The Hilton Head Island Packet named a number of the larger sea islands in Beaufort County: Dolphin Head (in Hilton Head Plantation), Pine Island, Pinckney Island, Spring Island, Dawes Island, Lemon Island, Port Royal Island, Parris Island, St. Helena Island and Fripp Island. Buck Island, Potato Island and Pilot Island are among the area's smaller islands.
Large or small, Beaufort Countys islands are part of the Sea Island complex stretching over 100 miles from the Santee River delta to the coast of Georgia. Charles A. Kovacik and John J. Winberry, in South Carolina: A Geography (Westview Press, 1987) wrote that "toward the south (of the Edisto River) the islands are separated from the mainland and from each other by embayments, such as Port Royal and Saint Helena Sound; numerous tidal inlets; and extensive interior waterways." Joe Noll of the Beaufort County Geographic Information Systems Department noted that Beaufort County "could easily be half water (at high tide)".
North of the Edisto, it is marshes that divide the islands.
Joe Noll confirmed that there are 68 inhabitable islands in Beaufort County (any larger totals count mere fragments of land dotting our waterways and marshes). In Tideland Treasure (Deerfield, 1983), Todd Ballantine noted that South Carolina with 35 barrier islands amounting to 144,150 acres) ranks second only to Florida (80 islands) in the number of these islands (around 295 major barrier islands line the Eastern Atlantic and Gulf coasts, from Maine to Texas). Barrier islands are found the world over, but our American chain forms the most extensive system on earth.
In its editorial "Inventory of All Islands an Overdue Tool for State: More Information Needed to Protect Coastline" (June 4, 2003), the Hilton Head Island Packet cited findings by the S.C. Coastal Conservation League that "95 percent of the 340 undeveloped marsh islands thought to be in Beaufort County are large enough for residential development." The editorial spoke of the near completion of a two-year study by the state's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources that catalogs the County's sea islands.
The Island Packet welcomed the inventory as crucial to effective planning " to protect the coastline from overdevelopment" and to "strengthen regulatory changes based on scientific data" (particularly regarding the "roads and bridges crisscrossing the sensitive marshlands and tidal creeks"). "Islands are valuable to wildlife, seafood and recreational enjoyment of the waterways," concluded the editorial. "The new study must be used to protect that asset."
There are two types of sea islands: the barrier islands and "erosion remnant" islands. Erosion remnant islands lie inland from the ocean and once were part of the mainland. When Ice Age glaciers brought the sea level down, streams cut river valleys into the newly dry land. But after things started warming up (about 10,000 years ago), the glaciers melted and the ocean rose again, flooding the river valleys. Thats how St. Helena and Port Royal islands were born.
Fripp, Hunting, and other barrier islands lie directly on the ocean, shielding the mainland from the first brunt of storms. Kovacik and Winberry wrote that their "origin is much debated". According to the "classic theory", they were offshore sandbars built up as the ocean currents brought sand in on their waves. Another explanation: when the ocean retreated from the coast during the Ice Age, it left the old sand dunes behind and made new ones further out along its new coastline. With the big glacier meltdown, the ocean flooded the dune ridges it had left behind so long ago. The ridges that stayed above water were the "cores" upon which the wind and the waves built the barrier islands.
Hilton Head Island is really a "hybrid" sea island. Broad Creek (a long, landlocked tidal marsh) splits the island into two distinct parts, each with its own origin: the southern half is a barrier island, fused to the erosion remnant island at its north!
Area of Major Sea Islands and Water
Areas in Beaufort County