Issues Affecting Sea Turtles, Their Habitat and Us

 Beach Vitex

Folly Beach is home to an invasive species.

We’re talking PLANTS here.

And it’s serious.

Vitex rotundifolia (round-leafed), also known as “beach vitex,” is fast-gaining a reputation as “the kudzu of the coast” because of its aggressiveness and indestructibility.

It was first brought to the attention of dune habitat conservationists by Betsy Brabson who noticed it growing along sections of Debordieu beach where she participates in sea turtle nest monitoring.

Through Betsy’s efforts, beach vitex, sometimes recommended for landscape erosion control, was identified as a “bad idea” for beach stablization. It crowds out desirable native species like American beach grass, panic grass and sea oats, and densely spills over dunes, confounding sea turtles attemping to nest.

In addition to Debordieu, beach vitex has also been found on Pawley’s Island, Garden City, Surfside, Litchfield, Isle of Palms, Deveaux Banks, Bird Key Stono, and Folly Beach (in the block before the Washout).

Again, thanks to Betsy’s influence, the Beach Vitex Task Force has been formed and is working in partnership with other organizations such as the SC Exotic Pest Plant Council to inventory beach vitex locations and to plan removal efforts.

See the following links for additional information about beach vitex:

Beach Vitex - Kudzu of the Coast
Excellent education on beach vitex by North Inlet-Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) Stewardship Program, and THE SITE TO WATCH for updates and news.

 Beach Renourishment

Folly’s 2nd full beach renourishment project was in May-September 2005.

The timing was thanks to the final blows from a series of hurricanes in 2004. Their erosive impact turned Folly’s chronic sand loss into an acute crisis that got the attention of legislators.

The original 1993 renourishment was expected to last 8 years. Folly has hung on to the borrowed sand a bit longer than expected, but, as visitors have noticed each summer, the beach has narrowed until now at high tide, there is mostly no beach at all and the ocean is within a few feet of many homes.

The hard work of Folly city managers and SC legislators enabled Folly to be added to the list of several other beaches scheduled for renourishment this year under a special federal appropriation. One major stipulation of the legislation was that the projects must be completed before the 2005 storm season.

That timing requirement has set the stage for a very unusual summer, and very anxious turtle season, on Folly.

It’s expected that the renourishment project, costing $16 million to place over 2 million cubic yards of sand, will begin to be visible on the beach in early-May as pipe and bulldozers take up residence in The Washout.

The sand will be pumped by an ocean-certified dredge from a borrow-site 3 miles off-shore through a submerged pipeline. Pipe will emerge from the ocean to the dune escarpment where the sand will be delivered and shaped into a prescribed profile. Pipe extensions will be added to move the sand into the next sections of beach.

The 30″ diameter pipe will eventually grow to extend the length of Folly’s beach from The Washout to the County Park on the West end of the island — approximately 5 miles.

But first, the pipe will be directed northeast from The Washout for approximately a mile in an effort to renew that critical section before sea turtle nesting begins.

That stretch of Folly has historically been more attractive to nesting sea turtles than Folly’s other developed beachfront.

With that in mind, the U.S. Corps of Engineers Environmental Specialists designed the project so that this preferred area would be renourished and ready for turtle nests before the peak of the turtle season (late June/early July). This “new beach” is expected to provide areas suitable for nest relocations as the pipeline moves West.

The actual nesting plan and pace are, of course, up to the turtles.

It’s been estimated that renourishment can advance about one mile in two weeks. Hatchlings emerge about 7 weeks after nesting.

The following sources provide more information about beach renourishment:

Charleston Post and Courier, February 4, 2005, frontpage story on Folly’s beach renourishment. The article is available in the P&C Archives at, but you may need to register.

Explore Folly Island: Exploring Coastal Geology
“An educational product for exploring coastal geology. Created by Kim Owens and Elizabeth Rogers.” Excellent exploration of SC barrier islands.

Human Intervention On Our Coast?
A section of Explore Folly Island (above) — includes excellent illustrated discussion of beach dynamics and Folly’s previous sand renourishments.

 Beach Construction

On March 31, 2004, Judge Markley Dennis granted permission for JoAnn Schultz to build a seawall at her home on Folly’s front beach. Dennis also agreed to prevent the city of Folly Beach from enforcing its seawall regulations.

According to the April 1st article in the Charlestson Post and Courier, “both measures are temporary pending the outcome of a suit filed by Schultz in Frebruary against the city and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management [OCRM] which regulates beachfront development.”

It’s obvious to most folks that structures should never be built where Schultz’s house sits — virtually on the spring high tide line, at very high risk of damage by storm tides.

Thanks to weak and unenforced (or unenforceable) ordinances and regulations, new homes are continuing to be built in front of existing “front beach” homes — ever closer to the ocean.

A seawall has already been built in front of the empty lot next door to Schultz — that’s right, empty lot.

The dunes, already undermined by the natural erosion of the ocean waves, are being attacked from the “rear” — a land-side invasion of home and sea wall construction.

Just because “we can” build, should we?

The answer seems so simple … NO. Haven’t we learned our lesson yet?

In the words of Douglas Wood’s Old Turtle, “STOP!”

In the words of Folly’s turtles, “STOP!” … not only for the sea turtles who emerge from the ocean and search for fewer and fewer nesting sites on Folly each summer, but for the general health of the beach environment.

Imagine all of Folly’s beachfront property “protected” by seawalls and rock piles.

Now imagine no sea turtles nesting on Folly Beach.