Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Rivers to Reefs 2012
Mission Information

Thursday: July 19, 2012
Log Day 4

Jeff Eller; J.L. Booth Middle School, Peachtree City, GA
Kathryn Paxton; Chattahoochee H.S., Jones Creek, GA
Chandra Westafer; Central Gwinnett H.S.,
   Lawrenceville, GA

Jeff Eller

Beach combing trash monument on Cabretta Beach Sapelo Island

Beach combing trash monument on Cabretta Beach Sapelo Island.
(Photo: Cathy Sakas)

On a ferry traveling to (what I think) will be the "land of stories". What I have noticed so far is that nothing remains dormant and without reason or function. This coast is full of natural resources - familiar and otherwise. The environment needs caretakers and advocates and the passion that James Holland (Altamaha Riverkeeper) exhibited last evening is the contagious effort of a few that encompasses the benefit of the whole.

We spend the morning of the fourth day on the ecological side with Buddy Sullivan, Manager of NOAA Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, learning about the intricate history of Georgia's barrier islands. We then gathered samples from the estuary and viewed them under microscopes and observed the organisms now captive in our glass specimen dish. We made our way to Cornelia Walker Bailey's house where we had a wonderful lunch prepared by Yvonne and Ire Gene Grovner. Yvonne shared the art of basket weaving. The past, their past, the island natives and the deep past of service, farming, learning - living woven into each basket. As is with weaving of the basket there must be a beginning, pieces are added, and then it is finished. The trip has been a memorable experience and the bulk of activities and learning packed into the last four days creates a fertile foundation to bring back to students.

Kathryn Paxton returning on hands and knees to stable ground

Kathryn Paxton returning on hands and knees to stable ground.
(Photo: Cathy Sakas)

Kathryn Paxton

We have reached the peak of our trip at Sapelo Island and the forewarned "Marsh Crawl" which by no means was a disappointment. The morning's depart from Darien aboard Sapelo's Katie Underwood Ferry (named for Sapelo's last midwife) created a dramatic entrance to the beautiful, secluded island. The greeting was a small port with what looked like a car graveyard lining the gravel road. The ride to our comfortable bed without breakfast was short. The area of the island in which we are staying is called "Hog Hammock" and it seems odd to me since I doubt hog's would even swing in a hammock, but then I have yet to try.

NOAA Intern Jasmine Richardson tosses her first cast net with the expertise and conviction of a pro

NOAA Intern Jasmine Richardson tosses her first cast net with the expertise and conviction of a pro.
(Photo: Cathy Sakas)

The introduction to the island was a wonderful history by Buddy Sullivan. I was amazed to learn about the history of the great state of Georgia, and the transition we have endured due to the abundance or type of natural capital. The rice production process utilizing the existing environment was a new phenomenon to me, especially understanding the detrimental effects it created, including disease. A bit of water sampling from the higher salinity waters of tidal marsh gave us a chance to view the water through high and low compound microscopes. Thus far we have experienced the water through chemical testing, so it was a nice change to see the water's phytoplankton, zoo plankton, and macro invertebrates. We also learned how to throw a cast net from the dock into Post Office Creek and some of us even caught a shrimp or two!

The next event was lunch and a basket weaving demonstration by Yvonne . Some of Grovner's baskets are currently part of a traveling Smithsonian exhibit. After a light thunderstorm and story time by Cathy Sakas we were ready to dive into the Marsh (literally). The storm made a wonderful stew on the road through which we had to drive to get to the other side of the island, checking out the succession of the island's habitats along the way. The gradual introduction of the actual marsh was walking through the ecotone to view the change in flora and fauna. Although, I am still not able to name the species of the crabs or tell if it is male or female or a virgin, the crabs and I came to an understanding of respect. As the marsh walk forced the body to a crawl (in order to not sink to your death), I truly became one with the marsh. The army crawl through the muddy earth created a view that birthed a respect and understanding for the marsh few others will get to experience. The quick dip in the ocean afterwards to clean off mud created another background setting of pure beauty from the Atlantic which to me doubled the awe and the "cleansing" experience.

