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Ocean & Coastal Resource Management (OCRM)

Near Shore Ocean Water Quality

In July 2004, the Long Bay area of Myrtle Beach experienced a phenomenon known as a "coastal hypoxia" event. These events occur when oxygen levels in nearshore waters became very low and affect nearshore fisheries, in this case for over a week. Initial evidence of this particular event included unusually high flounder catches along the Long Bay shoreline, as the fish likely attempted to "escape" oxygen-poor waters by surfacing from their usual bottom habitat. Water samples collected from nearshore waters were also observed to have extremely low dissolved oxygen levels.

Soon after the coastal hypoxia event, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) hosted a workshop to bring together concerned management agencies and researchers to discuss the hypoxia event. In attendance were representatives from the DHEC Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, DHEC Bureau of Water, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, University of South Carolina, and Coastal Carolina University.

The workshop resulted in a general consensus on the range of conditions that may trigger hypoxia events in the region and an agreement to develop cooperative research efforts and management responses. Human sources of organic materials and nutrients, as well as natural oceanographic processes, were identified as potential factors. However, it was recognized that not enough information was available to determine the relative importance of each factor in triggering the coastal hypoxia event.

Several workshop participants have developed grant proposals to support further research on this topic. Recently, this interagency group received funding from the newly established Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association, with support from the Southeastern Universities Research Association, for a one-year study of the Long Bay ecosystem. The study is intended to enhance coordination of research and management efforts in the area, and coordinate responses to future hypoxia events.

An initial workshop for state and local managers, researchers, and other stakeholders was held at the Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences in Georgetown, SC, on June 14, 2005. For more information please contact Braxton Davis at the University of South Carolina at (803) 777-5538