Drum Island turned back into a salt marsh after years as dredging dump site

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Part of Drum Island is under construction right now, but it’s not getting condos, it’s being turned back into a salt marsh.

The restoration project is being done by the South Carolina Ports Authority which wants to return 22 acres of the island underneath the Ravenel Bridge back into the marsh it historically was.

Since November, crews have been removing several feet of dirt from the southern tip of the island. They’re going to plant tens of thousands of marsh grass sprigs at different levels to recreate what it once looked like. They will then build a tidal creek running through it. Up to this point, this part of the island served as a dumping ground for dredging material, but the Ports Authority believes it has served its purpose.

The project is being overseen by Mark Messersmith, the permitting manager at the Ports Authority. He says there are many perks in returning this area back into a marsh.

“Marshes retain a lot of nutrients, are good for water quality and are good for storm damage prevention,” Messersmith said. “They help dampen the effects of waves and wind energy.”

Michael Hodges works for SCDNR in the Office of Fisheries Management and Shellfish Management Section. He doesn’t work directly on this project but works closely with marshes in the area.

“Being able to increase the acreage of salt marsh, particularly on the southern tip of Drum Island where there’s not much surrounding marsh, is very important due to all those ecosystem services that the marsh grass has in the estuary,” Hodges said.

The project is on track to finish in June, and then folks might be able to enjoy it themselves.

“People will be able to boat all around this site,” Messersmith said. "You could probably get up there in the tidal creek. We will not want people tromping around in the marsh itself because we are trying to meet performance criteria.”

Messersmith added that the plants need time to grow, and it could be three years before it looks like other salt marshes in the area.

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