Q&A with Chris Crolley of Coastal Expeditions

Meet Chris Crolley, Captain and CEO of Coastal Expeditions

Chris Crolley has been deeply involved in the creeks and rivers and oceans of Charleston for the past 30 years professionally but has loved the salty region his entire life. He spends his time exploring environments and habitats in the Lowcountry, the most diverse of which is the saltmarsh estuary. He is currently the CEO of Coastal Expeditions, a guiding company that takes people on enthralling boat tours through the creeks and marshes of the South Carolina wetlands and teaches them about conserving our local ecosystems. He will soon begin guiding the guests of Kiawah River in much the same way.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your time in the Lowcountry?

A: My time in and among the rivers, creeks, and oceans of Charleston has given me a great opportunity to explore the habitats that I love – the black water ecosystem and cypress tree growth, tar, deciduous flood plans and rivers, saltmarsh estuaries of the near coastal barrier islands, and the barrier islands themselves. I think this area is by far the most bio diversified, exciting, dynamic, ecosystem in our immediate vicinity. The salt marsh estuary, the Spartina, the plough mud, the tidal salt water, become the keystone elements of the all-you-can-eat, 24-hour seafood buffet. And that’s where I’ve spent most of my time, in and around the capillaries of tidal creeks and marshes. I could go on and on!

Q: What is Coastal Expeditions?

A: Coastal Expeditions in the name of my business. We facilitate thousands of people every year into exploring the local ecosystems and we do kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, and small boat charters. We love to go to the forests and national wildlife refuges. I get to spend my days teaching people about the environment I find so fascinating.

Q: What do you think makes the environment in the Lowcountry so different from other places?

A: The biodiversity. I like to think of the Lowcountry as anywhere rice was grown in the 1730s. That means low-lying, flat-lying land that influenced the river system that runs out to the ocean – that’s what I call the Lowcountry. As far as I know, it’s one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. If it’s not number one, it’s number 2! There’s the rainforest, and then there’s the saltmarsh estuary. For instance, there’s plough mud in the salt marsh estuary, and it’s actually edible. You can eat that stuff and be nourished by it. There aren’t many places where you can eat the ground!

Q: What excites you working with Kiawah River?

A: Just seeing the property they’ve stewarded and maintained, it’s a gorgeous piece of land. Any nature person who has been asked to do environmental work from that platform would get really excited. This piece of Johns Island created by Bohicket Creek and the Kiawah River is pretty special, and we think it’s going to attract the right people – people who are interested in the land and interested in protecting it. Environmental education is about producing high-quality nature experiences, and that’s what we do for a living. And now we have the opportunity to do that with Kiawah River. We’re incredibly excited for the opportunity to be Kiawah River’s outfitter, to come in, produce, and carry out itineraries that help connect people to nature. We are excited to show people the nature that is Kiawah River.

Q: What stands out to you about the property?

A: The entire project basically sits on a dynamic edge. And what I mean by that is that there’s this collision of defined and complete ecosystems that sort of just run into each other. If you were coming from the river approaching the property, you would be in the salt marsh estuary where you would sea all sorts of creatures: dolphins and egrets and pelicans and terns and skimmers and shrimp and oysters. Then you step out of the Spartina grass and into the black needle brush. Then you’re underneath the oaks that are right there against the shore. And all of a sudden, you leave one complete dynamic ecosystem behind and enter another. You’re in a forest where you see warblers and finches and owls and wild turkeys and white tail deer. You continue to walk onward and leave the saltwater behind. Then you come up on a freshwater pond, and now you’re another completely different ecosystem where you begin to see other birds that are thrive in this habitat, like migratory water fowl. Ducks, even alligators! It just brings me back to the biodiversity answer. That’s what makes this site unlike any other. It exists on a series of ecotones that are represented by these dynamic edges. It’s crazy. I can’t help but be in wonder.

Q: Do you have a fond memory on or near the property you’d like to share?

A: I sure do! I was sitting on the front lawn in an improvise-placed chair talking with a fella who has spent his time and energy out at Kiawah River named Carter Redd. We had maps and charts out in front of us. We were brainstorming long term vision, quality of culture, deployment or resources and that sort of thing. The sun was coming from behind me and I’m looking at Carter, looking over his shoulder and this prehistoric pink bird flies in, hits the sun, just catches the sun. It’s the best kind of look you can get of this particular bird. But instead of flying by, it stalls out, cups the wind, and lands right there in the estuary, right there in the creek right near where we’re sitting. I’m dumbfounded, completely losing track of whatever it was we were saying. I was just thinking “oh my god that’s the most incredible thing.” And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, here comes another one. The name of the bird is the Roseate Spoonbill, and it’s just by far one of the most beautiful birds that you’re ever going to see. And to have one after the other land in the middle of a prognostication of a conversation. A guy like me who watches nature and pays attention to what’s going on, it was significant to me. It meant something.

With their long, flat, spoon-shaped bill, these birds are a phenomenon within their kingdom and within their peers. There’s not another quite like the Roseate Spoonbill, and there’s nothing quite like Kiawah River.