Patty Matthews shows off her tremendous catch of one shrimph

Patty Matthews shows off her tremendous catch of one shrimp.
(Photo: Cathy Sakas)

The culture of Sapelo and the mutualistic relationship between the people and their land has been such an awe-inspiring experience. The people are so rich in knowledge and nature that it inspires a less consumer driven way of life. The days have been long and tonight we still have the turtle walk along Nanny Goat Beach yet to do, with the climax of the trip to come to Gray's Reef tomorrow. We seem to have hit the "to" part of Rivers to Reef.

Chandra Westafer

Today was filled with new and exciting experiences on Sapelo Island. We started with a wonderful talk by Buddy Sullivan. He wove the history and ecology of Georgia into a 'quilt' that made the link between humans and the land much clearer for all of us. Next we collected and investigated plankton, barnacles, and other macro invertebrates in the Sapelo's lab. We all got a lesson in throwing a cast net as well. After investigating our finds in the wet lab, we headed back to Hog Hammock for a much needed lunch. Yvonne Grovener supplied our meal and demonstrated how to make sweet grass baskets. Some of us even got a chance to give it a try. Just as we were finishing a storm blew in and we had impromptu story time with Cathy Sakas. Listening to tales of tree houses and sailing made us all yearn for more adventures in our life.

Kim Morris-Zarneke leads the marsh crawl

Kim Morris-Zarneke leads the marsh crawl.
(Photo: Cathy Sakas)

Finally it was time to 'crawl'! Dressed in our long pants and shirts we headed for the marsh. We stopped along the way to talk about the succession of the land from ancient dunes to climax oak forest. We even got to eat hearts of palm we harvested from the forest. We stopped at the first zone and talked about the black needle rush, periwinkle and coffee bean snails, and two different species of crabs. We moved to the next zone and saw how the flora changed from one type of marsh grass to glass wort and salt wort. We gave those a taste as well. What a great opportunity to take this hands-on experience back to the classroom. Having tasted it and touched it and smelled it, made it so much easier to understand. We continued on to the next zone and watched a sea of crabs scatter as the "giants" (us) invaded. We noticed that the soil make-up was changing as well as the flora. It was getting softer and silkier as we moved into the marsh. We kept walking until...plunk, squish...our feet sank and the only way to keep from getting stuck was to go down on hands and knees. This was the crawl. We spread our body weight out and that made it a bit easier, but it was still a struggle. The cackles and moans would give any bystander within ear shot an idea of the toils we were going through to get closer to nature.

Stephanie Miles and Betty Bates earned their marsh mud mucker stripes

Stephanie Miles and Betty Bates earned their marsh mud mucker stripes.
(Photo: Cathy Sakas)

We finally made it to the creek bordered by mud banks which seemed more like quick sand than mud. We all worked together, as though we were in some sort of army boot camp and used the technique of otters to belly slide down the bank. We reflected on the adaptations organisms in this environment need in order to survive such as low body profile, light weight, webbed feet, protection from the oysters, and salt water tolerance. After squishing, crawling, and mucking our way back, we all gave a big cheer. We had earned our stripes - marsh mud lines on our cheeks, that is!

A quick dip in the ocean and a review to help keep our journey connections fresh, and we were ready for a shower. We had a well-earned dinner at Ms. Lula's Kitchen. The food was reminiscent of southern home cooking from past generations and the cooks, Ms. Lula, Sharone (Ms. Lula's daughter), and Stephanie (Sharone's daughter) treated us like family and shared stories of life and family on Sapelo.

Author, Cornelia Walker Bailey

Author, Cornelia Walker Bailey.
(Photo: Cathy Sakas)

With stuffed 'gullets' and warm hearts, we headed back to The Wallow to settle in to listen to Cornelia Walker Bailey discuss her book, God, Dr. Buzzard, and The Bolito Man. In her local dialect, she told us about the superstitions that guided their actions and the traditions that had their roots in Africa. She translated some of their words and 'slang' and explained that they saw no need in spending too much time on one word when they had a quicker way of saying what they needed. "The tides and seasons wait for no man" she explained. This statement has such a true meaning here on Sapelo. She provided a deeper understanding of why we as humans have a responsibility to take care of our waterways upstream, because down there their livelihood is at stake. Sapelo and its descendants gave us such a unique glimpse into the past of the salt marsh. As we rode back from our midnight beach walk where we had hoped to see a turtle nesting but didn't, I think we all felt a little Saltwater Geechee in our blood and I know that we all have a greater appreciation and connection to the waterways of Georgia because of this life changing day and trip.


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