Friends of Coastal South Carolina serves area wildlife refuges, helping to protect creatures such as this blue heron and welcoming area students for educational programs. Photographs by (heron) Merrill Irvin & (students) Grace Gasper
January 7, 2015
Nature adapts in the face of environmental change. And in that spirit of evolution, SEWEE Association journeys into its 19th year with a fresh moniker that embodies the conservation organization’s maturation over nearly two decades. “The success of our programs has allowed us to grow to serve 100 miles of the South Carolina coast,” notes Grace Gasper, executive director of the newly dubbed Friends of Coastal South Carolina (FCSC). “We needed an identity that better reflected our expanding geographic reach and that we are a friends group to national forest wildlife refuges.”
Since its establishment in 1996 to support the collaboration of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and Francis Marion National Forest, the nonprofit has also partnered with the Waccamaw and ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuges. Support from nearly 1,500 FCSC members helps fund vital efforts including invasive species eradication projects, shorebird conservation and loggerhead sea turtle recovery programs, and interpretive center displays and trails. These environmental advocates also give of their skills and services for educational programming, special events, public facilities maintenance, and more. “We want to encourage citizen stewardship,” says Gasper.
To that end, education remains the group’s primary mission. While it certainly hosts single-visit field trips to the refuges and forest, the cornerstone of FCSC’s curriculum is a 10-week Earth Stewards program combining field studies and classroom lessons for fifth and seventh graders. The students visit sites such as Bulls Island, where they use dip nets in freshwater wetlands, ID plants, and create food webs to visualize how energy flows through the ecosystem.
“Our programs give students the opportunity to see the math and science they’re learning at work in the real world. But they also get them onto our refuges and into the forest to gain an understanding of coastal ecosystems,” Gasper says.
Like a pebble tossed into water, Earth Stewards has instigated a ripple of environmentalism. In fact, Awendaw Green founder Eddie White was inspired to create FCSC’s Music & Oysters for Wildlife event after his kids participated at Charles Pinckney Elementary a decade ago. The annual fundraiser, which takes place this Saturday, January 10, draws hundreds for local oysters and tunes at Sewee Outpost. This year, catch a lineup including Danielle Howle, Mark Bryan and the Occasional Milkshake with Doug Jones, Sun-Dried Vibes, and Red Dog Ramblers.
Music & Oysters for Wildlife is Saturday, January 10 from 2 to 6 p.m. at Sewee Outpost, 4853 U.S. 17, Awendaw. To find more information and purchase tickets ($35; free for child under 12), click here.
To learn about more individuals and organizations giving back in the Lowcountry, click here.