In all the ways that matter, the water is the Lowcountry. Without it, we have no white sandy beaches. We have no meandering tidal creeks that nourish our wildlife. In short, without the water the very soul of the Lowcountry ceases to exist.

To some, our waters are a delicate system that must be saved. To some, they are an idyllic backdrop to a day spent in paradise. To some, the water is the center of their spiritual world, their house of worship.

What does the water mean to you?…

LOCAL SINCE 2011
AS A DIVER, MICHELLE MEISSEN HAS AN APPRECIATION FOR OUR WATER AND THE MANY CREATURES THAT CALL OUR OCEANS HOME. SHE IS CEO OF PALMETTO OCEAN CONSERVANCY.

Michelle Meissen

Guardian of the sea

To many of us, the beach is simply a stretch of paradise where the sand meets the sea. It’s here we slather on sunscreen, lay out our towel and soak in the oceanside tranquility. To Michelle Meissen, it’s something else.

“Everyone loves going to the beach because they love the serene visual of it,” she said. “But being able to see what’s beneath that surface level, that’s where I want to take people.”

Beneath that surface is an undersea ecosystem that Meissen has dedicated herself to preserving, inspired by her youth growing up in California, raised by naturalists to respect the land and sea. As CEO of Palmetto Ocean Conservancy Guardians of the Sea, she has been a force of nature locally in protecting Beaufort County’s waterways. Through her organization, she’s led classes that expose kids to the marine life that calls the Lowcountry home and warns them of the many dangers those creatures face.

“I want these kids to be inspired like I was as a kid. And the only way to do that is to show them what’s under the water,” she said. Her presentations through the Youth Ambassador Program immerse kids in the undersea world through diving videos and hands-on projects. When we spoke, her young conservationists were collecting bottle caps to be used in a mural by local artist Lauren Andeau.

Her work doesn’t end there. As an advocate, she lent her support to the Coastal Conservation League in its successful bid to ban plastic bags. And she was the driving force behind last summer’s “Strawless Summer,” which will change to an ongoing effort this year.

“This year, we’re changing it to just ‘Go Strawless,’” she said. “It’s just a matter of trying to let everyone know if you don’t need the straw, it’s not important.”

Her next goals? Encouraging the town to beef up its recycling efforts and finding a permanent home for Palmetto Ocean Conservancy, which currently hosts its workshops at the Roasting Room every other Sunday from 1-2 p.m. “Right now we’re living like gypsies,” she said with a laugh. “We’re always out in the community and trying to do things to inspire and get the message out… it’s coming along very well.”

Credits

Story: Barry Kaufman
Photography: Lisa Staff
Featured Magazine: Local Life