The Important Work of the Waddell Mariculture Center

If you have never heard of Waddell Mariculture Center (WMC), let me start by saying that it is the ONLY facility like it in the United States. And, yes, it is in Bluffton, South Carolina and has been for over 30 years! It is a research facility managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), where biologists have perfected methods for farm raising fish and shrimp. Individuals worldwide visit Waddell to collect information to successfully produce farm-raised seafood.

In addition to their primary mission, biologists at the center assist with other marine life issues in Beaufort County. There is a tight community of marine biologists and enthusiasts in this area—some have graduate degrees in marine science, some are charter boat companies that offer ecology tours, some are non-profit organizations and nature clubs and some are fishermen and boaters who pick up trash in the May River.

At all levels, there is concern for the marine life in Beaufort County. When an opportunity comes around to support marine research and mingle with some seriously dedicated individuals, there is no better time to catch them than when they are socializing at the Annual Taste of Waddell fundraiser, an oyster roast and cookout taking place on the Bluff of the Colleton River at Waddell Mariculture Center.

Here are just a few of the Waddell Mariculture Center’s achievements:

• Beaufort County has the best red drum fishery on the East Coast. Waddell’s red drum stock enhancement program is responsible for that continuing success having stocked over 20 million fish in South Carolina waters. These fish populations are monitored using DNA technology developed by SCDNR.

• WMC is undergoing a renovation to the main office and laboratory building. Part of the renovation plan includes the installation of cobia and spotted sea trout spawning systems. The Community Foundation of the Lowcountry awarded the center a grant for the purchase of new seawater filtration equipment to prepare water for the spawning tanks and recirculating systems.

• WMC has stocked a million spotted sea trout in Charleston waters over the past few years while developing a rapid response stock enhancement program to protect this fragile fishery from severe climate fluctuations and habitat degradation.

• WMC received a research grant to monitor the effects of storm water on Beaufort County’s sensitive saltwater marsh. Working with University of South Carolina Beaufort and Beaufort County, they will develop baseline data to improve the county’s storm water management plan.

• WMC opens its doors to students for tours and lectures. More than 500 students tour the center each year and biologists provided lectures and tours to more than 3,000 guests. Donations made to the Waddell Fund were used to support two full-time college internship positions this year. The center was able to offer volunteer work to five college students, who worked at least one day a week aiding biologists.

• WMC biologists assist SC seafood growers. They provide information and training to state residents when requested. This work is important, as the United States now imports 91 percent of its seafood and seafood farming accounts for 47% of all seafood. The center’s biologists assist state fish pond and coastal impoundment owners by addressing management needs, including water quality, weed control and species management.

• The center is also part of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Biologists provide aid and assistance to injured turtles, whales, dolphins, and birds.

Limited reservations are available for the 11th Annual Taste of Waddell. Visit friendsofwaddell.org to register or call Dave Harter at (843) 785-4106. If you are interested in supporting the Waddell Mariculture Center, but cannot attend the event, tax deductible donations are accepted for the Waddell Mariculture Center Fund at: Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, PO Box 23019, Hilton Head Island, SC 29925. For more information, call (843) 681-9100 or go to cf-lowcountry.org.

Written by Amber Hester Kuehn, Marine Biologist. Owner, Spartina Marine Education Charters