“The creeks overflow: a thousand rivulets run; ‘Twixt the roots of the sod; the blades of the marsh-grass stir; Passeth a hurrying sound of wings that westward whirr; Passeth, and all is still; and the currents cease to run; And the sea and the marsh are one. How still the plains of the waters be! The tide is in his ecstasy. The tide is at his highest height”The Marshes of Glynn – Sidney Lanier
Marshes are magical places. None more so than those along the 100 miles of Georgia coast. Through a combination of luck and policy, Georgia’s marshes are among the most intact and protected in the world, certainly along the eastern seaboard of the United States.
‘Lucky’ because Georgia’s most prominent barrier islands were purchased by wealthy northern families and maintained as family vacation retreats, often hunting retreats managed for wildlife. Of the dozen largest islands only four are accessible by car. These families could afford to keep the islands pretty much as they were and not sell for development. ‘Lucky’ too because the marshes between the islands and the mainland were considered unproductive wastelands of zero value for ‘productive use’. That is until 1968 when an Oklahoma company called Kerr-McGee, announced they intended to mine about 72,000 acres of marsh near Little Tybee Island for phosphate.
This set off a fight to save the marshes that led to the passing of then St. Simons Island legislator Reid Harris’s 1970 Coastal Marshlands Protection Act. It was at the time, and continues to be, one of the most progressive pieces of conservation legislation passed by a state. Passing the law was a grassroots, political, and academic effort documented by former state representative Paul Bolster’s book ‘Saving Georgia’s Coast’.
The result 50+ years later? As environmental and ecological scientists have come to understand – what has been long known by fishermen, crabbers, and shrimpers – Georgia’s marshes are not ‘unproductive wasteland’. Far from it. It’s the opposite. As fully one-third of the marshes remaining along the Atlantic coast, they are now recognized as one of the most valuable coastal resources in the nation, with great scientific, ecological, commercial, and recreational value.
Yet, many, if not most, people see them as ‘kind of pretty’, especially at sunrise and sunset, but still ‘wasteland’ when they pass by or over them on a causeway on the way to the prime attraction of the beaches. That’s a shame because they are missing one of Creation’s most meaningful gifts.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a beach person too. But, because since I was a kid I have dearly loved chasing redfish and speckled trout on a flyrod, I have been fortunate to get into marshes in an intimate way. Literally up to my mud covered thighs, and then some. There are few experiences in nature like it. The sights and sounds are some of the best in nature. They take us back to our origins.
Believe me, they are nature in the most primordial sense. They are always moving. They are forever changing. Tide by tide. Minute by minute.
And this is beyond our control. We can manicure them beyond recognition. We can extirpate ‘scary and pesty’ species that inhabit their ecosystems. But. We cannot stop the natural forces of tides and winds that affect their presence as the protective boundary between land and sea.
I think that this coming to grips with the fact that we cannot ‘control’ the nature of marshes and that even trying puts us in harms way of natural disasters and rising sea levels, much less intolerable prices for seafood as stocks shrink, is now bringing many of us around to what naturalists and commercial and sport fishers have long known. Marshes are invaluable for delicious, eatable sustenance and after getting smashed by hurricanes and nor’easters, that leaving them in place, and as Creation designed them, protects us from the worse case scenarios coming our way from climate change.
That’s all monetary. We are also recognizing the benefits to our well-being and souls. Immersing one’s self in a pristine marsh is immersing one’s self in the nursery of life itself. After the two years we’ve experienced this is invaluable for our spirits.
This is the feeling that consumed me during my quick trip as a guest at the Blue Heron located on the mainland marsh looking toward Sapelo Island and just .5 mile north from the island’s Visitor Center and ferry dock. This is where these shots were taken, as well as nearby wildlife refuges that I will publish in separate posts.
A key provision of the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act is based on the idea that the marshes aren’t privately owned but instead belong to the people of Georgia. Any construction that could affect the salt marsh – with some exceptions – has to get a permit. I’m impressed that unlike too many other landowners with property that borders the marsh, the Gateway to Sapelo partnership not only complies with the letter of the Act, they proactively live out its spirit- “We connect people to nature” I would not publish this blog post if I did not find this to be true during my visit.
It is a photography target-rich zone in which to immerse. The colors of the march during the Golden Hours of sunrise and sunset are like no others (well maybe Provence). And if you’re not a photographer it’s still a magical place to just become part of the life of this most productive intersection of land and water.
It is a great place to split the difference in the color argument and drink a Provence Rose at sunset 🙂