Established in 1991 as the North Street Aquarium, which became the first public aquarium chartered by the State of South Carolina in 1993.
The mission of the Lowcountry Estuarium is to instill a public sense of stewardship
for the marshes, creeks, rivers and sounds that make up our unique Port Royal
Sound estuarine system by fostering conservation through education, enhancing
the area’s economy by attracting visitors to our facility, and by partnering with
other venues and attractions in promoting the region as a destination.
History to Date
In 1998 the Town of Port Royal began making overtures proposing the relocation
of the North Street Aquarium from the City of Beaufort to Port Royal. In 2000 an
ad-hoc committee of interested citizens began meeting to explore the possibility
of establishing a permanent stand-alone facility on Beaufort’s waterfront. Beaufort
Aquarium Inc. (BAC) was formed and granted 501(c) (3) tax exempt status in
At about the time it became apparent that efforts to find a home in Beaufort
would come to naught, the town of Port Royal stepped in with the offer of help
in establishing a future permanent facility and an interim location to be housed
in a portion of their former town hall. The offer was accepted and the space was
renovated and provided rent free from October 2002 to May 2005 when the
building was sold to a private developer. After the sale the Estuarium began paying
a monthly rent of $1,000 plus utilities to the building’s owner.
Funded primarily by grants and with a very limited budget, the Estuarium, in its
first nine years, became recognized state wide for the quality of its programs in
environmental education. Its school outreach programs covered a four county area
and school groups traveled from throughout the state and beyond to participate
in half day learning adventures. With a half day tour designed specifically for the
group tour market, the Estuarium established a partnership with the Beaufort
Regional Chamber of Commerce to promote the area as a point of destination for
the group tour industry.
The cramped quarters of the original facility and lack of funding for museum quality
exhibits severely challenged the Estuarium’s effectiveness as an attraction. The
2008 award of a State Budget and Control Board Competitive Grant provided
funding for the expansion of the existing space and an upgrade of its displays. The
Estuarium re-opened after renovations with its inaugural Critter Fest – Celebrating
Creatures of the Estuary on May 30, 2009.
Also in 2008 The Town and the Estuarium negotiated a memorandum of
understanding which was adopted by Town Council to establish a public/private
partnership for the construction of a permanent state- of-the-art Estuarium facility.
After a steady two year increase in annual visitation numbers the Estuarium was forced to close at the end of July, 2011 as a result of a decline in funding from the public sector and nearly total loss of public school programs revenue due to Beaufort County School District cutbacks.
The Lowcountry Estuarium was recruited by the Town of Port Royal as both a
community resource and as an economic stimulus attracting regional residents and
visitors to its core commercial district.
Estuarium staff and board members played an active role in promoting economic
redevelopment in the town’s core commercial district with the founding of the
Old Village Association along with spring and fall festivals which draw thousands of
visitors to the town annually.
Of note is the fact that as a result of two years of PUD and development agreement
negotiations between the Town of Port Royal and the State Ports Authority for the
redevelopment of the Port of Port Royal property was the designation of a .24 AC
parcel within the town’s Civic Open Space on Battery Creek to be the site of the
future permanent Estuarium facility.
Building upon its strong record of community service and solid reputation for
innovative and entertaining educational and recreational offerings within the area’s
education, residential and tourism communities; the Estuarium is now evolving
in ways that will allow it to fulfill the promise that has been twenty years in the
making. It is the promise of a state-of-the-art aquarium facility and permanent
home on the shores of Battery Creek in Port Royal that is in the balance. The Board
of Directors of the Lowcountry Estuarium extends an open invitation to any and all
wishing to take part in the ongoing effort to one day reach that ultimate goal.