Hilton Head Island Eco Vibe

Getting in Touch with Nature on Daufuskie Island

Want to get unplugged, relax, and reconnect with nature? Of course you do. We all do. So, let’s close our eyes and try this:

  1. Imagine the rhythmic sound of a boat’s bumper gently rapping against an old wooden dock or the squawk of a seafaring bird.
  2. Inhale South Carolina’s coastal air and let the briny scent of a low tide and exposed oyster beds overtake your olfactory.
  3. Feel the heat as your feet walk on mid-afternoon sand in the summer.
  4. Boil some local shrimp to a pretty pink and then taste a spectrum of flavors from sweet to salty.
  5. Envision the infusion of color as an electric sun melts down into the horizon.

Horseback riding on Daufuskie Beach

Chances are, you feel pretty chill right now after engaging all five of your senses. And, chances are if you have ever been to Daufuskie Island—a charming, historic and well-celebrated island only accessible by ferry or boat in South Carolina—you probably just returned there in your mind. Because, just like an island is completely surrounded by water, Daufuskie is completely surrounded by down-to-earth folk and its natural inhabitants—from the ever-busy fiddler crab, to the endangered and prehistoric-looking wood stork, to the lithe white-tailed deer.

To educate people more about the Lowcountry, and perhaps to immerse people in the relaxation exercise you attempted earlier in this blog, “The Daufuskie Island Conservancy and the Haig Point Naturalist Programs have partnered together to provide educational programs on the Lowcountry environment,” said Yvonne Clemons, coordinator for the Haig Point Naturalist Program.

Alligators on Daufuskie

According to Clemons, the programs are varied, educational and—as most things Daufuskie—sprinkled with some salty humor. “Our programs are really great. Recently, we learned how to live with alligators at ‘Gators, Golf Balls, and Golf Carts.’ We got to touch an armadillo, an opossum and a snake at ‘Animals Only Their Moms Would Love.’ We have also learned about ‘The Night Sky,’ native plants, rookeries, wading birds, butterflies, and dolphins. I have learned something new and interesting at every single program.”

When asked why Clemons dedicates her time to the Haig Point Naturalist Programs she explained, “Most of us are transplants to the Lowcountry. I think we need to learn about this unique environment. I do believe in naturalist Baba Dioum’s quote, ‘In the end, we will protect only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.’”

When asked why she lives on and lives by the Daufuskie way of life she answered, “Its beautiful and peaceful. I love the sense of community. We have a great mix of people from all over the world and all different types of lifestyles.”

To learn more about upcoming educational events on Daufuskie, click here.

Exploring the Audubon Newhall Preserve

“We came here six years ago,” began Ula Li, “We liked it so much, we had to come back. It’s just as beautiful as we remembered it.” Li and her husband are sitting on a bench overlooking the Audubon Newhall Preservepond. They are admiring a sunning alligator. “Plus, in Delaware we don’t have alligators.”

Jack Greenshields in front of the Beany Newhall memorial

Jeff Greenshields, a master naturalist and caretaker of the Audubon Newhall Preserve, smiles. “We get that a lot,” said Greenshields.

Greenshields is leading me along the loop around the pond. I can’t help but think he is aptly named because he truly is a champion of Mother Nature. He can identify any species—plant or animal—and then provide an amusing anecdote about how it either contributed to the Lowcountry’s rich history or how it could become your new best friend.

“This is a wax myrtle,” explained Greenshields, stopping just before the lightly fragrant tree. “I point out this tree because the wax myrtle is such a historical plant. It has been used in the Lowcountry in signature dishes like gumbo and is an excellent insecticide. One pro golfer used it instead of Deet while playing in the Heritage.”

Part of the beauty of the Audubon Newhall Preserve is the fact that anyone, of any fitness level or knowledge of the area’s flora and fauna, can enjoy a scenic stroll.

“This trail is not very arduous,” said Greenshields. “It’s for nature lovers. That’s why the park is so well labeled—so people can easily identify things.”

