Parris Island Base Battles Rising Seas

Marines begin with small steps, though some advocate building major seawalls
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 21, 2022 2:30 PM CDT
Marines Work to Keep Seas at Bay on Parris Island Base
Natural occurring oyster reefs and salt marshes surround much of the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot this month in Parris Island, SC.   (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

(Newser) – Rising seas are encroaching on one of the nation's most storied military installations, where thousands of recruits are molded into Marines each year amid the salt marshes of South Carolina's Lowcountry region. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island is particularly vulnerable to flooding, coastal erosion, and other impacts of climate change, a Defense Department-funded "resiliency review" noted last month. Some scientists project that by 2099, three-quarters of the island could be under water during high tides each day, the AP reports. Military authorities say they're confident they can keep the second-oldest Marine Corps base intact, for now, through small-scale changes to existing infrastructure projects.

Maj. Marc Blair, Parris Island's environmental director, describes this strategy as "the art of the small." In practice, it means such things as raising a culvert that needs to be repaired anyway, limiting development in low-lying areas, and adding floodproofing measures to firing range upgrades. Others advocate much larger and more expensive solutions, such as building huge seawalls around the base, or moving Marine Corps training away from the coast altogether. Parris Island has an outsize role in military lore and pop culture as a proving ground for Marines who have served in every major conflict since World War I. It remains a crucial training ground, along with Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. But the rising sea is proving to be a formidable enemy.

Salt marsh makes up more than half of the base's 8,000 acres, and the depot's highest point is just 13 feet above sea level. It is linked to the mainland by a single road that's susceptible to flooding. Low-lying areas on the island and the nearby Marine Corps air station already flood about 10 times a year, and by 2050, "the currently flood-prone areas within both bases could experience tidal flooding more than 300 times annually and be underwater nearly 30 percent of the year given the highest scenario," according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Already, day-to-day disruptions are growing, including nuisance flooding on roads and rising temperatures and humidity. Those wetter, hotter days could limit outdoor training. More than 500 people on Parris Island suffered from heat stroke and heat exhaustion between 2016 and 2020.

(Read more ocean levels stories.)

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