Little River’s Waties Island Gets $500,000 Google donation

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David Hucks
David Hucks
David Hucks is a 12th generation descendant of the area we now call Myrtle Beach, S.C. David attended Coastal Carolina University and like most of his family, has never left the area. David is the lead journalist at

Just beyond the beaches of Cherry Grove, Little River, S.C. features Waties Island. This undeveloped barrier island has been highlighted by MyrtleBeachSC News, as well as, other area news outlets.

The island has been a desired property for real estate developers for over 30 years. We featured a series about William H. Goodwin Jr. whose Riverstone Properties are behind a push to develop the area in our BIG FLIP series.

A recent land purchase through a $500,000 donation by tech giant Google seeks to hold those developers at bay and help local conservationists keep the island as is.

The land conservation group Open Space Institute purchased nearly 260 acres on the northern half of the 2.5-mile long barrier island recently. The previous owner was Olivia Boyce-Abel.

The area could easily be classified as a maritime forest. The barrier island is filled with Loblolly pine trees and Yaupon Hollys.

The island sustains untouched salt marshes.

Waties Island features nearly 3 miles of undisturbed beach. With Google’s donation, local conservationists plan to preserve the island’s unique ecosystem, which is similar to a semi-arid desert.

Google’s $500,000 grant will help ensure Waties Island is free from future real estate development.

Google made the donation to Sustain SC.

Sustain SC is a nonprofit that works to improve the state’s environment. Sustain SC recently formed the Land and Water Action Fund as an arm to help in these efforts.

As the Charleston Post and Courier reports: OSI was selected to be the first recipient of the fund whose goal is to bring private sector dollars into South Carolina to leverage local, state and federal funds to protect its natural resources.

A public funding source, The South Carolina Conservation Bank awarded a $4 million reimbursable grant, to be paid back from other funding sources.

We have an incredible responsibility to preserve South Carolina’s natural beauty and to foster sustainable growth as people from around the world are discovering all that our state has to offer and moving here,” said Gov. Henry McMaster, who will make the announcement and present an award to Google Oct. 27 at the inaugural Sustainability Symposium hosted by Sustain SC in Columbia. “Sustain SC’s Land and Water Action Fund is going to help us do that, and Waites Island is as deserving of a conservation project as we have in the state.”

I’m grateful for Google’s investment in this project because it will inspire further investment and collaboration across our state in the future,” McMaster added.

The Waccamaw Community Foundation later announced it is matching Google’s gift with a $500,000 contribution of its own to the conservation project.

OSI now plans to transfer the property to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. The land will eventually be used as a Heritage Preserve.

As we have previously covered, the majority of Waties Island is owned by the Coastal Educational Foundation. The rest is owned by members of the Boyce family and Virginia-based Riverstone Properties. Riverstone previously worked to have the area developed. Virginia’s William H. Goodwin Jr. and his Riverstone group also entirely own Kiawah Resort in the Lowcountry of S.C.

William H. Goodwin Jr. (Riverstone) still hopes to develop his part of the Island. Talks of an area casino continue.

The conservation group worked for years on a purchase agreement with Boyce-Abel to make sure that the island stays safe from Godwin’s hands.

SCDNR records show that 191 different bird species are documented on Waties Island, which is nearly half of all the bird species in the state. The island provides an “oasis” for migratory birds, sea turtles and shorebirds.

We are beyond grateful for [Google’s] support launching this fund and hope it’s just the beginning of something that will truly make a difference for future generations,” said Ethel Bunch, Sustain SC’s founder and CEO

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