Sea Level Rise and Jurisdictional Lines on Gullah/Geechee Shorelines

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental (DHEC) Control’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) is required by law to establish and periodically review the position of two lines of beachfront jurisdiction (the baseline and the setback line) once every seven to ten years.   To that end, they are currently seeking public input regarding the lines that they intend to establish (Provide input here before November 6, 2017: https://gis.dhec.sc.gov/shoreline/).  So, they recently held meetings along the Gullah/Geechee coastline and these meetings rapidly filled up with those that own second homes and summer homes or homes built into the shores of the beach and into the marsh as well as those that sell these places to them.

SC DHEC tried to mitigate the attacks that they would have to endure by having multiple PowerPoint slides and stating and restating how their jurisdictional lines do NOT constitute a “no-build zone.”  This led to me wondering what was the need for this perfunctory exercise then?   However, the complaints started off being about the short notice of the meetings, the complicated zoning issues that come from the towns and counties, etc. and led right up to people talking about making sure that they can rebuild and continue to build in these same places that numerous storms had already come through in a devastating way over the past few years.

I quickly realized that these folks were actually trying to have enough time to launch pre-emptive strikes against any political people that will vote to truly “shore up” the coastal region and assist the longevity of the life of the Sea Islands.  They wanted to show their opposition to any agent or agency that will create laws and zoning standards that create areas where buildings and piers will no longer be allowed to be placed.   The fact that the climate science has proven that the sea levels are rising and the storms that are negatively impacting our coast are becoming more intense and more frequent is not being considered by these opponents to the work that the Department of Health and ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL is mandated to do.

These folks apparently haven’t been in the numerous meetings that I have been attending in which the insurance companies are beginning to be drivers of the environmental movement since they are truly counting up the cost claims to their companies that come from millions of dollars worth of real estate being placed and replaced in harm’s way.   The financial burden to the overall economy has to be considered and somehow always comes out more valuable to these people than the priceless irreplaceable cultural heritage along the shores.

A new tool has been created by Climate Central to help narrow down some of the things that go into the calculations that are done by many different parties regarding how to “manage” what Katrina, Rita, Hermine, Matthew, Harvey, and Irma have actually shown can happen as the sea levels continue to rise on our coast and around the world and those rising seas are joined by tropical storm and hurricane winds producing storm surges.   The Surging Sea Risk Finder (https://riskfinder.climatecentral.org/) provides statistically data about various locations at different levels of water inundation.  Information sheets can easily be printed out from the site and shared with local officials that are focused on flood risks for their areas.  Such flooding is now a weekly focus for most people on the Sea Islands of the Gullah/Geechee Nation.

Having been one of the people that helped write the Pocantico Call to Action on Climate Change and Cultural Heritage, my focus has been on how sea level rise and other outcomes of climate change impact the sustainability of cultural heritage.   So, I am under no illusion about the required continued diligence of natives of the coasts to stand up and speak out about protecting the cultural heritage of our coasts.

De Gullah/Geechee binya pun de Sea Islands and ain da gwine nowhey ebun win de oda ress crak e teet bout retreat!  So, we need to insure that the lines that are being drawn do not end up being a new form of redlining.  Enough red has spilled on this coast due to the blood spilled by our ancestors here and we cannot allow people to build over or ignore this aspect of what needs to be taken into consideration as they draw the lines and build the gates.  It is time to insure that we stand up as the resilient people that we are and make sure that the tide of words does not drown out and leave out the Gullah/Geechee cultural heritage of this coast amidst these statistics and discussions!


Queen Quet at Beaufort ShorelineQueen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com) is the Founder of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition.  She was not only the first Gullah/Geechee to speak before the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on behalf of her people, she also was the only Gullah/Geechee to be a participant in the United Nations Conference of Parties Convention on Climate Change 22 (COP22).  Queen Quet has since continued her work as an “Oceans Hero” as she was designated by Oceana by being a representative at the UN’s Oceans Conference this year.  She continues to be an environmental justice advocate and an environmentalist who fights for the Sea Islands of the Gullah/Geechee Nation.  She had these closing words to share with those that gathered at a recent workshop on sea level rise:

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