A campaign begun five years ago by the Coastal Conservation Association in South Carolina is making strides in improving water quality, increasing oyster production and enhancing fisheries along the coast. The Topwater Action Campaign, a collaboration of anglers and both the public and private sectors, has been dedicated exclusively to the creation and restoration of marine habitat in areas that can be accessed and enjoyed by recreational anglers. 

“As recreational anglers, we felt there was more that we could do to improve the status of both our state’s marine resources and the sport of recreational angling beyond our advocacy work” said Mike Able of Charleston, a CCA SC state board member. “The Topwater Action Campaign has become that complimentary component we all envisioned to the advocacy work that the organization is doing. CCA SC is committed to growing both the size and scope of our habitat projects.”

Working initially with state agencies, including the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and S.C. Department of Environmental and Health Controls, the program began to work on oyster-shell recycling and restoration and extended the collaboration with academic institutions such as Coastal Carolina University.

Projects have varied from water-quality monitoring in North Myrtle Beach to nearshore artificial reefs off McClellanville. Oyster-shell recycling remains a focus and has gone up more than 30 percent since the program began, with plans to expand that capability through oyster shell recycling drop-off sites in non-coastal counties of the state.

The program has also provided an “oyster fleet” support system consisting of dump trailers, recycling bins, reef building supplies, and oyster barges for use on more than 62 volunteer projects at 26 different reef sites along the entire South Carolina coast since the summer of 2009.

 “It is putting more oysters in the water where there were none before and reestablishing the oyster base in other areas,” said Tombo Milliken of Columbia, a long-time CCA member who serves as its state government relations chairman. “That is also creating more habitat for marine life, which in turn gives us more opportunities for gamefish in the future.”

The program is all-encompassing, said Milliken who fishes the coastal waters from North Inlet to McClellanville.

“It is on-the-ground real work being done in our backyard that translates into a better environment. And it is not aimed just at fishermen. It is a program that involves environmentalists, school children – it really touches everyone.”

In the fall of 2013, The Guy Harvey Foundation along with the American Fishing Tackle Company (AFTCO) provided a $75,000 contribution to the program, the third donation the two groups have made. These funds will not only provide for additional oyster recycling and reef efforts but also support for the program’s nearshore artificial reef goals along the coast.