The abundance of marsh grass surrounding our Lowcountry shorelines helps protects us from storm damage.

In my last article, I wrote about lessons learned from Hurricane Ian. We were very fortunate to have been spared the worst of that storm.

While Hurricane Matthew in 2016 was more of an event for us, it also could have been worse. 

When will the big one hit us head-on? As I wrote this article, yet another tropical storm was headed our way. At press time, however, we are finally out of hurricane season. 

There are two natural elements that can mitigate damage from hurricanes. First is barrier islands. In addition to serving as a habitat and refuge for wildlife, barrier islands also protect the nearby coastline from severe storm damage – presuming that the marshes remain relatively undeveloped. 

Pinckney Island is a good example of an undeveloped barrier island. Without it, a good part of Bluffton and Hilton Head Island would have experienced far greater damage during Matthew, and possibly even with Ian. 

Pinckney Island broke some of the winds and wave action, which helped protect properties in our area.  

Hilton Head Island is an example of a barrier island that has been extensively developed. It is not surprising that it sustains greater damage than the mainland when hurricanes or tropical storms strike our area.   

The second mitigator of storm damage is the marsh grass surrounding barrier islands. Also called cordgrass, or salt grass (genus Spartina), it is one of the best natural ways of controlling erosion because its fibrous roots spread both deeply and quickly. This helps protect shorelines by binding the soil and reducing erosion. 

Marsh grass also helps with dissipating wave energy and wave height from the shoreline and also reduces flooding farther inland.

So, what does all this mean?

Let’s say you own a home that is a mile or so from the shore, and it is at an elevation that does not require that you carry flood insurance (although that might be a good idea anyway). 

If plans are made to further develop the shoreline with more homes, businesses, amenities, etc., the resulting removal of marsh grass will increase the chances of your home being flooded the next time a big storm heads our way. 

Flooding will not only endanger your house, but it will also weaken surrounding trees, damaging the root system and washing away the soil all around trees, bushes and other plants. Undermined trees are also more likely to fall. 

In many instances, plantings and shrubs need to be replaced because of damaged root systems. Otherwise, the next storm may further damage your property.

Mother Nature has given us a beautiful, pristine coastal paradise.  She needs our help to keep it that way for future generations to enjoy. 

John Riolo lives in Moss Creek and is past president of the Nature Club of Moss Creek.