According to the trail guide, “The Audubon Newhall Preserve was established in 1965 as the Island Wildlife Preserve, when Caroline “Beany” Newhall, recognizing the need to conserve woodlands, persuaded Charles Fraser of the Sea Pines Company to deed 50 acres of land for the preserve.”

The platform overlooking the pond

Good thing she did. This place is awesome. You can tour it independently, or join in on one of the free group tours every Thursdays at 10am September-November and March-May.

As we are leaving we see Li again. “Your paths are so nice, if we ever finally move here we want to volunteer!”


  • Trail Difficulty: Easy
  • Plants: A diverse variety of trees, plants and animals
  • Water: A rare pocosin (the Indian word for bog) and a scenic pond encircled by a path
  • Dogs: Allowed
  • Length: 2 miles
  • Fees: Free (but feel free to add to the donation box)
  • Directions: From the north end of Hilton Head Island on US 278, drive over the Cross Island Parkway onto Palmetto Bay Rd.—the Audubon Newhall Preserve is on the right after the traffic light past Pt. Comfort Rd. From the south end of Hilton Head Island, drive west to the traffic circle and turn right (north) onto Palmetto Bay Rd.—the Audubon Newhall Preserve sign is on the left before the last traffic light before the bridge.
  • Hours: Daylight hours
  • Camping: None
  • Restrooms: None
  • Information: Hilton Head Island Audubon Society, P.O. Box 6185, Hilton Head Island, S.C., 29938-6185, Telephone: (843) 842-9246.


An art as old as Hilton Head: Cast net throwing

Cast net fishing is one of the most basic techniques to catch shrimp or small bait fish as you prepare for day of fishing on Hilton Head Island. Cast nets have been used for thousands of years and certainly as long as people have lived on Hilton Head Island.

Cast nets are, well, nets, with weights at the edges, called a lead line. Cast nets make it easy to catch shrimp in pools as the tide goes out. Cast net fishing also is a quick, easy and cheap way to land a supply of live bait wherever they congregate.

Nets can be cast from shore, piers or boats, said Scott Moody, who teaches cast-net throwing at Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn. He uses an old-school method in which you hold part of the lead line in your teeth as you get a pendulum going to cast the net.

Other methods, from Cuban, Long Island to old school, all arrive at the same end result, a fully open net.

“I grew up in Saudi Arabia and learned to cast net in the Persian Gulf,“ Scott said. “There, you’d see men in water up to their chests and throw 40-foot-wide nets. That takes a lot of strength.”

He moved with his parents to Hilton Head Island 30 years ago. The natural beauty of the island has kept him here since, where he puts his fishing and professional photography talents to good use.

Cast net lessons start on land to hone the technique.

For his lessons at Coastal Discovery, he invites children as young as age 5 to adults. He gives kids a smaller three-foot cast net and lets them loose on the lawn, netting nematodes. “You have to be tall enough to reach the center of the net,” Scott said. Pardon the pun, but once they catch a few nematodes, they’re hooked on the technique.

“I also teach adults on land because they don’t want to get all wet and dirty,” Scott said. “Kids LOVE getting all wet and dirty.”

On land or casting into the water, Scott offers the lessons from 2 to 3 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesdays, March through May. The cost is $10 per person and reservations are required. Call 843-689-6767, ext. 223. Check out Coastal Discovery’s website for all kinds of awesome outings.

“Cast net fishing is a great way to catch live bait or Hilton Head Island shrimp,” Scott said. “It’s also a great workout.”

The 5 Best Places to See Winter Wildlife on Hilton Head Island

winter berries

Winter Berries. Photo Marianne Ballantine

Jack Frost arrives late and departs early on Hilton Head Island and the South Carolina Lowcountry. The coast rarely braces for hard frost until late December, and that threat slinks away under the balmy breezes of early March. Winter is an 8-10 week span when the nights are long, “wet-chill” on the coast wends into the downiest overcoat, and tree foliage turns into hues of gold, maroon, and red. But bundle up: your reward is that Island wildlife is more active and easier to see when times get nippy.

