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Learning From Sullivan’s Beach Erosion

By Jason Kreutner for the Island Eye News

One day this past September, students from the University School of the Lowcountry in Mount Pleasant learned more about erosion, accretion and marine science through an exploration of Folly Beach Park and the northern tip and north central section of Sullivan’s Island.

In the morning, students visited Folly Beach. Folly Beach has been affected by recent storms like Irene and Sandy, which have caused significant erosion and the temporary closure of the county park. During the school’s last visit in 2010, students saw that ongoing erosion had claimed most of the park’s paved parking lot – although it was still several feet above the beach itself.

This day of exploration allowed students to see that the parking lot was obliterated and that the elevation of the park and the beach itself were now the same. Bo Petersen, Post and Courier environmental reporter, met the students there to share his insight from his research and stories on the issue at Folly Beach. Students appreciated hearing from him and learning how renourishment of the beach is underwritten by the federal government because the normal erosion/accretion cycle has been affected by the jetties in place to protect the mouth of Charleston Harbor.

In the afternoon, students traveled to two parts of Sullivan’s Island. Sullivan’s Island faces erosion on the northern end of the island and substantial accretion in central and southern parts. The accreted areas are highly contested because they have spawned fledgling maritime forests, and these are seen as desirable (more vibrant ecosystem and buffer areas to protect the barrier island in future storms) and detrimental (affecting property values by limiting ocean views and allowing for rats and other creatures to take root and multiply) by different groups on Sullivan’s Island.

Students were able to see the effects of erosion by walking in and around the area of Breach Inlet. They then ended the day by slowly walking the Station 27 Beach Access path to analyze and explore the forest, its characteristics, the distance to the beach, etc. in order to gain a first-hand understanding of the various perspectives on the accreted land and the forest.

A hallmark of University School is the Learning Outside the Classroom program, which entails 30 field trips per year for experiential learning for the students. By preparing ahead of time for the trip (reading up on the issues), students are able to then see for themselves what is happening and make up their own mind about the issues based on information they have read and experienced first-hand.

University School of the Lowcountry will have an Open House on Monday, Nov. 11. The event will begin at 6 p.m. at the school’s campus, 690 Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant. There will be a formal presentation from 6:15-7:00, and there will be time beforehand and afterward to meet and ask questions of students, teachers, and parents. University School of the Lowcountry is geared to high-achieving students in grades 3-10, and features experiential learning through 30 field trips per year and instruction in Mandarin, Spanish, and Latin. Details: www.uslowcountry.org.

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