Port Royal Sound Foundation hosts the third annual symposium – The Island News – Beaufort, SC

Local state representatives worked to ensure the health of local watersheds

From staff reports

OKATIE, South Carolina – More than 45 people representing 15 governmental and non-governmental organizations attended the Port Royal Sound Foundation (PRSF) third annual symposium, held in April on the Maritime Center campus, focusing on the the non-profit organization’s most important and unsung mission: research.

The sole purpose of the annual event was to bring together a diverse and knowledgeable group of experts in the field to identify and define indicators for monitoring the health of the Port Royal Sound, the watershed extending from Allendale to the Atlantic Ocean.

“The Port Royal Sound is a living, breathing gem that surrounds us and it is our mission to watch over it, preserve it and protect it for ourselves and future generations,” said PRSF Research Coordinator Courtney E. Kimmel, Ph.D . ., who organized the event.

Anyone who visits Highway 170 in Okatie is familiar with the sight of the tower at the base of the Lemon Island Bridge, the Maritime Center’s landmark. And while tens of thousands of visitors have passed through the gate over the past decade, few understand what the tower – and the Foundation – represent and do for Port Royal Sound.

Kimmel, who has spent her career working in watersheds in the Chesapeake Bay and beyond, emphasizes the importance of the work done locally to preserve sound, and especially how it differs from the work in other areas.

“Many waterfront communities are struggling with remediation or cleaning up the mess that has been created in the past,” Kimmel said. “We are in the unique position of preserving and protecting – preserving what we have! That is a rare and privileged position to work from.”

Featuring representatives from the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), SC Sea Grant, The Nature Conservancy, and the University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB), to name a few , the group held productive brainstorming sessions to develop a ‘health checklist’ of indicators to be used by the Port Royal Sound Foundation to monitor and track sound health and changes in the watershed.

“If you look at this in human terms, it’s like going to your doctor for a checkup,” Kimmel says. “You need to establish a baseline so you can monitor your health and work with your doctors when things don’t seem right.”

The symposium participants were divided into small groups based on their expertise, each tasked with developing a set of indicators to be monitored for signs of change. The groups then developed recommendations for goals, data sources, and partners that can support PRSF in tracking these indicators.

“This was truly a gathering of the brightest minds to ensure that PRSF is paying attention to the right things to preserve the watershed, which is a crown jewel of the Lowcountry,” Kimmel said.

Kimmel presented the group’s work and next steps to the PRSF Executive Committee in late April, and will begin working with local, regional and state partners this month to refine and implement their plans. The goal is to develop these indicators into a data-driven tool that communicates watershed health, illustrates changes, and helps prioritize the organization’s work, including grant funding.

For more information about the Port Royal Sound Foundation and its ongoing research efforts, volunteer opportunities and the Maritime Center, visit or call 843-645-7774.

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