Bluffton Packet

Waddell Mariculture Center is key to our waters' health

If you had to name the one aspect of the Lowcountry that made you first visit here or end up staying here, what would it be?

For me, it has to be the water and the endless expanses of marsh that make this area so appealing. I think many of you would agree with my choice, especially those of you who have spent so much money to build those magnificent homes with waterfront views. Yep, anything here that has the word "waterfront" in its description fetches top dollar.

Whether you choose to simply gaze at the water or spend every free moment on it like I do, what we have right here is phenomenal. Go 20 miles south, and it is a whole different story. Go that same distance north, and it, too, is a very different ecosystem from the one we enjoy. Tell me where else you could go and see shrimp by the millions flipping along the shoreline as your boat wake stirs them up.

From crustaceans to finfish, we have it better than just about any place on the East Coast. Port Royal is the cobia capital of the world. Think about that -- the world. This abundance applies to just about every marine creature that inhabits our local waters, and, in my opinion, there is one reason we have it so good: the Waddell Mariculture Center right here in Bluffton.

The mariculture center -- a veritable pearl in our oyster -- is now facing more state funding cutbacks, which could make all their hard work come to a stand still. This despite all the retired corporate executives who were drawn here by the beauty of this special place and who now live here in their multimillion-dollar waterfront homes.

Maybe you don't know much about the folks at Waddell and what they do, so let me educate you about just a few of their accomplishments. Over the years, they have directly influenced the overall health of our waters. Annually, they spend precious hours educating group after group of youngsters from our schools on the importance of being responsible stewards of the environment. When there are questions that need to be answered about the impact of topics such as groundwater run-off, who is asked the questions and who provides the answers? Who has raised and released millions of red drum from here on up the coast to Charleston and beyond? The same goes for the striped bass that are released statewide. Who has reseeded oyster beds so you can enjoy some of the best oysters found anywhere? Over and over, the Waddell Mariculture Center has quietly gone about the business of keeping our state waters healthy and vibrant.

It might be that you never knew just what an impact the center's director, Al Stokes, and his staff have had on our waters, and that same lack of knowledge is no doubt the culprit in Columbia. When the time comes for disbursement of funding, I can only imagine what legislators from the inland counties say when they are asked to vote for funding for the Waddell Center. "The Waddell what?" I would be willing to bet a very small percentage of these legislators have any idea whatsoever about what the Waddell Mariculture Center does at all. Yet when they come down to vacation on the coast, you can be sure they can't catch enough fish or take home enough shrimp.

If I sound bitter it is because I know the benefits we derive from Waddell's work. For example, they are doing everything they can to come up with creative ways to fund the center. Recently they have managed to "create" a sixth generation of shrimp that are disease-free, making them perfect for the bait shrimp industry. Unlike bait shrimp that come here from Florida and other places and possibly carry diseases that could decimate our local shrimp populations, these Waddell shrimp would be a safe way to provide bait for anglers without doing harm to local populations. But because Waddell is a government entity, decisions have to go through committee after committee before anything can be decided. And these critical decisions might come one day too late.

Now is when I am going to put it all on the line. With tax time coming up, there are those fortunate few of you who have the means to give to worthy causes for a tax write-off. So look out your window and if you can see the water, think outside the box this year when considering a noble cause to give to. Through the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, give to the nonprofit "Waddell Fund." Our waters depend on it.