A changing climate – political and environmental - impacts S.C. wildlife
Hurricane season is here and the First Congressional District has a lot to be grateful for. Stretching from about Awendaw to the Savannah River, the district is fortunate to have numerous permanently protected shoreline properties, areas that due to their intact geomorphology are better equipped to handle the wrath of hurricanes than those of their developed neighbors.
Permanent protection of portions of South Carolina’s coastal islands like the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and Botany Bay on Edisto have buffered inland communities for centuries, typically lessening the impacts on humans as well as wildlife. Despite these protection efforts, our wildlife populations are still vulnerable.
The changing climate is pointing to increases in both the number of storms and storm intensity - changes that can disturb natural wildlife populations. Shorebirds can be blown hundreds of miles from their home habitats. The loss of coastal forests can be devastating to species that depend on that forest type. Storm surges, waves, and wind can submerge sea turtle nests and destroy the eggs. The intrusion of salt water into previously brackish ponds and streams can harm or kill the grasses, crabs, minnows, and insects that provide the foundation of the coastal food chain and destroy biodiverse tidal freshwater wetland systems. The abundance of freshwater flowing down from places upstream with sediment can also upset the fragile balance. In short, we’re fortunate for the natural ability of portions of our coast to flex, to an extent, with changing weather patterns.
In addition, the oceans are warming and sea levels are rising at an alarming rate. The state’s elected leaders need to address these problems now. First District Congressman Joe Cunningham is one of our U.S. House members who is sponsoring HR 9, which deals specifically with climate change. The South Carolina Wildlife Federation urges all South Carolinians to read the provisions of this important measure and make your feelings known. Attend a town hall meeting on the matter and contact your elected representatives about how you feel about climate change. Share your personal stories and encourage each of them to act.
Your grandchildren (and the turtles) will appreciate it.
Sara Green is executive director of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation.