Explore Bluffton: A Southern Town With Wonderful Wildlife

The Town of Bluffton, South Carolina, in Beaufort County, grew along the bluff and banks of the May, Coosawhatchie, Cooper and New rivers—waters that blessed the area with fertile ground, rich biodiversity and breathtaking vistas. With photo and nature safaris, environmental talks, kayak and boat tours, "from-heres" and "come-heres" are encouraged to take a walk on the wild side.

Photo By: Eric Horan

Photo By: Eric Horan

Photo By: Eric Horan

Photo By: Charles Harris

Photo By: Eric Horan

Photo By: Eric Horan

Photo By: Eric Horan

Photo By: Walt Denson

May River

Part of the largest stretch of intact marshlands in the South Atlantic Bight, the rivers bordering Bluffton are salty and tidally connected. They average a 9.5-foot change between high and low tides twice a day. The county’s more than 200,000 acres of marsh are the ocean’s nursery— "a big soup," says lifelong Bluffton resident and former kayak guide, Ben Turner—where crab, shrimp, oysters and other marine life get their start.

Spartina Grass

Throughout the marshlands that give the Lowcountry its singular identity, spartina—or cord grass—turns bright green in spring and golden in fall. It hosts a wealth of wildlife, such as alligators, raccoons and otters, which feast on the world’s freshest raw bar. Deer, which are vegetarian, can be seen licking the tall, slender blades for the salt. Without rocky outcroppings available in other parts of the country, the deer rely on spartina, which excretes the salt it draws from the water, for this vital dietary supplement.

Oyster Beds

Beaufort County’s oyster is the same species found in Chesapeake Bay and Apalachicola, the Crassostrea Virginica, or eastern oyster. Unlike those large, single-eared forms, however, Bluffton oysters are small, narrow and grow in clusters because the marsh has a soft, muddy bottom. The oyster larvae—or spat—floats around on the tide, seeking a hard surface to plant and grow. Other oysters provide that ready surface, which is why the oyster industry works with the state’s Department of Natural Resources to replenish shells along oyster banks.

Oyster Harvest

Oystermen still take their bateau boats out for the back-breaking work of gathering oysters. The industry was nearly decimated by overharvesting in the 1950s. But, the inimitable terroir—the microclimate of salinity, nutrients and water temperatures that give the oysters their sweet taste and silky texture—have increased demand for this delicacy. Bluffton residents have pride of place, swearing their oysters are the best-tasting in the world, and that they are at their peak when the waters grow cold in December.


The playful mammals are also skilled hunters and use the sloping pluff mud along the banks of the estuary at low tide to corral fish. They use their tails as leverage to push up on the slope and glide back into the water.

Dolphin Hunt

The playful mammals are also skilled hunters and use the sloping pluff mud along the banks of the surrounding estuary at low tide to corral fish. They use their tales as leverage to push up on the slope and glide back into the water.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles

Because of more than two decades of concerted conservation efforts, such as release devices in fishing nets and beach renourishment, loggerhead sea turtles have been making a comeback along the southeastern coast. The beaches of nearby Hilton Head and the barrier islands are prime nesting habitat for the sea turtles, which can grow to weigh as much as 400 pounds and return every few years, beginning in May, to the sands where they were hatched to lay their own eggs.

Loggerhead Hatchlings

After two months of incubating in the warm sands, loggerhead hatchlings, about two inches long, pick their ways out of their shells and climb up the columns to flap and crawl their way across the beach back into the surf. Hundreds of volunteers train each year to help with sea turtle nest counts and to help hatchlings find their way to the ocean.

For the Birds

From shorebirds to birds of prey, Bluffton’s abundant maritime forests and coastal wetlands shelter many a rookery and landing spot for our fine-feathered friends. During the winter months when migratory birds are heading south, Bluffton’s bird diversity blossoms. The local chapter of the Audubon Society conducts annual Christmas counts of more than 175 different species of birds.

Flutter By

During September, the Lowcountry is all aflutter with migrating Monarchs. These colorful royals make a pit stop on their way to Mexico. But, if you miss the majestic butterflies, you can visit the Coastal Discovery Museum’s Karen Wertheimer Butterfly Habitat from May to October, where the lifecycle of these important pollinators is on full display.


Although there are fewer trawlers plowing these waters than in previous years, locally sourced shrimp is a prized commodity among restauranteurs, seafood markets and individuals who buy it fresh off the docks.

Waddell Mariculture Center

As the economics of commercial fishing and shrimping grow increasingly costly, alternatives to sate the U.S.’s seafood appetite increase. South Carolina leads in aquaculture research, and the epicenter is in Bluffton. Amid more than 1,000 acres of conservation lands near Port Royal Sound sits a wet laboratory dedicated to best practices in the cultivation of farm-raised seafood, including shrimp, fish and bivalves. The Waddell Mariculture Center is the only one of its kind in the United States.

Palmetto Bluff Conservancy

As the community of Palmetto Bluff came into being so did the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, a nonprofit research and education organization committed to protecting and celebrating the natural and historic environment. Conservation easements now preserve precious wetlands, tidal creeks and maritime forests throughout the development on the bluff of the May River. Homeowners are encouraged to construct according to green-building standards. Interpretive trails lead through wildlife corridors and to town squares and neighborhood parks.

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