Premier places to explore

Hilton Head Island is a big place—over 34 square miles of beach, dunes, dense “maritime” forest, manmade ponds and lakes, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, and tidal waterways. What’s more, developers, communities, and the Town of Hilton Head Island have preserved hundreds of critical habitat in preserves, parks and open space. But there are 5 GREAT sites to explore for a premier wildlife-watching experience. Let’s go!

White Tailed Deer

White Tailed Deer

1. Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Located in the in the lower (northern) end of the The Sea Pines Resort and community, the 605- acres, permanently protected Sea Pines Forest Preserve has vast hardwood and pine forest, a series of freshwater lakes, secluded wetlands (including a gem named “Boggy Gut”), prehistoric and historic sites, and miles of trails for walking or horseback riding. Check out the lakes to see migratory ducks, like bufflehead, ruddy, and goldeneye. You’ll have a chance to see the Hilton Head whitetail deer—a unique subspecies (hiltonensisno kidding!) that is smaller than its mainland brethren. And if cloud cover rolls in, listen for the barred owl: its “who cooks, who cooks for you” muffled call may signal rain.

2. South Beach. Pick a warmer day to walk to the Island’s southern tip named South Beach. This is a dynamic strand, subject to strong currents and churning waves. Watch for flocks of double-crested cormorants in V-formation (the look like skinny geese), loons (common and red-throated), and bottlenose dolphin cavorting close to shore. Beachcombing is productive on South Beach: watch for big knobbed whelk snails (relative to conchs) and colorful, branchy seawhip corals

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

3. Fish Haul Creek Park and Beach. Follow Beach City Road for about two miles and turn in to the entry to Fish Haul Creek Park. This site is the epicenter of the historic Mitchelville, where freed slaves lived in the first African-American, self-governing community in America. The village stands no longer, but interpretive exhibits introduce the story, and lead you to a salt marsh an observation deck. Trails wend through dense oak forest, home for great horned owl, raccoon, gray fox, bobcat, and migrating tree swallows. Follow the main trail, which leads you to the dynamic Fish Haul Creek beachfront. This is THE beach to see migratory shorebirds: curlew, dunlin, dowitcher, godwit, red knot, willet, and lots of “peeps” (small sandpipers). This is an eroding beach, so check a tide chart and visit during the low cycle—that’s when the birds feed in the mosaic of tidal pools.


Heron and egrets

Heron and egrets

4. Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Drive across the bridge leading from Hilton Head Island and make the first right-turn into Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. This 4,000-acre gem offers miles of trails through every habitat found in the Lowcountry, plus managed fields and forest. Simply follow the main path and you’ll encounter freshwater ponds, of which one hosts colony of egrets and herons. The fields are home to bluebirds, countless sparrow species, kestrels and harriers (small hawks), and perhaps a bluebird or two braving the cool weather.

The refuge salt marsh supports a huge population of wading birds, including white ibis, wood stork and snowy egret. It was in this marsh that I watched a Carolina cougar (a.k.a. mountain lion) saunter across the vast sand flats that lead to secluded hammocks (tree islands rich in migratory birdlife). 

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

5. Calibogue Sound. Join a kayak eco-tour or a cruise in historic Calibogue Sound. The name Calibogue comes from the Cusabo Indian word meaning “deep water.” The kayak allows you to follow herons and oystercatchers into shallow marsh creeks. Only here will you catch hyena-like call of the clapper rail, locally called  “marsh hen.” Some cruises trawl (pull nets) and harvest shrimp and many other oddities of sea life. You haven’t lived until you’ve met a dogfish shark or a stingray up-close. They’re all part of bountiful marine menagerie that is nature on wintertime Hilton Head Island. Come explore!

Oysters: Guardians of the Coast


Live oyster bed, Broad Creek. Photo: Marianne Ballantine

MEET THE OYSTER—the humble, craggy Eastern Oyster. It’s the lowliest of the creatures that live in the shoals of Lowcountry salt marshes, tidal streams, and wide waters like Port Royal Sound, Calibogue Sound and May River. Submerged at high tide, exposed to the elements at low, oysters are among the most ancient species on earth. For 120 million years, of years, oysters have created valuable habitat for wildlife, from dolphins and migratory birds to the tiniest blobs and gobs of the marine world. And now, in this era of climate change, oysters are even more valuable to humans.



