Beautiful waterways at heart of Lowcountry life

info@islandpacket.comNovember 14, 2011 

This Sunday was the 2011 A Taste of Waddell fundraiser, and if you weren't one of the many Lowcountry folks who gathered to show support for this extraordinary facility, you missed out on some mighty fine vittles, great music and the chance to bid on some awesome items that were up for auction.

The weather was picture perfect, and as I sat there looking out over the Colleton River, it made me realize just what was a stake. Maybe it was the combination of music by the Lowcountry Boil band and the warm glow of the setting sun that got me, but I nearly had a meltdown as I took in the smell of the salt marsh and the sun reflecting off the water.

"So this is why all these people came to live here," I thought. It wasn't the golf or tennis that brought them here, it was the water and the incredible sights and smells that are found only here in the Lowcountry. I have no doubt that many transplants to the area think it was something else other than the water that drew them here but down deep -- almost subliminal, maybe -- it was our waterways that sealed the deal. How could it not affect someone's decision to pull up roots from a place they have spent most of their lives and pick this particular area to finish out their days? Yep, it's the water -- whether they know or not.

I wouldn't say my wife, Karen, and I are extremely social types, but this event brought out so many interesting folks it was hard not to engage in conversations. I guess it was because we all had a common interest -- saving the Waddell Mariculture Center. I met people from Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Beaufort, Spring Island, Palmetto Bluff and even a few from as far away as Charleston. The common denominator was saving our waters from the effects of over-developing and making sure that this precious gem, the Waddell Mariculture Center, stays here to help guide all of us to make the right decisions as the process of growth continues.

What surprises me is the perception that folks have of Waddell, especially those who have never visited the facility. Some first-time visitors admitted they always thought it was some secret government facility, especially because of the signs reading "A Bio-Secure Facility" near the front gate. Others thought it is simply a fish farm. But after taking tours of the grounds -- tours narrated by Al Stokes, Waddell's director -- nearly all of them had words of praise for all that Waddell does to ensure our waters stay healthy and protected.

But it is the other work -- which is somewhat outside the box -- that has always impressed me about Al and his staff.

For years, Al has always gone out of his way to answer questions that laypersons such as myself can't answer. I have seen him do it for the silly questions I've had about some fish I caught, and I have seen him do it for important questions, ones that could decide which permits might be approved or rejected during town meetings -- especially on topics that could seriously impact our water quality.

So you see, it isn't just a shrimp or fish farm.

But for you fishermen, the Waddell center has done more for you than you ever could imagine. It has released tens of thousands of redfish over the years, and I can tell you for a fact, there are more redfish today than there were when I moved here 50 years ago. Its cobia studies led to raising and releasing cobia that were reared right there at the Waddell. Through DNA sampling and satellite tagging, it keeps an eye on the health of our fish populations, and when things look askew, it is on the frontline of determining the cause and finding the cure.

So as I step off my soapbox, I hope you will take the time to pay a visit to the Waddell Mariculture Center and see for yourself what they do there. You won't find geeky types with pens in their pockets, speaking in terms you never could understand. Instead you'll find some of the finest folks around, and it will become instantly apparent that they love what they do.

Finally, thanks to all of you who contributed time and items that helped make this year's A Taste of Waddell a resounding success.

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