No matter whether you live here in the Lowcountry, it’s darn near impossible to gaze out over our marshes and waterways as you drive along. Since I live in Bluffton and grew up on Hilton Head, I still find myself captivated by the scenery as I travel over the bridges to Hilton Head and then again as I head back to Bluffton. This has been going on for nearly 65 years, and it seems the scene varies a bit every single time I see it.
The huge tides we have no doubt is what makes this scene vary from day to day and from year to year. At low tide, long, winding oyster beds are exposed, and the oysters — now totally uncovered — stand at attention spitting droplets of saltwater into the air. As the tide creeps in, schools of bait, such as mullet and shrimp, race into the fortress of oysters seeking shelter from all the predators that have plagued them while the tide was out.
Even at high tide, it all looks different. Depending on the day, the moon phase and the direction of the wind, no two days appear the same. During moon tides, not a single stalk of marsh grass can be seen. It’s all water, except for piles of dead marsh grass being flushed out to sea, keeping our marshes sparkling clean. Just imagine the volume of water that flows during a single day that hosts four tides in a 24-hour period. To some, these huge tides are an inconvenience.
Since I guide people in their boats — mostly new boat owners new to the area — without exception, our tides always come up in conversation. It makes it harder to dock their boat, they worry about being stranded on a sandbar that wasn’t there an hour or two ago — I hear it all, but to me this huge fluctuation is the best thing we have going for us. It keeps our waters clean and healthy. Without this massive exchange of water, especially now with such a boom in development, our estuaries would be in deep trouble.
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Stormwater runoff, plastic bottles by the thousands bobbing in every conceivable niche, fecal runoff from underground septic tanks, horse farms and thousands of other sources of contamination threaten our waters. If it weren’t for our tides, I fear our waters would be void of life. But for now at least, our waters are absolutely amazing with the amount of life that inhabits every single gallon of saltwater.
Another comment I hear all the time from people I guide is, “how come we can’t have clear water like the Caribbean?” The answer to that is quite simple. Our “dirty” water is actually a soup of sorts. It’s a soup of life. Take a glass bottle and scoop up some saltwater from anywhere around our area, and you will be amazed by all the tiny living organisms scooting around in the bottle. Our intricate maze of estuaries is unique, and they act as a nursery for just about everything that lives out in the ocean. How do they get there? You guessed it, our huge tides.
At this particular time of the year is when I really get to see just how diverse the life is that grew up in this amazing nursery of ours. Probably starting out as something as small as a pinprick that rode the ocean currents from lord knows where, they have had all spring and summer to grow into a recognizable life form. Over this past week I have gotten an eyeful throwing a small cast net. Trying to catch small finger mullet for bait, I caught juvenile fish that aren’t even supposed to be around here. As a matter of fact, I was so taken back by the variety of fish that I totally forgot about catching bait. Instead, I filled a 5-gallon bucket with saltwater, attached an aerator and started collecting specimens for the Port Royal Foundation’s aquarium located at the Lemon Island bridge.
I caught mangrove snapper — usually only found in southern Florida — grouper, bunches of small tarpon, even a snook. Then while I was on Hilton Head, I went into Wexford Plantation, and in one of the canals, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was killing time fishing with live shrimp, and out from under one of docks swims a barracuda.
It was a foot and half long, and like barracuda I see offshore; he mimicked their movements to a “T.” Seeing that live shrimp, he would lie motionless swiveling like he was on a pivot as the shrimp swam along changing directions. How cool is that?
So you see our waters are some the last pristine estuaries on the entire East Coast. With all the development going on, it is now or never to protect this precious resource. Campbell’s Soup Company can never make a soup as fine as the one we have all around us and that’s a fact!