Oysters cluster together in dense colonies, also called “reefs,” “rakes,” or beds.” Here the oysters cement themselves to one another, forming craggy walls of shells between the high and low tides.  The millions upon millions of oysters feed on plankton (microscopic plants) filtered from the tidal stream. Oysters reproduce by shedding up to 500 million eggs per oyster in one season. Juvenile oysters, or “spat” settle on the reef and enlarge the colony. It soon becomes a living Mecca of life snails, crabs, starfishes, birds, fishes, and of course, more oysters.

Oyster reefs have been equally valuable to humans. Since the Archaic Indians migrated to the Atlantic Coast 5,000-8,000 years ago, people have consumed oysters. Early Native Americans built shell rings and mounds for ceremonial purposes. African Gullah slaves added oyster shells to the sandy coastal soil, providing lime needed for growing valuable Sea Island Cottonbefore the Civil War. In recent years, oysters have been the main course in Lowcountry seafood fests, and the bedding in many landscaping features. But now, our sturdy oyster reefs have an even more important job.

Sea Island Cotton. Photo: Marianne Ballantine









            Since the end of the last Ice Age about 20,000 years ago, global glacial ice sheets have melted and the sea level has risen over 400 feet along the South Carolina-Georgia coast. Scientists predict that due to climate change, the sea level will rise as much as 4 feet more by 2100. Forty-eight inches higher is a big deal in the flat-as-a-table Lowcountry. This event would significantly affect coastal development and people’s lives in the Hilton Head region. Yet, higher seas would really put pressure on our productive salt marshes—the cradle of all seafood. Sea level rise will slowly, but surely, alter tides, currents, and coastal erosion in inshore waters. Salt marshes thrive in a few inches of water, but would vanish when inundated by deeper water, more often, and for hours every day.

Could oysters save our great salt marshes? The answer is: Yes, there is still hope.

Oyster reefs withstand waves and flooding. Oyster reefs accumulate tons of sand and are the best defense for fragile wetlands. And oysters go with the flow—settling upstream according to the changing level of salt water.

Hilton Head Island and other Lowcountry communities can shore up their future by building new oyster reefs. It has been in South Carolina’s ACE Basin and the great Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia. Why not here? Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and our neighbor communities should build new living reefs in local waters to save the oysters, the ancient Guardians of the Coast.

The Mysterious Sea Pines Shell Ring

Sea Pines Indian Shell Ring

See the shell ring in the background.

THE FIRST VISITORS arrived on Hilton Head Island 4,000 years ago. This is no typo: 40 centuries in the distant past, Archaic (means “early”) Indians migrated across North America and arrived on its coastal islands. Evidence—from fossils to tools and ceramics found here—shows that the Ancient Ones came to the coast to hunt small game and harvest seafood on barrier islands. Hilton Head Island is the largest island on the Southeast Coast, and it was a popular destination for yes, our first tourists. And like loyal visitors, they returned again and again. The evidence lies deep in the heart of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. See for yourself: all you have to do is find the ancient ring.

Follow the path to discovery
Sea Pines is a renowned resort and large residential community on the “toe”-end of Hilton Head Island. Enter via the Greenwood Drive access, off the Sea Pines traffic circle. Pay the small entrance fee—the price is well worth the adventure. About one mile ahead, on the left, is the sign for: Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Pull in, park your car, pick up the Visitor Map, and follow the scenic trails through the Preserve. Your destination is the “Sea Pines Shell Ring,” sometimes called “Indian Shell Ring.” It’s a scenic 20 minute walk across boardwalks, past scenic recreational lakes, and through woodlands of Spanish moss-laden live oaks, palmettos, and ship’s mast-straight pines.
Suddenly, the forest grows quiet, and you know you have arrived at the Ring. Signs lead you into a shallow basin enclosed by a low wall that appears earthen (more about that in a minute). A huge southern magnolia tree and on all sides, live oaks cantilever their limbs over the area. This place feels like a cathedral. That’s because it is.

