Beaufort News

Gullah leader heads to Morocco for U.N. conference on climate change

Gullah-Geechee leader Marquetta Goodwine
Gullah-Geechee leader Marquetta Goodwine Submitted photo

Marquetta Goodwine first braved Hermine from her home on St. Helena Island, then stared down Hurricane Matthew.

Matthew struck in the dark of the night earlier this month. When Goodwine emerged the next day, her home off Seaside Road was surrounded by water.

“Fortunately this year we did not plant a fall crop,” she said. “...It looked like we were growing rice.”

Goodwine, known as Queen Quet of the Gullah Geechee Nation, documented what she saw during the storms. She also noted the effect of the recent unusual high tides that also bring some flooding and erosion at this time of year.

She will share those experiences at a session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Morocco in November. She will also discuss how Gullah Geechee communities are trying to protect their culture, which she said is on the front line of sea level rise and climate change.

Infrastructure and buildings are often viewed as the future victims of sea level rise, but climate change also threatens entire cultures like the Gullah Geechee, Goodwine said.

She pointed out that the seafood supply was short at the recent Seafood Festival and Famlee Day, that much was frozen and had to be thrown out after the widespread power outages.

“Often that aspect of climate science is left out,” she said. “After being here through Hermine and through the hurricane, it’s no longer theoretical what can happen to the Sea Islands. It’s not theoretical what can happen as far as culture.”

Goodwine was nominated to participate in the United Nations climate change conference through her involvement with the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, a non-governmental organization representing underrepresented people and countries.

Through the Gullah Geechee Sea Island Coalition, Goodwine is raising money for her trip. Some of the cost has been defrayed by sponsors, she said. The online effort has raised about half of her $3,000 remaining goal for the trip.

Goodwine has long been a public face for environmental issues affecting the Sea Islands.

In the past, she spoke on behalf of the Gullah Geechee at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. She presented the environmental and marine activism and educational program she created, “Gullah Geechee SEA and ME,” for the Congressional Black Caucus and at other conferences throughout the country.

The Gullah Geechee Sea Island Coalition recently joined a group of South Carolina organizations in opposing seismic testing off the Atlantic coast. Goodwine wrote that the testing would disrupt the fisheries that people along the coast depend upon for their livelihoods.

At home after Matthew, Goodwine’s car was in too much standing water to drive. But she moved around the island in the car of a friend, looking at pieces of strewn docks, trees leaning on houses, and moss piled high from the storm surge.

Her power was out eight days but said people should largely consider themselves lucky. She hopes the recent storms have raised more awareness of climate change with elected officials.

“That this is a real thing,” she said. “”That we’re not just saying it because we love the outdoors.”

Stephen Fastenau: 843-706-8182, @IPBG_Stephen