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Once hunted for their blubber, North Atlantic right whales are now among the rarest mammals in the world. Only about 500 of the species exist, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, making them one of the most endangered marine mammals.

Right whales can weigh up to 70 tons and grow up to 60 feet. Commercial whalers christened them “right whales” because they are the “right” whale to hunt: they move slowly, are easy to chase, and carry copious amounts of blubber.

When President Donald Trump’s administration announced in January its five-year plan to open up opportunities for gas and oil drilling in 90 percent of federal waters — including the stretch of ocean off the Lowcountry’s coastline — the uproar on land was swift and strong.

A month later, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster met with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to make the state’s opposition to the plan known and to ask that South Carolina be exempted. His sentiment echoed those expressed by U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford and Jim Clyburn, as well as many in the Palmetto State like Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett.

THE PURCHASE OF ST. PHILLIPS ISLAND DOUBLES SIZE OF HUNTING ISLAND STATE PARK

A private island a short boat ride away from Hunting Island State Park is the latest addition to South Carolina’s park system. And Lowcountry residents will be able to start exploring it soon.

At the end of December, media mogul Ted Turner sold his private barrier island, St. Phillips, to South Carolina for $5 million.

ANNUAL CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT HAS BECOME A HOLIDAY TRADITION

As part of the world’s largest and longest-running citizen science project, bird lovers in more than 2,500 locations in the Western Hemisphere will participate in the 118th Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. Between Dec. 14 and Jan, 5, each group will cover a 15-mile radius and tally the birds spotted.

A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE ENDS IN THE REAL SOUTH

Having worn out the old route from Hilton Head Island, where I grew up, to college in Charleston along S.C. 17, it was only a matter of time before I started taking detours. “Into the exit zone” I would call it — the deep, green South. In just a few years of taking this route, I saw the old South recede under the pressures of development. The highway expanded, displacing an old, painfully nostalgic Texaco station, and my search for the essence of what was left grew ever more urgent. Overgrown in kudzu, the barns would speak to me. Shrouded by oaks, the darker the road, the better. And it was on one of these countless forays that I chanced upon the bridge to nowhere.

swampland2SWAMPLAND IS THE HEART OF LOWCOUNTRY

“Swamps settled South Carolina,” Todd Ballentine explained during an interview. The environmental consultant added: “It wasn’t cotton. It was rice that first settled South Carolina.” And there would be no rice without swamps. Luckily, South Carolina is still home to prime freshwater wetlands and many traces of the heyday of rice cultivation. On Hilton Head Island, in fact, lies a clue in the heart of Sea Pines Forest Preserve. The Boggy Gut swamp was once used to cultivate rice using a method established by West African slaves with knowledge passed down from their ancestors.

LOCAL GROUP AIMS TO BAN PLASTIC GROCERY BAGS, WHICH ARE A DANGER TO MARINE LIFE

Plastic shopping bags, a popular convenience item, may soon no longer be available at your local grocery store. And for good reason: They are especially dangerous to coastal communities because they clog waterways, endanger sea creatures like birds, turtles and dolphins, and fill landfills and trash piles.

“GIVE A MAN A FISH, AND YOU FEED HIM FOR A DAY,” THE OLD SAYING GOES. “TEACH A MAN TO FISH, AND YOU FEED HIM FOR A LIFETIME.”

That’s true for women and kids, too, and a group of longtime fishermen from Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church is out to teach the skill to anyone who wants to learn.

HURRICANE SEASON IS UNDERWAY AND IT’S A GREAT TIME TO MAKE SURE YOU’RE PREPARED.

THE SEASON IS FROM JUNE 1 TO NOV. 30, WITH THE HIGHEST PROBABILITY FOR A STORM STARTING MID-AUGUST AND ENDING LATE SEPTEMBER.

Since 1804, 12 hurricanes have had an impact on the area. The most recent was Hurricane Hugo in 1989. No damage was done on Hilton Head Island, but the mandatory evacuation took an economic toll. Floyd also came close in 1999, but only resulted in a few downed branches (although anyone who went through that evacuation will tell you it was a challenge, to say the least).

The ocean has been creeping closer for a long time, reaching higher onto our beaches, spilling onto our docks and roads, and lapping at our way of life. It has been a beloved neighbor, but it is not a welcome guest.

And most climate scientists say the ocean is not going to stop knocking on our doors.

“We have the data and we can’t ignore it,” said Kate Schaefer, Coastal Conservation League’s south coast director.