Why a ring? The low wall encircling this area only covered with earth. In fact, it is a near-perfect circle of shells. Here lie thousands of oysters, clams, whelk (large snails, turtle, fish and other shells and bones from animals easily collected from salt marshes, trapped in wooden weirs, and hunted with spears. About 40 years ago, an archaeologist from the University of South Carolina excavated the area and determined:
• People built this ring approximately 4,000 years ago—the same time period when Egyptians erected the Great Pyramids.
• Ancient Indians built this ring over a period of 300 years. That’s a very impressive return-trip rate to Hilton Head Island!
• There are no signs anyone lived in the ring. Like similar rings and Indian mounds in the Southeast, this shell ring was most likely a ceremonial area and community plaza.
• All the shells were only carried a short distance. A tidal salt marsh once flowed through the center of Sea Pines and southern Hilton Head Island. This wetland is now fresh-water and it is named “Boggy Gut.”

Seek and you will find much more
No one knows why the Shell Ring People abandoned the site over 3,500 year ago. Perhaps climate change and rising sea level affected seafood populations. Maybe other warlike tribes invaded. What we do know is that Hilton Head Island has many mysteries of history and nature awaiting your discovery. For more information and clues: visit the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn (843-689-3033).

Meet the World Campion Tourists

Meet the World Campion Tourists

Red Knot's migration route. Illustration by Todd Ballantine

Red Knot's migration route. Illustration by Todd Ballantine

They come every year, like clockwork, always in spring. It is ritual, a great physical right of passage. No, I am not talking about spring break revelers on our Hilton Head Island shores. The epic travelers here are even more colorful, more driven by raging hormones, and more courageous. They are the “Neotropical” migratory birds—songbirds, shorebirds, raptors (hawks, kites and vultures) and several species of ducks. They have wintered in Mexico, the Caribbean isles, or Central and South America, and are winging northward to breeding grounds in the northeastern U.S., Canada and the arctic tundra.

For those who grouse about flight delays or the boredom of road trips, consider the sky miles logged by these Neotropical travelers:
• The red knot, a shorebird, migrates nearly 10,000 miles north to breed and flies another 10,000 miles back to Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego for the winter.
• The nighthawk, a great hunter of moths and mosquitoes in the Island’s summer skies (listen for its call: “speeb!”) migrates 3,000-7,000 miles, round-trip.
• The beautifully colored painted bunting, much sought by Hilton Head Island birdwatchers, wings as far as 3,000 miles, each way.

Hilton Head Island is known for its 250-plus species of birds, and many are Neotropical migrants. Why this grand diversity?
• The big Island: Hilton Head Island is the second largest island on the East Coast—34 square miles in area, second only to Long Island, NY in overall size. This Island offers significant space and seclusion for all manner of birds.
• Location, location: Nestled back in the Georgia Bight—the concave coastline of the great basin of the Southeast Coast, Hilton Head Island offers refuge for birds seeking to escape harsh ocean weather.
• Our diverse landscape: The Island offers high ground forest, freshwater wetlands, numerous lakes and ponds, salt marshes and tidewater streams, wide beaches, tidal pools, and dunes. Each native habitat provides prey species (for the red knot: horseshoe crab eggs) that sustain migratory birds in their epic journeys.

Modern Hilton Head Island was built on the ethos of conservation. In the early 1950s the original developers committed to preserve significant natural open space to buffer the influx of new roads, homes, and commercial buildings. The Town of Hilton Head Island advanced this ideal since the 1980s. This open space now provides short-stay refuge for migratory birds and many permanent Island species.
So now, when you visit the Island beaches, cast your fishing line in a still lagoon or guide your kayak through prairie of rustling marsh grass, watch the sky. Listen for the chirp of distant voices. The Neotropical visitors, those wings on the wind, will soon take flight, many miles to keep.
They come every year, like clockwork, always in spring. It is ritual, a great physical right of passage. No, I am not talking about spring break revelers on our Hilton Head Island shores. The epic travelers here are even more colorful, more driven by raging hormones, and more courageous. They are the “Neotropical” migratory birds—songbirds, shorebirds, raptors (hawks, kites and vultures) and several species of ducks. They have wintered in Mexico, the Caribbean isles, or Central and South America, and are winging northward to breeding grounds in the northeastern U.S., Canada and the arctic tundra.

