South Carolina Waters

Latest update June 5, 2019 Started on October 26, 2018

We will be exploring and documenting the variety of ecosystems and habitats in various waters in South Carolina: fresh, brackish, and salt. These environments are all being impacted by humans. We will photographically document (from satellites, to drones to hand held cameras to ROV imagery, down to microscopy!) and then share the diversity within these environments across a variety of scales from the very large to the very small. This will support our ultimate goals of increasing public awareness and appreciation for local aquatic riches and showing others how they too can become local explorers.

October 26, 2018
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In The Field

About Congaree’s Photuris frontalis
Males of this species are approximately 1/2 inch in length with a defining characteristic humpback posture and hourglass headshield. Females are thought to be similar in stature. They are often hard to locate because they survive by being cryptic or in other words, obscure. They are also susceptible to predation. The sex ratio of most fireflies is strongly male, especially early in the season.

Synchronous flashing displays are rare among North American fireflies. The speed and rhythm of this synchronous firefly’s flash pattern is unique among synchronous fireflies. Another identifying characteristic is the height at which the males fly. These fireflies usually patrol an area at a height of approximately 2 to 4 ft. above the ground.

The male’s flash code involves a single flash repeated rhythmically every 0.6 to 1.0 second, which also can be affected by temperature. When the males fly within one foot of each other, they flash together repeatedly and rhythmically at the species-specific interval for several flash cycles. Then, one firefly will stop flashing. If there are more males nearby, the other one will continue flashing. Shortly thereafter, the non-flashing firefly will resume synchronous flashing.

Research done at the Congaree State Park suggests that the male to male activity of synchrony in this species serves to separate the flying flashing males. The flashing is likely a form of competition for females. The precision and rapid start of synchrony may attract females. Likewise, males that are able to remain flashing may be preferred because they are more visible to females.

Female fireflies typically view male displays from a stationary location in the leaf line on the ground. If she likes what she sees, she signals back a response with their own species-specific flash pattern, but sometimes more than one male can court the same female. The exchange of light displays between male and female fireflies is called a photic dialog. This photic dialog continues until the best male wins, male and female meet, and ultimately mate.

Flashing typically begins shortly after sunset, which was about 8:30 when we were there on May 18th. It lasts for approximately one hour before the display dissipates. If the conditions are right, it may last a little longer. To coin a phrase, the whole event is over in a flash.

It is a phenomenon you will want to see in person and is worth a trip to Congaree National Park every late May to early June. It is amazing what even the smallest of creatures can do with the intelligence they are endowed with and the sophisticated communications used during the mating rituals they engage in to perpetuate the species.

Information acquired from the article Synchronic Firefly Research at Congaree.

The pictures were taken by Team Leader, Dave Eslinger.

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South Carolina Waters Expedition #4-Congaree National Park
Team Leader, Dave Eslinger, knows natural habitats and wildlife. "You have to be patient and let nature come to you," he advised. He took some stunning photos of the wildlife the team encountered on their trek over the boardwalk of the Congaree National Park. Barred Owl-It is the only true owl of the eastern United States which has brown eyes; all others have yellow eyes. Mature forests are their preferred habitat. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, but they are also known to prey upon other small animals such as birds, reptiles, and amphibians. If you look closely, this barred owl has caught a crayfish. Copperhead Snake-Adults grow to an average length of 20–37 inches. Males are usually larger than females. It is generally an ambush predator. Like most North American vipers, these snakes prefer to avoid humans and, given the opportunity, will leave the area without biting. Copperheads exhibit defensive tail vibration behavior when closely approached. Red Bellied Water Snake-Adults are 24–40 inches total length. It is quick to vigorously defend itself by striking repeatedly and flattening its head making it look like a cottonmouth, which is why it has been commonly mistaken for a venomous snake. They are almost always found near a permanent water source. Male Luna Moth-It has a wingspan of roughly 4.5 inches, but can exceed 7 inches, making it one of the larger moths in North America. Across Canada, it has one generation per year, with the winged adults appearing in late May or early June, whereas farther south it will have two or even three generations per year, the first appearance as early as March in southern parts of the United States. The elongated tails of the hind wings are thought to confuse the echolocation detection used by predatory bats.

