Friday, February 20, 2015

ACE Basin - National Estuarine Research Reserve


Otter Island aerial image courtesy SCDNR

Boaters traveling the Intracoastal Waterway through southeastern South Carolina have always known about the scenic sea islands with their natural look and a maritime forest ecosystem. Three rivers feed into St. Helena Sound between Beaufort and Edisto Island, forming a framework for a larger area that became known 25 years ago as the ACE Basin. The watershed for the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Rivers are now constantly monitored in the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) network.
            
The ACE Basin NERR encompasses more than 93,000-acres of uplands, wetlands and everything else found in this river system basin. The ecological significance of the ACE Basin became magnified in 1989 when recognized as critical habitat for migratory birds. In 1991, the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge was formed after purchase and protection of the Grove Plantation. In 1992, The ACE Basin NERR was formed, becoming just the 20th such site under the watch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Located at Bennett's Point in Colleton County
            
A partnership between private landowners and other parties began to blossom in the ACE Basin with an intense focus on conservation. The Nature Conservancy listed the ACE Basin as one of the World’s Last Great Places in 1994, and bought South Williman Island (2765-acres) and placed it under conservation easement. Several more barrier islands were purchased and protected from development and placed into the ACE Basin NERR including Otter Island (1889-acres) and Ashe Island (1722-acres).
Official Signage
            
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources manages some of these islands in their Heritage Preserve system now, which allows public access by boat for daytime visits. Some islands have pristine beaches where birds like the piping plover can stopover and where loggerhead turtles continue to nest. Others offer historic sites concerning Native Americans and rare plants that evolved over time in this temperate and salty section of the South.

To view the entire magazine feature article click on All At Sea.

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