For those who grouse about flight delays or the boredom of road trips, consider the sky miles logged by these Neotropical travelers:
• The red knot, a shorebird, migrates nearly 10,000 miles north to breed and flies another 10,000 miles back to Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego for the winter.
• The nighthawk, a great hunter of moths and mosquitoes in the Island’s summer skies (listen for its call: “speeb!”) migrates 3,000-7,000 miles, round-trip.
• The beautifully colored painted bunting, much sought by Hilton Head Island birdwatchers, wings as far as 3,000 miles, each way.

Calibogue Sound is a Force of Nature

Calibogue Sound

Storm clouds over Calibogue Sound. Photo: Marianne Ballantine

THE BLUE BOUNDARY separating Hilton Head Island from the mainland is a wide, sweeping waterway named Calibogue Sound. The sound is melded from the confluence of Mackay Creek, May River, Cooper River, Broad Creek, and six tributaries on Hilton Head Island. Deep and 13 miles long, this waterway curves like the body of a dolphin and connects the Atlantic Ocean with Port Royal Sound. It is a place of history and natural wonders, beckoning discovery.
The name Calibogue (pronounced kal i-bow-gee) is derived from a southern Creek Indian word meaning “deep spring.” The central channel, hugging the western flank of Hilton Head lsland’s Spanish Wells and Sea Pines communities, is nearly 70 feet deep. Scientists have measured the bottom of this channel and discovered cavernous rock cliffs carved by strong seabed currents. The diversity of water flow and depth mixes sediments and nutrients in the water. This produces good habitat for marine life.

Calibogue Sound is Hilton Head Island’s most ancient natural resource. From bank to bank, and at every twist and turn, you can view a diversity of wildlife.
• Headwaters of the Sound wrap around Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, home for bald eagle, osprey, vast flocks of wading birds, and a safe home for migratory shorebirds.
• Salt marshes lining the Sound are acre-for-acre the most productive wildlife communities on the Island. These wetlands have it all: food, shelter and water for species ranging from oysters to great blue herons.
• Sandbars and shell banks are vital habitat for American oystercatcher, black skimmers, gulls, terns, sandpipers, and wading birds.
• Bottlenose dolphins are plentiful in Calibogue Sound. Although dolphins were thought to be a migratory species, researchers have learned that in Calibogue Sound, about 200 dolphins remain year-round. The fishing is that good!

• Ecotours are guided tours in small boats or sea kayaks (my favorite). Trained naturalists will lead you to prime wildlife viewing and interpret the history of Hilton Head Island, nearby Daufuskie Island, and the Bluffton area.
• Dolphin Watching cruises are available by kayak, small boat or large cruisers. Remember: feeding dolphins is illegal.
• Inshore fishing charters are offered from the public docks and marinas on the Island. Depending on the time of year, quarry includes red drum, Spanish mackerel, tarpon, whiting, and more.
• Sailing is offered through charters at local marinas. You will always remember a sunset cruise on the golden water of Calibogue Sound.

Three Mystery Beaches On Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head Island Beach

Explore the beauty, history and lure of Hilton Head Island's beaches.

The beach on Hilton Head Island is a house of mysteries. Around every bend is a clue about places of great battles, lost plantations, landscapes reshaped. This Island keeps its secrets at the water’s edge. But you can discover the clues if you know where to look.


Dolphin Head beach is a dynamic strand. Located on the northern tip of the Island, this shoreline has retreated back at least 1,000 yards. Relentless tidal currents in Port Royal Sound have rolled the beach into the nearby salt marsh. At high tide this strand is only a few yards wide.

