly when fortified by local knowledge and engagement.