Bluffton Packet

Look what Hurricane Dorian blew in

A good cache of sizable shrimp caught Sept. 7, after Hurricane Dorian, whets an appetite.
A good cache of sizable shrimp caught Sept. 7, after Hurricane Dorian, whets an appetite.

For the most part, our Lowcountry weather is actually most enjoyable year-round, with the exceptions of a few extremes, one way or the other; torrid days at a time during the summer or days-on-end freezes in the winter.

However, living on the coast with all our waterways, like my creek near Bluffton, we really enjoy our seafood also. So, our ears perk up and we absolutely get worked up when learning a hurricane is headed our way putting us in its path.

When Hurricane Matthew hit us in 2016, it not only did a lot of damage to trees and homes in our area, it also messed up this senior citizen’s half-mile trek to Stoney Creek dock to cast and catch enough shrimp for my menu of the day. What used to be the perfect spot to stand and cast one hour before low tide to haul in all the shrimp I needed, has now turned into a dock sitting on a sand/mud bank created from sand high tides ushered in due to the strong winds of Hurricane Matthew.

Now, in order to find water deep enough for the cast net to sink so the “horn” of the net is not visible, I might be able to snag enough shrimp to whip up a poor man’s “shrimp gravy on grits” for supper. That is, IF I head to the dock two hours before low tide and keep my fingers crossed.

But, for able-bodied fishermen who head to the river in boats to catch their bounty of shrimp, hurricanes can actually play in their favor by “ruffling the waters,” you might say, which affects oxygen levels therein.

The important “dissolved” oxygen is necessary for a healthy aquatic ecosystem. Two weather factors — temperature and barometric pressure — can affect levels of dissolved oxygen. The colder the water temperature, the higher the dissolved oxygen, whereas warmer temperatures lower the oxygen level, so any disturbance in the water will stir up the temperatures.

When aquatic plants and algae are exposed to sunlight, they produce oxygen as a waste product of photosynthesis, so when there is a turbulence on the surface of the water caused by high winds and choppy water, such as Hurricane Dorian created off our South Carolina coast recently, the water beneath the surface becomes churned up, as if in a blender, so to speak, resulting in higher shrimp activity, because of increased dissolved oxygen.

You might say they get really excited or “all stirred up” like we humans do when a hurricane appears in our forecast!

Marine animals, particularly crustaceans, track “odor plumes” to their source. Shrimp conduct “odor-plume-tracking” by flicking their antennules to sample the odor. Any turbulence in water mixing the water’s chemicals creates an odor. This change of turbulence in the water also affects the water’s temperature, therefore affecting the metabolic efficiency of organisms such as shrimp. Their activity, versus inactivity, affects the abundance of a catch on any given day.

However, speaking for myself, I would be satisfied with a smaller catch of shrimp if hurricanes were abolished entirely. BUT, that option is controlled by a higher authority.

Jean Tanner may be reached at jstmeema@hargray.com.

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