At ebb (low) tide, vast gray sand flats appear. The landscape is a gallery of things past: bleached live oak logs, clumps of ancient marsh grass, tidal pools that lure shorebirds, and most mysterious: odd blocks encrusted with oyster shells. These were tabby cement footings on the renowned Myrtle Bank Plantation. Here William Elliot was the first to cultivate long-staple Sea Island Cotton, which brought great wealth to Hilton Head Island planters—before the Civil War washed away the plantation economy, and the rising sea level washed away the Elliot’s plantation manse.


The “Folly” is a creek that cuts across the beach between Singleton Beach Road and Burke’s Beach Road, south of the Folly Field community. Powerful tidal currents pour inland through the Folly and nourish a bay-shaped salt marsh behind rows of dunes. The Folly marsh is a nature treasure for two reasons.  First, the shallow tidal grassland is a refuge for wildlife: wading birds, osprey, and white-tailed deer and coastal fish.  Second, Folly Creek is a secret memory, a remnant of an inland marsh that ran parallel to the shore, like a Lowcountry Everglades. The Folly flowed all the way to Sea Pines, where it turned back into the ocean. About 50 years ago, this little river of grass was converted to a matrix of lagoons, canals, and even a golf course over 50 years ago. Folly Creek and marsh is all that remains of the ancient waterway.

On November 7, 1861, a Union armada anchored off Scarborough Head, the northeastern heel of foot-shaped Hilton Head Island and blasted Confederate defenses at Confederate Fort Walker. Rebel troops fled the decimated fort as Union forces invaded, effectively ending the Civil War—at least on Hilton Head Island. What is today vibrant community and resort was then the central port for the Atlantic coastal blockade by the U.S. Navy of southern ports, and the station for 40,000 blue-coated troops.

The Scarborough Head beach (now called the Port Royal beach) is flat and over 100 yards wide at low tide. If you know where to look at the water’s edge, you may see a remnant post, wave-worn and encrusted with marine life. This might have supported the naval dock, 1,000 feet in length. It is another clue that great mysteries are embedded in the Island’s vast beaches.

Saving Nature Reclaimed water is the Number One Environmental Success Story on Hilton Head Island


Restored Whooping Crane Conservancy. Photo by Marianne Ballantine

DO YOU WONDER where the water goes once you turn off the tap? Step out of your shower? Or flush? Besides delivering water to you, the Island’s two largest utilities Hilton Head Public Service District and South Island Public Service District treat this “wastewater” to strict quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. But don’t think of this water as waste. It’s a valuable resource waiting for the right place to go. Happily, Hilton Head Island is just the right place.


In the early 1900s, many American cities discharged poorly treated and even untreated wastewater into river, lakes, and oceans. Los Angeles County was first to irrigate California golf courses with such wastewater. Problem: this water contained pollutants harmful to people and the environment.  Passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act established standards for eliminating pollution in waters of the U.S. A key quality standard set the goal that surface waters must be “swimmable and fishable.” That goal improved water quality for humans. But what about plants and animals?

Reclaimed water is advanced-treated, or “tertiary treated” domestic-use water. It’s sometimes called “reuse water” or “recycled water.” I call it LIFE.

The reclaimed water process adheres to water quality standards and just as important, to the best practices of ecological restoration, right here on the Island.

  • The water meets all standards for nutrient and toxin removal.
  • The water is distributed to the six largest freshwater wetland systems on the Island.
  • The utilities provide reclaimed water as lower cost irrigation on local golf courses.

This aqua-recycling program in the first sustainable technology created and successfully implemented on Hilton Head Island. Distribution of this water rectifies past impacts from development. Reclaimed water restores old growth forest, and enhances biodiversity. This in turn creates new opportunities for nature-based ecotourism—the fastest growing sector of tourism in the world.


Hilton Head Island is the only community in the U.S. to have SIX reclaimed water restoration projects. In future blogs, we’ll explore these Green Sanctuaries:

  • Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy
  • Cypress Conservancy
  • Boggy Gut
  • White Ibis Swamp
  • Sawgrass Savanna
  • Blackgum Bottomland

These names are intriguing enough. Wait until I show you who lives there!