Dolphin Eco Tour | Outside Hilton Head | Hilton Head Island, SC

Five cool ocean-related experiences in the Lowcountry

So much to sea

Get back to what we’re made of with these five cool ocean-related experiences. 

Story By Daisy Dow

The human body is 60 percent water, and approximately 40 percent of the world’s population lives within 65 miles of a coast. The math adds up that water and its ecological systems flow within us but also tend to draw us in. A glance at the map of the Lowcountry will clue you into the interconnected web of marshes and estuaries that make the boundary between land and sea a little blurred. With the ocean as a friendly (but at times tumultuous) next-door neighbor, South Carolina is keenly in tune with the Atlantic, meaning unique experiences abound for lifelong seafarers and first-time visitors alike. 

Beach days in the Lowcountry see thousands of people swarming the hot sand to be splashed by the tide, and rarely a day goes by when Broad Creek doesn’t feature a steady stream of kayaks on tour, charter boats armed with rods and jet skis ready to whip up some waves on the Calibogue Sound. Beneath the hustle and bustle of our human activities on the surface, there lies an incredibly diverse underwater world of marine life — manatees, dolphins, Great White sharks, turtles and more than any of us will be able to catalog in our lifetimes. To get a glimpse into the watery wilderness, check out these five cool marine experiences that will get you knee-deep (or more) in exploring the Lowcountry’s oceanic ecosystems. 

Hang with the popular pod

Dolphin Eco Tour 

Dolphins, like all animals, need sleep or rest in some form. While these mammals sleep with only half of their brain turned off, these sea creatures are turned on all year. Dorsal fins pop in and out of Broad Creek 365 days a year, and one of the best ways to engage with the local pod is by taking a dolphin eco-tour with Outside Hilton Head. All year long 90-minute tours will take you on a journey through the salt marshes, showcasing the wildlife. Private tours are possible too. Whether with a large group or small, every tour will leave guests with a unique experience of seeing and understanding the ecosystem. It is suggested that you bring a windbreaker and some clothes you are comfortable getting wet. You have to be willing to experience life in a sea creature’s shoes if you want a front-row seat to their activities. 

Dolphin Boat Tour on Hilton Head Island

Take a bite out of this

Hunt for shark teeth 

Peeking out with an unparalleled view of the Port Royal Sound, the Sands in the Town of Port Royal is known far and wide for its reputation as a haven for finding shark teeth. Given that a shark can have anywhere between 5 and 15 rows of teeth, there is no short supply of shark teeth in the sea, since shark teeth are infinitely replaced. When heading to the Sands for a sunny beach day in an unconventional way, be sure to mind your ecological footprint. Searching for shark teeth is all fun and games until methods go unchecked. The town requests that visitors to the Sands limit the depth of the holes they dig to one foot deep and make those holes using plastic shovels. Excessive holes and improperly compacted piles of sand might get in the way of someone else being able to enjoy the beach park and find their own collection of South Carolinian shark teeth. 

Searching for Shark Teeth

Diving the Comanche

Charleston Area Scuba Spots

Unbeknownst to the sea-level eye, off the coast of South Carolina lies a graveyard of ships and tugboats, barges, even army tanks and subway cars. They have, however, been placed in the sandy ocean floor intentionally, thanks to an effort by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to create 45 man-made fisheries on the continental shelf. While it is a little out of the way, the wildlife below the waves can come into focus if you are willing to try a bit of an extreme sport. Scuba John’s Dive Shop based in Lexington offers a number of recreational and technical scuba diving courses. The dive shop offers recommendations for inland lake diving spots around the state and also offers diving trips throughout the region, including in Charleston. In the past Scuba John’s has taken folks down to see the USCGC Comanche, the 180-foot tanker Y-73, and offshore ledges. Grouper, sheepshead, flounder, cobia, black sea bass, sharks, eels and rays linger around these sites. While some of the deeper dives require advanced open water and Nitrox certifications, the opportunity to see the Atlantic’s ecosystem in action is an opportunity that’s hard to pass up.

Scuba Diving in Charleston SC

Swim with a school 

Visit a nearby aquarium

Given the Lowcountry’s location next to the Atlantic Ocean, there are ample opportunities to get up close and personal with the sea. For every dolphin breath that you catch and washed-up horseshoe crab you see, there is an infinite world of sea life and activity going on beneath the waves hidden from our view. Luckily the mystery of the ocean has attracted marine biologists, researchers and educators from around the world who have dedicated their careers to studying the sea and sharing their findings. Along the Chechessee River on Port Royal Sound, the Dick & Sharon Stewart Maritime Center is a museum and aquarium that educates people about the salt marshes, oyster beds and sea conditions that sustain an ecosystem for bottom feeders all the way up to apex predators. Other cool aquariums worth the drive include the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston, the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium in Savannah, the Tybee Island Marine Science Center, the Riverbanks Zoo aquarium in Columbia, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and the Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach.

Sea Turtle at aquarium

Cast a catch 

Ocean fishing

Fishing on the water is a surefire way to get close to marine life. Inshore fishing can be done around the Lowcountry, be that from a public dock or off the side of a kayak or jon boat. Whether you want to catch a redfish inshore or hook a sheepshead by one of the underwater wrecks, March is a good month for fishing in deeper waters. Visibility tends to be clear, and cooler water temperatures send fish searching for warm pockets down below. While some of the marine life in the region is in harder-to-reach areas, trained guides know the ins and outs of hooking their targets year-round. To try your luck without a guide or even a boat, cast-net shrimping and crabbing can be done from a number of places, but it’s worth it to check with a local expert if you want to tap into the honey hole of shellfish. Offshore fishing can be a little trickier to coordinate, but luckily, local marinas have your back with an abundance of experienced captains who can take charters out for big catches. Before heading out for any kind of fishing fun, be sure your recreational saltwater license and permits are up to date so you can enjoy your outing responsibly. 

Father and son fishing together in ocean on the beach during sunset

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