Long Bay Hypoxia Study

In July of 2004, a hypoxia event occurred in the coastal waters of Long Bay, South Carolina, localized around the popular tourist destination of Myrtle Beach. Coastal hypoxia events are episodes of low dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations (< 2 mg/L) that can significantly impact biological communities in the coastal ocean. State managers were alerted to the event due to unusually high flounder catches in the area. Initial measurements revealed low bottom DO and a high degree of water column stratification.

In response to the event, in September 2004 the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control-Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (SCDHEC-OCRM) convened a workshop with a broad range of concerned scientists and local management agencies to discuss what was known about the event and to coordinate research and monitoring activities in Long Bay. In addition to the representatives from the SCDHEC-OCRM, the workshop included participants from the SCDHEC/Bureau of Water, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources-Marine Resources Division, the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, the Coastal Carolina University-Center for Marine and Wetland Studies, the University of South Carolina-Baruch Institute, the Carolinas Coastal Ocean Observing and Prediction System (Caro-COOPS), and the NOAA North Inlet-Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Participants discussed the range of factors that might contribute to hypoxia events in the region. However, insufficient data and information were available to determine the relative importance of these factors in the July 2004 event. This lack of information was addressed by forming an interagency group to develop cooperative research efforts and management responses. As a result of this interagency effort, the Long Bay Near-Shore Water Quality Management Project was initiated. The four goals of the project included

  1. Identification of data needed to assess the role of anthropogenic influences and/or natural oceanographic processes in the development of hypoxia events;
  2. Integration of existing data and coordination of research efforts;
  3. Development of a "rapid response" sampling strategy for future anomalous water quality events in Long Bay; and
  4. Development of a web-based application to provide information about local environmental monitoring, research, and data resources.

Funding for this one-year interagency project was provided by the Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA) through the SC Sea Grant-managed Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA).

For more information please contact Dr. Braxton Davis, SCDHEC-OCRM , (843) 747-4323 x130, davisbc@dhec.sc.gov, or Dr. Denise Sanger, SC SeaGrant, (843) 727-2078, denise.sanger@scseagrant.org.