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South Carolina Waters Expedition #4-Congaree National Park and Synchonous Fireflies
Nestled between The Congaree and Wateree Rivers is a cherished and protected piece of Palmetto State landscape consisting of 27,000 acres called the Congaree National Park. Over 20,000 acres of the floodplain park is federally designated wilderness. Thanks to the efforts of Harry Hampton and a grass-roots campaign, this tract of land survived the voracious appetite of the lumber industry that swept through the Santee River area.

Congaree National Park preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. It has the distinction of having one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies remaining in the world and has been crowned the Home of the Champions, also known as the "Redwoods of the East." Boasting the tallest known specimens of 15 species, it is home to the second tallest tree in the East, a loblolly pine standing at 167 feet and the second-tallest common baldcypress reaching a height of 141 feet.

Rightly noted for its tall trees, it is also a very special place for two and a half weeks come the springtime and the natural event that occurs only happens in a few other locations around the country.

While most people will be looking to the heavens to enjoy a nightly lightshow, visitors to Congaree National Park will be looking to the underbrush of the wetlands tall tree canopy for a spectacular nightly lightshow. In the later half of May to early June every year, a special kind of firefly performs an intricate and mesmerizing serenade all for the purpose of finding a mate to ensure their species returns year after year to repeat the phenomenon. The male fireflies of this particular species synchronize their flashing to entice the females in this unusual mating dance.

There are over 125 different fireflies present in North America, and over 2,000 worldwide. I always called them lightning bugs, which is actually a little closer to the truth, designating them as a bug, because they are not flies, but are a type of beetle. There are several species in Congaree National Park, but only one of them is synchronous. It is the species called Photuris frontalis. Mature forests and wet bottomlands are their preferred habitat and the bluff near the park visitor center is their ideal hang out.

Rick Olson and I arrived a day before our team leader, Dave Eslinger. We checked into the park's accommodating Harry Hampton Visitor Center to gather some information and maps, after which we headed out to set up camp in the parks remote campground called the Bluff. It was a mile trek from the Long Leaf campsite.

On the way, we came across a section of the forest where the trees had burn marks on their bark two feet up from the ground. Every once in awhile the park management do controlled burns. There were no facilities or running water at the campsite. It's called roughing it. On the plus side, the Mosquito Meter was at mild. We tested out our survivor skills by making a fire from the hundreds of discarded pine cones and branches strewn across the pine-needled ground, cooked hamburgers, and planned out our next day's activities, which would start with a paddle on one of the park's waterways. We saw fireflies here, but it wasn't the species we came to observe. The terrain was not ideal.

After enjoying a breakfast, we headed to the kayak launch. The marked Cedar Creek Canoe Trail winds approximately 15 miles through the Congaree Wilderness and passes through a primeval old-growth forest of elms, hickories, pines, maples, oaks, common baldcypress and swamp tupelo. The paddle was relaxing and picturesque, but we did not see any of the park's resident wildlife--river otter, deer, turtles, wading birds, and the occasional visiting alligator--except for one snake and the occasional splashing fish.

After the paddle, Dave Eslinger arrived and the expedition team walked the 2.4 mile Boardwalk Loop Trail--an elevated wooden walkway. The boardwalk offered an opportunity to view the different habitats found throughout the park with descriptions and explanations provided on a self guided printed pamphlet. The first half was a low boardwalk leading to Weston Lake-an oxbow lake where we observed turtles bobbing up and down in its murky waters and a large alligator gar cruising just below its top waters. The second half was an elevated boardwalk traversing swampier terrain. Dave got some stunning photos of the wildlife encountered on the walk, which will be posted separately on the South Carolina Waters Expedition site.

After the boardwalk, the main objective of our expedition was now the focus--to view and document the firefly phenomenon. A designated Fireflies Trail was marked along the bluff line, which gave access to prime viewing areas. The fireflies began their enchanting light show near sunset and continued until full darkness blanketed the bluff. Adding to the mystical display, the light from the full moon showered down on the thick upper forest canopy casting a white glow along the fringes of their leaves.

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South Carolina Waters Expedition #3--Lake Moultrie
Underwater video of one of the water impoundments in the Hatchery Wildlife Management Area at Lake Moultrie. Various aquatic vegetation and 2 fish--black crappie and largemouth bass-- were captured with the OpenROV Trident.

