About the Complex

W H 512W Longleaf Pine Forests

The South Carolina Lowcountry Refuges Complex is home to four National Wildlife Refuges encompassing over 115,240 acres. All four refuges are located in the Lowcountry, a geographic and cultural area distinguished by low-lying lands that extend from the Atlantic coast to the western sandhills of the state. The refuges which comprise the complex include Cape Romain NWR, Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin NWR, Santee NWR and Waccamaw NWR. These public lands encompass some of the most unique and biologically diverse wetland and upland ecosystems along the Atlantic Coast.

The Lowcountry refuges are distinguished by habitats such as blackwater rivers and creeks that thread their way through cypress-tupulo swamp forests, alluvial river floodplains surrounded by dense deciduous forests, sandhill longleaf pine forests and savannahs, historic rice fields, pristine sandy beaches and nutrient-rich tidal estuaries. These ecosystems provide a safe haven for wildlife and sustain countless species.

The National Wildlife Refuges within the complex are composed of unparalleled habitats for the nation's wildlife, including one of only twenty Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network sites in both North and South America, one of the largest undeveloped estuarine wetland systems remaining along the U.S. Atlantic coast, a critically endangered longleaf pine forest ecosystem and, the only known coastal maritime sandhill community in the state of South Carolina.

Lowcountry National Wildlife Refuges often contain archeological and cultural sites that signify the important connection between the historic coastal people and the land. Dating back thousands of years, these sites give testament to the native people who inhabited the coastal area long before European settlement. On Cape Romain's Bulls Island, there are Native American shell heaps known as "middens". At Santee NWR, an Indian mound believed to have been a ceremonial and burial ground can be seen just past the Visitor Center. The Santee Mound also marks the site of Fort Watson, a fort erected by the British during the Revolutionary War. European settlement brought more travelers to South Carolina's coastal lands. Pirate tales and Revolutionary and Civil War stories abound. On Bulls Island you can view the tabby foundation of a 1700's era fort known as a Martello Tower. The Tower was used to warn the people on the mainland of enemies approaching from the sea. Although years have gone by, some relicts of the past still exist within the complex. At ACE Basin NWR, be sure to visit the Grove Plantation house, which was built in 1828 and serves today as the visitor center and headquarters for the refuge. This house is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of only three antebellum mansions in the ACE basin area to survive the Civil War. Also on the National Register are two historic lighthouses located on Cape Romain's Lighthouse Island. Both built in the 1800's, the lights once stood as sentinels, warning mariners of the treacherous shoals along the coast.

The SC Lowcountry Refuges hold great importance in collaborative partnerships and work closely with local, state and federal agencies and organizations to achieve our mission to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and their habitats. Our Partners include the Francis Marion National Forest, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Santee Cooper, Low Country Open Land Trust, Mead Westvaco Corporation, and Dewees Island Property Owners Association.