“Those gates are not to keep the water out, they are to keep my land in,” laughed Captain Randy, our island guide, dolphin discoverer, ecological expert and local jokester. A resident of the coastal community of Folly Beach just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, Randy is exactly what comes to mind when you conjure up an image of a boat captain – tanned, almost-leathery skin, bare foot and adventurous. The only thing that seemed to dictate his work was the tides.
On a recent road trip to Folly Beach, I found the realities of Hurricane Irma and rising sea levels not in class, but on a small boat weaving its way through the South Carolina waterways. Driving over the bridge into Folly, you are met with beach bars and stilted houses. Seventy degree weather treats locals on the alarmingly-warm February day. Tie-dyed swimsuit covers, ice cream shops and beach-themed snow globes filled the main street stores. But signs of the recent devastation after Hurricane Irma also lined the streets. Houses were missing docks. Scraps of wood and buoys floated onto shore. The Morris Island lighthouse leaned a little bit extra to the right.
Yet the true hardships were found within the residents of the communities whose homes now lack siding and whose docks have floated out to sea. Randy shared how drastically property values are affected without the mere addition of a boat dock. Wooden piling replacements alone had cost him $7,000. He described the horrifying vision of looking out your front window and seeing the lighthouse that normally stands tall now underwater.
But this seemed to be the norm for the residents of Folly Beach. Randy spoke about winds exceeding 100 mph and floods burying the streets as though it was more than a common occurrence. With sea levels rising and further erosion in the small town of Folly Beach, it has become the norm. A lighthouse that once stood on its own island now lies alone in the midst of the sea. And Captain Randy floats on, simply trying to keep his land in place.