The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is administering millions of dollars to help traditionally underserved coastal communities combat climate change. That includes the almost 12,000-square-mile stretch of land spanning from North Carolina to Florida known as the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. This land, designated by Congress in 2006, protects and preserves the Gullah Geechee’s rich history and culture by allowing areas along the corridor to leverage federal funds for programs and projects and receive technical and financial assistance from the National Park Service. 

In April 2023, NOAA also announced more than $265 million in funding for 38 new projects to strengthen the climate resilience of coastal ecosystems and communities. That included $6.2 million for programs in South Carolina to speed up living shoreline projects in underserved communities and have the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort team up with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor to support a community ambassador program for living shorelines. 

Projects recommended by the NOAA include $536,000 to hire new staff to help build relationships between restoration organizations and Gullah Geechee communities, identify the resilience priorities of community members, and form local advisory committees to support future restoration efforts. 

A Gullah woman weaves a sweetgrass basket circa 1930.H. Armstrong Roberts / ClassicStock / Getty Images

Tia Clark runs Casual Crabbing with Tia, a business in Charleston, South Carolina, focused on catching blue crabs, a key ingredient in Gullah Geechee cuisine. 

She is part of conservation efforts to build oyster reefs and create a habitat for sea creatures to survive. She said warmer temperatures have resulted in habitat loss for crabs. In addition, blue crabs are not retreating to deeper waters to shelter from colder weather as often, so crabbers are putting more pressure on the blue crab population. South Carolina recorded a record low number of blue crabs in 2023, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

“When we start losing some of these resources and when it really starts hitting home and affecting more people is when some real change is going to happen,” Clark said.

She said she believes working along the water has changed her life for the better and brought her closer to her culture. However, she said, she’s seen conditions for the wildlife decline.

“With climate change, if it stays this warm, then the crabs are around longer, which means there’s going to be more pressure put on them by me and other people that are trying to catch them,” Clark said.

She works with state agencies and local schools to educate students about the importance of protecting the water for younger generations.

“It’s scary for me to think about our resources not being here because of climate change,” Clark said.

Multiple federal programs target support for the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor and combat climate change. Those living along the corridor see it as a vital fight to preserve what’s sacred to them — land, water and their way of life. 

“Every part of what we’re doing is to ensure our survival as native Gullah Geechees and the survival of our traditions,” Queen Quet said. “We say, ‘We done been here, we not going nowhere at all.’”

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