Many parallels between cultivation of gardens and critters of the sea

cdad@hiltonheadisland.netAugust 20, 2013 

In three short months Waddell Mariculture Center's cobia have grown in leaps and bounds.

Fishing isn't all I do. I will admit it takes up a pretty good chunk of my time but when I'm not out on the water or sitting in front of my computer designing, chances are I can be found covered in dirt and sweat as I work in my gardens.

Actually, it was while I was gardening that I had a revelation of sorts. What struck me most about the analogy I am about to describe was that I had never thought of it before. So what do the plants in my garden have in common with fish, shrimp and all the other critters in our waters? My answer to that question is everything.

Starting at the beginning, I always plant my gardens around the first of March and I almost always start from seed. Sure I could buy small plants at some nursery, but the satisfaction isn't what it is when I begin with seed. The mortality rate is much greater with the seed approach but for those that do survive there is no greater satisfaction when I go outside after two or three months and see this towering beauty. Just like seeds, fish and shrimp start out just about the same time as microscopic organisms and talk about a high mortality rate those poor little buggers don't have my nurturing touch like seeds do. Conservatively speaking, my guess is one in a 5,000 makes it through that same three-month period. Are you with me so far?

As I continued on pruning flowerbeds and the like, I started thinking about shrimp. Just the day before a buddy of mine asked me if I had run across any big shrimp and I said no.

Just like some of the varieties of flowers I had planted, they were just now beginning to put out buds. Likewise, right across the May River from my house in Bull Creek I had been checking on the size of the shrimp whenever I went fishing at low tide. Tilting my outboard up, I would closely parallel the bank and watch the wake my boat made. As the propeller stirred up the mud, shrimp by the thousands would skitter across the surface of the water.

Also like my flowers, as each week passed the shrimp that took to the air would grow just a tiny bit more. The parallels between these two things in nature were so close. Again I wondered why I had never before noticed it.

Like my love of the water and in particular fishing, I started gardening when I was very young. I think I was the only one of the five kids in my family who took any interest in gardening. My folks recognized my interest in plants and instead of hiring gardeners, I did all the planting and caring for the plants around our house beginning at age 11 or 12. It never occurred to me that maybe, just maybe it was because of the close similarities between things that grew in the ocean and the things that grew in the ground.

Knowing that I was going to attempt to write this column and hopefully make some sense, I hopped in my car and rode over to the Waddell Mariculture Center to check in with my friend Al Stokes and see how the cobia that they had started from eggs were doing.

They used "brood" female cobia caught in Port Royal Sound this past May and a few male cobia from the same area for fertilizing the eggs. I was curious whether their planting experiment was going. Obviously, because they were born in captivity, the mortality rate was far below cobia born in the wild and like my seeds that I nurtured, I couldn't wait to see the fruits of their labor.

Tank after tank, all about 12 feet across, were chock full of baby cobia but what amazed me was their size. Starting from an egg half the size of a small pea, the cobia were now a good eight to 10 inches long. In the same time it took me to get a mature plant from a tiny seed, the cobia were right on par with my plants. Nature has a plan all right and it all came to me while I played in the dirt. Who would have thunk it?

Lastly, speaking of the Waddell Mariculture Center, they are asking the public to help them out with their red snapper studies. Beginning on Aug. 23 through Aug. 25, a special red snapper season will be open. The limit is one snapper per person per day with no minimum size limit.

What Waddell needs are the carcasses of any snapper you might catch for age studies and other scientific data. At the moment, there are two drop off locations: the Waddell Mariculture Center and the Hilton Head Boathouse. Take five minutes of your time and drop off those carcasses so you can help out the folks at Waddell.

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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