No. 59–What’s the Estuarium?

It recently dawned on me that in the five years plus I’ve been writing Estuarium Notes, I’ve never explained what the Estuarium is and what we’re about.

The mission of the Lowcountry Estuarium – A coastal Learning Center is “to promote conservation of the Lowcountry’s marshes, creeks, rivers and sounds by providing educational and recreational experiences to residents and visitors.”

It all began in 1991 with the opening of the North Street Aquarium on the first floor of my home on North St. in Beaufort, SC. How that came about is a rather strange story in itself to be left for another time perhaps.

The North Street Aquarium became the first public aquarium to be chartered by the State of South Carolina in 1993 offering both on site and classroom environmental education programs for area schools with a focus on the local estuarine environment.

In 2000 an ad-hoc committee of interested citizens began meeting to explore the possibility of establishing a “real” aquarium facility in Beaufort. Beaufort Aquarium Inc. (BAI) was formed and granted 501(c) (3) tax exempt status in 2001.

After two years of efforts to find a suitable location in the City of Beaufort to open the then titled Beaufort Community Aquarium proved fruitless, BAI accepted an offer from the Town of Port Royal to locate there.

At Town expense and with in-kind donations of labor and materials, a portion of the old Town Hall facility was remodeled to house the newly christened Lowcountry Estuarium which opened to the public in October 2002.

Since that time the Lowcountry Estuarium has established a reputation for excellence with state-wide awards for its environmental education and conservation programs and as exponents of the concept of Conservation through Education, the Estuarium now provides educational programs which meet state science standards for schools in Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton and Colleton Counties.

We are also called upon for presentations to groups, clubs and civic organizations and participate in numerous area events and festivals and provide a variety of programs for the general public. Feel free to call me at 263-7969 to schedule a program.

In 2007 the Estuarium organized the effort that led to Beaufort County Council and the municipalities of Beaufort, Port Royal, Hilton Head Island and Bluffton passing resolutions recognizing the last week of September as annual Estuaries of the Lowcountry Week. A variety of programs for the public are now and will be provided each year during that week.

Beyond its conservation efforts, the Estuarium has been an active partner with the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce in attracting visitors to the area and has played a leading role in efforts to revitalize the Old Village district in Port Royal.

The Lowcountry Estuarium has been marginally sustained over the years through limited public funding, grants, program fees and general admission revenue. While much has been accomplished with little, ongoing budgetary constraints have severely limited the current facilities operations and the organizations ability to realize its potential as an economic resource for the community of Port Royal and region as a whole.

The July, 2008 award of a SC State Budget and Control Board Competitive Grant has provided the opportunity to enlarge the Estuarium’s current facility, install museum quality displays and expand hours of operation from two to five days a week. Additional funding required to complete the project is currently being sought.

The long term goal for the Lowcountry Estuarium is a permanent home on the shores of Battery Creek. A .24 AC parcel has been designated as the future site of that home within both the development agreement and PUD that will govern the redevelopment of the Port of Port Royal.

Simply put, the Lowcountry Estuarium exists to serve you, dear reader, to strive to protect and preserve a resource of importance to you and those that follow while seeking to harvest and help distribute the economic benefits that resource is so abundantly able to provide. That, in a mud snail shell, is what the Estuarium is and what we’re about.