The still, scenic wetland waters of the Waccamaw River National Wildlife Refuge have long been a favorite of paddlers, and a haven for the threatened and endangered species that call this area of South Carolina home. Now, OSI and its partners are demonstrating how this quiet place and others like it can also be critical tools in the long-term battle against climate change.
OSI’s Maria Whitehead first came to know the refuge in 1999, as a Masters candidate in ornithology studying swallow-tailed kites. Soon, she returned to the refuge, working with its manager Craig Sasser and other conservationists, to monitor rising salinity levels that threatened the freshwater forested wetlands; and to make modifications to the refuge’s boundaries, to protect its important kite nesting habitat.
As the years passed, climate change-induced flooding made the proposed boundary modification a heightened priority, after the City of Conway — also located along the floodplain adjacent to the refuge — was hammered by a series of record-breaking rain events and hurricanes.
To facilitate conservation of the land, Whitehead, now working for OSI, provided planning expertise that led to the conservation of Westmoreland Preserve — a property within the expansion area that is likely to be transferred from the City of Conway to the refuge.
“This was a very creative approach for the refuge to address climate-related impacts, while also promoting resilience within one of the communities that they serve,” Whitehead said.
In March 2020, Whitehead discussed her two decades of work aimed at protecting the Waccamaw River on a podcast hosted by American Rivers. Listen to the discussion here.
'We Are Rivers' Podcast
Listen to an interview with OSI's Maria Whitehead about her two decades of effort protecting the Waccamaw River, and the modification of the Waccamaw River National Wildlife Refuge boundary.