Kayaking 7th Graders, New Oyster Reefs & Extraordinaire Trash Removers

How Getting Outside Makes a Huge Difference Through The Outside Foundation


March 2021 Issue

By Edwina Hoyle
Photos provided by The Outside Foundation

Our beaches are world-class destinations for tourists, and our communities are growing like mushrooms as more and more people relocate here for the quality of life. It’s the beauty and wonder of our ecosystems that draw us all to the Lowcountry. Kayaking, fishing, paddle boarding, the beach and nature walks allow us to learn and appreciate the magical, yet fragile world around us—and we certainly enjoy the fresh, local oysters and shrimp.

It’s the mission of The Outdoor Foundation, a local nonprofit organization, to preserve and protect our local environment and to get kids outside to help them become aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy environment by showing them how to protect and preserve—and enjoy— our coastal ecosystem. 

Kid Power
According to Dr. Jean Fruh, Executive Director of The Outside Foundation, we have a nature gap. “Our county, at high tide, is half covered in water, yet our youngest residents spend the majority of their time inside and behind screens. Children are learning about nature in school, and they’re naturally curious, but their access to our waterways is so limited. Sure, families can visit the beach, but nature immersion through kayaking, paddle boarding and boating is very limited. A typical tourist has a much better chance going kayaking, or getting on the water, than a child born here.”

Jean explained that the Kids in Kayaks program provides an opportunity for every 7th grader in Beaufort County, during a regular school day as part of their environmental science curriculum, to go kayaking and explore local salt marshes and tidal rivers. “For over half of these children, this will be the first time they have ever put on a life jacket, held a paddle or hopped into a kayak or boat to explore the salt marsh. Once a child has grabbed a handful of pluff mud, sees the waving claw of a fiddler crab, experiences an oyster spitting, or sees a dolphin swimming close by, it forever changes the way they view our local waters. If we don’t first let them love the salt marsh, why would they ever fight to save it? Environmental stewardship, through nature immersion experiences for our youngest residents, is The Outside Foundation’s most important goal.”

In just six years, The Outside Foundation has hosted more than 3,000 7th grade students for a school day of kayaking and exploring through the Kids in Kayaks program, and they started a Learn to Paddle after-school program for members of the Boys & Girls Club. Jean added, “Roughly 60 percent of our public school children qualify for free or reduced price lunches, so The Outside Foundation covers the cost of the program for all students through the sale of hats. We leave no child in the classroom. Buy a hat, send a kid kayaking! Our hats are on sale at Outside Hilton Head’s store at the Plaza at Shelter Cove.” 

Cleanliness is next to Godliness!
As a barrier island our beautiful beaches are moving, living shorelines, and erosion from storms and wave energy will always be a threat. Jean said that in terms of The Outside Foundation’s work, their beach-front focus is on human impact. The ever-increasing amount of trash and debris left behind on our beaches on a daily basis is a huge problem. The Outside Foundation hosts at least a dozen beach cleanups each year and weigh, record and report on the trash that volunteers remove. “We could clean the beach every day and still find trash,” Jean said. “The number one beach litter item is cigarette butts. Other frequently found items include food wrappers, plastic straws, plastic water bottles, styrofoam containers and pieces, bottles, aluminum cans and toys. As a society, we have become overly dependent on single-use plastics. As these plastics break down with sunlight and exposure, these bits of micro- and nano-plastics are consumed by our wildlife and will likely end up in our food chain.” 

Last year, Shore Beach Services reported that in June alone they removed 3,888 pieces of personal property and miscellaneous items from our beaches, including 739 umbrellas, 1,431 chairs and 340 tents. As tourism grows, the number of visitors who purchase (and leave behind) beach umbrellas, tents, chairs, coolers and toys also grows. Beach, waterway and park cleanups focus on removing litter and marine trash that is not only unsightly, but also a potential hazard to our wildlife. But cleanups focus only on the symptoms of the litter problem and not the cause. The Outside Foundation programs focus on providing tangible, hands-on experiences to allow both locals and visitors (of all ages) to get involved and learn about the challenges we face.

