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Many islands off the Atlantic coast are packed with shops, restaurants, and oceanfront resorts.

But not Saint Helena Island in South Carolina. This island is a cultural center for the Gullah/Geechee people – descendants of enslaved African Americans, and it remains rural.

People there grow rice and catch shrimp.

“You can still go fishing and hunting. You can still sit beneath an oak tree and see the Spanish moss there. And if you sit close enough, you can hear those voices of the ancestors still alive and well there on our island,” says Queen Quet, chieftess and head of state for the Gullah/Geechee Nation.

She says a zoning law in Saint Helena prevents developments like gated areas and waterfront hotels from displacing the island’s cultural resources.

That’s helped residents maintain traditions. And it’s made them more protected from sea level rise.

“We never build right into the marsh,” she says. “We don’t build right into the ocean. So as the sea levels have risen, we don’t see Gullah/Geechee homes that are falling into the ocean. But north and south of us, we’ve seen this.”

So she says coastal communities can look to Saint Helena as a model for how to protect cultural and natural resources in the face of change.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media