Downtown Charleston as we know it today could not exist without Johns Island. Thanks to the rapid rise of the locally grown movement, most of the finest restaurants in downtown Charleston rely in part on the vast array of crops grown on Johns Island. While this might seem like a relatively new movement, however, Johns Island has been the breadbasket not only for Charleston but a good portion of the south east for hundreds of years. From cotton and indigo to potatoes and boutique produce, Johns Island has just the right mixture of rich soil and mild coastal climate to support crops practically year round. But it’s not just the produce that makes Johns Island a treasure – the island is also a host to history. The Civil War saw battles fought on the stubbles of corn fields and forts built from raw earth. Families have farmed its fields for two and three hundred years, and before that, Native Americans lived off of the bountiful land. This, all of this, is what the Johns Island Conservancy hopes to protect and perhaps more important, teach the island’s newest residents.
“This island is no longer isolated,” said Johns Island Conservancy executive director Colin Cuskley. “Development is going to happen and we need to find a way to work with it – we need to make sure the development of the island is done in an ecologically responsible and economically sensible manner.”
And that, essentially, is the core mission of the Conservancy: ecologically responsible and economically sensible development of Johns Island. During their inaugural meeting on March 1, Cuskley and operations director Captain Chad Hayes presented the three main focus areas of their fledgling organization: educating island residents about the history of Johns Island, learning more about our unique environment and in particular our local dolphins, and developing a program to help everyone from individual property owners to developers better understand their own property and how to develop it in a conscientious manner. Named “Johns Island Now,” “Dolphin Files,” and the “Conservation Assessment Program” respectively, Cuskley and Hayes have the skeleton of the Conservancy in place and are now reaching out to the community to help flesh it out.
Through a series of presentations, including a compilation of more than 10 years of local dolphin research conducted by Captain Hayes, the Conservancy hopes to not only educate current and future island residents on their unique island home, they would like to add more supporters to their cause. And while monetary support is much appreciated, they’re also looking for volunteers.
“If you enjoy researching, we could use your help,” said Cuskley, listing a series of volunteer positions which include historical, property, and environmental research, as well as development and property review, government affairs, media relations and production, and of course, fundraising.
While the Conservancy has already created some engaging and well-researched presentations on the history of Johns Island, the long term goals of the dolphin project include more advanced research on our native pod of dolphins – one of the first pods on record to use the hunting technique of strand feeding – and finding co-sponsors and grants to continue this research and publish the findings. Hayes has already worked with organizations such as National Geographic in documenting our pod’s unique habits, but he hopes that further research will result in better protection of both the dolphins and the surrounding wetlands.
Perhaps the largest undertaking by the Conservancy, however, is their Conservation Assessment Program. Geared toward large property owners, private communities, farmers, and even individual homeowners, the goal of this program is to teach landowners how to ecologically manage their land and, if they’re interested, assist qualified property owners in filing for government-funded conservation programs. They even hope to offer land consultations to identify environmentally sensitive areas and to determine what types of animals call the property home. To fully realize this part of the Conservancy’s mission, however, they are also looking for volunteers with backgrounds in environmental consulting, engineering, botany, development, architecture, biology, real estate, wildlife management, habitat management, and farming.
“Ultimately, we want to create a symbiosis between development and nature,” said Cuskley.
Cuskley and Hayes will be giving a presentation on the Conservancy, open to the public, on Friday, March 30, at St. Johns Yacht Harbor (2408 Maybank Highway, Johns Island). Please see their website, www.johnsislandconservancy.org for more information, how to donate and/or volunteer, and for upcoming meeting dates.