The times they are a-climate-changing

cdad@hiltonheadisland.netJanuary 16, 2013 

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As you might imagine, I am an avid weather watcher. I'm not talking about flipping on the Weather Channel and waiting for their segment called "Local on the 8's" -- no sir, I'm talking more along the lines of exploring several websites and, only then, averaging the forecasts to come up with my own prediction.

There are probably only a handful of you who go to such extremes but when there was a story this past week about the past year being the warmest on record by one full degree, that really caught my attention. So what's the big deal about a one-degree change in the world's weather? From what I have learned, that one-degree change is unheard of in weather terms. Do I think there is global warming? Absolutely. Say what you will, but with all the crud we spew into our air and water, this planet's lifeline, it eventually has to affect the overall weather patterns.

Having lived here for 53 years, I can tell you that a lot has changed in the Lowcountry in that period. I realize my lifespan is but a pinprick in time, but if my memory serves me correctly, both the temperatures and the ocean are way different from back in the 1960s and '70s. During the summer, you could set your watch by the afternoon rainstorms. They were that predictable. I also know that weather is cyclical, but there were other constants that have disappeared over the past 50 years and since I know more about fishing and the ocean, I'll start there.

When my family moved to Hilton Head Island in 1960, you could go beachcombing and in the space of 100 yards fill a bucket with shells. One shell, in particular, was my favorite, the angel wing shell. Delicate and pretty much a dead ringer for its namesake, they were everywhere.

I am no marine biologist but I can only imagine that any amount of pollution or change in the water's composition might affect the development of such a fragile piece of nature. I still look for angel wing shells but finding one these days is a rarity, even on some of the pristine beaches on the outer islands where few humans tread.

And where have all the ghost crabs gone? When I was a kid, my brothers and sisters and I would walk down to the beach at night with flashlights, and ghost crabs would be everywhere. White with long legs, the ghost crab has eyes that light up much like any animal's eyes do when hit with a bright light, and we would chase them with crab nets. I know this sounds silly, but without computers to keep us inside, it was actually one of our favorite games. Their long legs made them the thoroughbreds of the beach and, besides their amazing speed, they could turn on a dime. Each of us would carry a shoebox, and the person with the most crabs after 30 minutes would win. Believe it or not, I can still remember how well I would sleep after an evening chasing those elusive critters.

If you like to catch Spanish mackerel, I only wish you could have seen the schools of mackerel back then. You didn't have to go any farther than the south end of Hilton Head to catch mackerel after mackerel after mackerel. On most any hot summer day it was nothing to catch 100 Spanish mackerel. From the moment you made the turn at South Beach into the ocean, you would be greeted by thousands of terns and seagulls diving on baitfish pushed to the surface by massive schools of mackerel. I'm not exaggerating when I say there were schools that often covered 5 acres of water. There were so many fish you didn't have to worry about getting a bite, only how fast you could them in. The water would be foaming with fish, and they would be in such a feeding frenzy, some would fly into the boat and others would slam into the sides of the boat. It was truly an amazing sight.

I will say that our redfish populations are on par with the old days, but when it comes to speckled sea trout, there is no comparison. My dad and I would get up early on cold winter mornings and in the space of an hour fill a washtub with trout. To catch a trout on every cast was nothing unusual and, once again, it was usually right from the shoreline using a Christmas Tree lure, funky piece of white plastic shaped like a fish with glitter sprinkled on it.

I know development is something that can't be stopped, but that growth should come with a responsibility to keep our air and water as clean as it was before the development started. I will always love the Lowcountry, but even more importantly, I believe I must respect it if it is to remain the piece of paradise that it is now and has been for thousands of years.

God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.

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