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Ongoing coverage of South Carolina's recovery from the flooding of 2015.What had been Lindsay Langdale's Columbia home October 3, 2015 was a flooded ruin the next day.This coverage is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In October of 2015, South Carolina received rainfall in unprecedented amounts over just a few days time. By the time the rain began to slacken, the National Weather Service reported that the event had dumped more than two feet of water on the state. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the subsequent flooding was the worst in 75 years.

SC Aquarium Joins Effort To Prepare For Sea Level Rise

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Alexandra Olgin
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Standing in front of a 15,000 gallon floor to ceiling fish tank inside the South Carolina Aquarium, President and CEO Kevin Mills pulls out a tape measure. He stretches it just over his head to the six foot mark. That is how much scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict the waters could rise in the next century.

“No one or nothing will escape from the effects of sea level rise,” he said.

Mills announced Thursday the aquarium is embarking on a three year project to educate and prepare the region for the rising waters.

“At what point does a nuisance become a sounding alarm,” he said referring to frequent coastal flooding from rainstorms and high tides.  

He plans to reach the more than 400,000 visitors that come to the aquarium each year by incorporating sea level rise information into exhibits.

The aquarium’s initiative follows a ‘Sea Level Rise Strategy’ the city of Charleston released at the end of last year. Mayor John Tecklenburg said the plan will allow the city to plan for a 1.5 – 2.5 foot of rise over the next 50 years. One of the most recent natural disasters was last flooding last October. It soaked the Low Country with more than 20 inches of rain in less than a week. Tecklenburg says we had to recover from those events. But sea level rise we can prepare for.

“This is a tragedy, a situation, however you want to term it that we already know about,” he said. We know it’s coming. So, shame on us if we don’t take the necessary steps to be ready for it.”  

One of the ways the city is getting ready for more water is with better drainage. The low lying city floods with high tides and normal rainstorms and scientists expect that so called nuisance flooding to reach 180 days in the next 30 years. Charleston plans to deal with that by building bigger and better drains to the tune of $230 million . Tecklenburg warns other changes like raising perimeter roads will be incremental.

Other communities around the state also want to prepare but need help.

One of the goals of the South Carolina Aquarium’s effort, the Resilience Initiative for Coastal Education, is to encourage regional cooperation and planning. The acronym RICE is a nod to the slaves who during colonial times built a system of dams to cultivate rice in the marshes. The descendants of those slaves known as the Gullah people still live in the Low Country. Dr. Emory Campbell is the former Director of the Penn Center, an organization dedicated to preserving the Gullah heritage.

“Gullah people live in isolation on family land from all the things that are happening on the coast. Sometimes we forget it that Gullah people are still here. They want to stay here.”

To stay here and weather rising waters the community needs to know what is happening and how to prepare says Campbell. He referred to an essay from a Gullah student about the cyclone of 1893.

“She described rain coming, the tide rising. And people had to climb trees to get out of tide. Some 2,000 people lost their lives.”

Experts indicate those weather events may happen more often and have a more dramatic impact because of the higher waters. Campbell wants his community to be prepared to ride out the storm with the rest of the region.  

SCETV, MUSC, Allen University, the South Carolina Aquarium and the United States Department of Energy have partnered to host a series of town halls on climate change.