Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Environmental Health Sciences

First Advisor

Dwayne E Porter


The Gullah/Geechee (G/G) people are descendants of West African slaves who remained in seclusion on the Sea Islands of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida until the end of the Civil War in 1865. In addition to retaining their unique cultural language, they also remain largely a fishing subsistence population. Decades of urban development have reduced the G/G population's access to traditional fishing locations and have increased exposures to environmental contaminants in some bodies of water that are frequently fished by the G/G. Approximately 98.4% of SC rivers and streams and 77.6% of lakes have been assessed for aquatic use support (including consumption safety) regarding impacts of Hg to water bodies; and 100% of bays and estuaries have been assessed for aquatic life use support. Fish advisories have been placed on 63 of the water bodies that serve as dietary fish sources in Beaufort, Charleston, and Colleton counties (the study area), but it is currently unclear whether these fish species are the most commonly consumed, in large quantities by the Gullah population. This study explored fishing and fish consumption patterns, how these patterns influenced methylmercury (MeHg) exposure levels, and the awareness of fish advisories in the South Carolina G/G population. The study also tested the null hypothesis that there was no statistical difference between the estimated exposures to MeHg in the African American (AA) Sea Island population and the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey MeHg exposures reported for the general U.S. population. This study was the first to explore motivations for fishing and fish consumption choices of the G/G and AA Sea Island population. This body of work provides insight into fishing and fish consumption patterns, levels of awareness regarding fish consumption advisories, and estimated exposures to MeHg in the G/G population that add to the knowledge on fishing subsistence patterns in this population. Since confusion between fish advisories and fishing regulations was consistent, particularly in rural areas, education is needed to better inform G/G and AA Sea Island communities about fish and seafood that could potentially expose them to elevated levels of MeHg. Providing clear and culturally tailored health messages regarding existing fish advisories will allow the population to make informed choices about fish consumption that will minimize potential exposures to MeHg. Health messages should clearly delineate the scope of fishing regulations from fish consumption advisories. A G/G/AA mercury risk model was developed to guide fish consumption patterns in the SC Sea Islands.


© 2013, Jamelle Heyward Ellis

Included in

Public Health Commons