Jean said that active participation is a great way to gain a sense of how individual actions can make a difference. Think about leaving no trace when you visit our beaches and parks, or spend the day boating the local waters. Adopt a pack in, pack out philosophy for everything you bring to the beach or park, and if you have rental property, make sure your guests are provided with information and encouragement to do the same.

“We’ve engaged over 800 community volunteers in removing four tons of trash through our beach, park and waterway cleanups,” Jean said. “We forged partnerships with over 20 local environmentally focused nonprofits and organizations to help engage, educate and empower our community members to protect and preserve our local environment. When we work collaboratively, we accomplish so much and magnify our impact. Protecting our local environment is every resident’s responsibility. Government can’t do it all; we’re the rest of the equation.”

Three times a year they sponsor a kayak-based cleanup of the Broad Creek. This is a great opportunity for families to get outside together to protect our local environment, while having lots of kayaking fun. Kayak-based cleanups are scheduled for February, August (as part of Harbourfest water festival) and November. During the Harbourfest cleanup, 20 local environmentally-focused nonprofits and businesses offer displays and activities at Shelter Cove Marina for hands-on fun and learning about the importance of keeping local waterways clean. The i2 Recycle staff is on site to provide educational demonstrations and answer questions about recycling. 

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Ah, Shucks!
Oysters are Amazing!
The Outside Foundation started a community-based Oyster Shell Recycling and Bed Restoration Project in 2018 through a partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the Coastal Discovery Museum and i2 Recycle.

Recycled oyster shells are a valuable resource for creating oyster reefs and stabilizing our local shorelines. Each oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, playing a critical role in keeping our local waters clean. Returning bagged oyster shells to the salt marsh ecosystem helps create a new habitat for larval oysters, fin fish, shrimp and crabs. Also, planted bags of shells help slow shoreline erosion caused by boat wakes, wave energy and storms.

Through a shell recycling program, oyster shells are collected from 15 local seafood restaurants, and once collected, the shells are placed in quarantine at Honey Horn Plantation. Volunteers help bag shells that are used for building new reefs along Hilton Head Island’s waterways. In just three years, more than 60 tons of shucked shells were collected for recycling, thanks to environmental grant support from Patagonia, the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry and the PEW Trust, as well as the efforts of over 500 community volunteers, who have filled 3,500 mesh bags with recycled oyster shells and built five reefs along our local waterways. This summer four new reefs will be built, and volunteers are invited to help. If you don’t mind getting a bit sweaty and covered in pluff mud, it’s an amazing experience! The reef you help build will last a very long time, keep our waters clean, stabilize the shoreline and create a new habitat for larval marine life. It’s a remarkable experience! Just imagine—every recycled oyster shell will provide an attachment site for 20 new oysters.

“Our work as a small nonprofit on this island is definitely grassroots, meaning everything we accomplish is because we have amazing, committed volunteers. We welcome new volunteers of all ages!” Jean said. Oyster shell bagging is a great way to give back to our local community, and volunteers, groups, businesses and service organizations are encouraged to sign up to help. Each one begins with a quick talk about the importance of recycling oyster shells. No experience is necessary, children over the age of 12 can participate, and there’s a job for everyone (including those who cannot lift or shovel).

Kayak0321 2How you can help “Join us on Earth Day—April 22 from 10 a.m. til noon—for an island-wide litter sweep!” Jean encouraged. “Volunteers are needed all over the island to grab a bag, put on some gloves and help make our island even more beautiful and safe for our wildlife.” She is hoping that they will have enough community and hotel volunteer groups to cover 12 miles of beach for the largest, single-day beach sweep ever held on Hilton Head. Additional details will be posted on social media and on their website.

The Outside Foundation invites volunteers to get involved and really make an impact. On the second Saturday of every month they partner with Palmetto Running Company for plogging (running/jogging and picking up trash). You don’t have to run or jog—simply walking is a great way to remove litter. No experience is necessary and these events are great for families. Social distancing is not a problem, and all cleanup supplies are provided. All volunteers must wear a mask and bring their own gloves.

For more information about upcoming events, be sure to check out outsidefoundation.org, sign up for Friends of TOF newsletter and follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The Outside Foundation also has a fund at the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry (cf-lowcountry.org) for general donations in support of their work in the community.

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