Date of Award

Spring 2008

Document Type

Legacy Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Coastal Marine and Wetland Studies


Coastal and Marine Systems Science


College of Science

First Advisor

Daniel C. Abel

Second Advisor

Robert F. Young

Third Advisor

Keshav Jagannathan


The goals of this project were to census and compare the relative abundance and diversity of the elasmobranch (shark and ray) populations of two northeast South Carolina estuaries. North Inlet and Murrells Inlet are similarly-sized, tidally-dominated, bar-built estuaries with extensive Spartina-lined tidal creeks, differing most strikingly in their degree of human impact. North Inlet is a relatively pristine estuary that has been designated a National Estuarine Research Reserve, whereas Murrells Inlet, 32 km to the north, is a suburbanized estuary (10-50% impervious surfaces in the watershed, Holland et al. 2004), contaminated with polluted stormwater runoff containing high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and fecal coliform bacteria (Kelsey et al. 2004, Fulton et al. 1993, and Vemberg et al. 1992). A pilot study (Prosser and Abel, 2004) reported that the abundance and diversity of the elasmobranch fauna of Murrells Inlet was much reduced compared to North Inlet. Prosser and Abel (2004) caught only 5 sharks and 19 rays in Murrells Inlet, whereas 34 sharks and 5 rays were captured in North Inlet with one-third the effort. Prosser and Abel (2004) set longlines along the jetties at the mouth of Murrells Inlet, which could have increased their catch rate. Populations of elasmobranchs, particularly sharks, are threatened globally (Baum et al. 2003) as well as in the Atlantic (Myers et al. 2007). Since these animals play important roles in estuarine food webs, frequently as apex predators, any reduced presence of elasmobranchs in Murrells Inlet, if indeed true, may be further indication of the impacts of urbanization on estuaries, and may also contribute to our understanding of the causes of decreases in regional and global elasmobranch populations. Thus, the purpose of this study is to test the hypothesis that the elasmobranch fauna of Murrells Inlet is depauperate compared to North Inlet and, if so, to advance explanations for this observation.