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Great to see how the ROV performs in murky waters - pretty well! The Black Bream in our project have a pretty similar nesting habit to the largemouth bass. Do you think you'll be able to film them wile they nest? It will be interesting to compare notes on how they react to the ROV. Please follow our Black Bream Project to see how we get on. Thanks, Matt

South Carolina Waters Expedition #3--Lake Moultrie
Intentionally or unintentionally, humans can impact their natural environment in several different ways, but for every action there is a reaction, and the consequences can either turn out for the good or for the bad. The formation of Lake Moultrie in South Carolina is an example of one way. In this case, the goal was to improve the health, recreation, and economy of the area as well as produce electricity due to increased demands, which you would consider to be a good thing. Another way is through the introduction of foreign species, whether intentionally or unintentionally, into an ecosystem that offers no checks or balances for the intruder.

While scouting out locations to deploy the ROV, we encountered two species not native to South Carolina that have found their way into the lake's ecosystem with adverse effects, and the most likely culprit for their introduction, human activity. A third discovery offered an opportunity to talk about a species with a fascinating appetite for turtle shell, primarily South Carolina's endangered gopher turtle.

One is a very intrusive plant, one has challenged the native clam populations, and the final is primarily an African genus shrouded in a mystery as to how it got to North America. The following video will discuss these subject matters in more detail--enjoy.

South Carolina Waters Expedition #3--Lake Moultrie
South Carolina Waters Expedition #3 took us to the shores of Lake Moultrie, particularly the Hatchery Wildlife Management Area. The weather was on the cool side and the skies were mostly cloudy on this late February day, so wildlife activity for the most part was at a minimal. Upon arrival at the parking area, the expedition team scouted the area for the best location to set up and deploy the OpenROV Trident.

A short hike brought us to the shores of Lake Moultrie where we discovered an intrusive plant growing on the beach and thousands of small clam shells along with evidence of the sad side of human activity and disrespect for the environment, trash was strewn all over the sand and adjacent vegetation.

While part of the team did some trash pickup, Rick Olson deployed his kayak to scout out a water impoundment adjacent to the beach where the waters appeared clearer than the other areas of the hatchery. As he kayaked the impoundment, he found a dead yellow-bellied turtle and tried to determine what caused its demise. There was no damage to the shell, but the turtle was missing an eye. A microscope was used and pictures were taken, but no conclusive reason could be found. Possibly, someone fishing may have hooked it.

We launched the OpenROV from two different spots and underwater video was taken. The bottom of the water impoundment was thick with vegetation and the props on the ROV had to be cleared several times. This is where Rick and his kayak played the integral role of retrieving and clearing the ROV of the intrusive aquatic vegetation, thus saving Dave Eslinger from having to get wet again.

Some of the aquatic vegetation was collected and pictures were taken with the microscope. Some samples were saved to be studied later. We look forward to viewing the underwater video in detail after it is uploaded for examination to see what was captured on our expedition to Lake Moultrie's Hatchery Wildlife Management Area.

Following is some additional information about Lake Moultrie's freshwater clams:

Freshwater mussels serve as indicators of a healthy ecosystem. Mussels filter large volumes of water, removing food items such as algae, bacteria, diatoms and fine particulate organic material. It is a clear sign that something is wrong when mussels begin to disappear from a water body. An invading species, such as the Asian clam, competes with the native species for food and habitat resources. The Asian clam has been blamed for the decline and local extinctions of several native freshwater mussel species in the waters it has invaded, including South Carolina where the Carolina Heelsplitter is federally listed as Endangered.

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Hi folks! Hasn't Rick been doing a great job on the updates and videos?! I think he has! Be sure to send him some comments an if you agree.

In preparation for our third deployment tomorrow, 23 February, 2019, I have been practicing in a swimming pool. I have also been experimenting with an additional video capture program which allows me to capture the screen I see when piloting the ROV. I thought you might be interested.

Here is an unedited video with my real-time narrated comments and explanations of what is going on. It is pretty easy to see everything on a big computer monitor, but imagine this at one-half the size you are looking at it, and with a tremendous amount of glare. That is much more realistic of how it is during the day and in actual use. Enjoy!

Thanks, Rick, I'm trying. Also, correction to my narration: the fast speed is only 2 meters/sec, not 6 m/s. I was thinking ~6 feet/sec. Units matter! But it is still too fast to allow subtle movement and corrections--at least by me!
In The Field

Some of the serpentine wildlife we encountered on our expedition into Four Holes Swamp at Francis Beidler Forest--non-venomous banded water snake (Nerodia fasciata), venomous cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus), and alligator (Alligatoridae).
Sometimes the banded water snake is mistaken for a cottonmouth. The cottonmouth is the world's only semi-aquatic viper. Unlike other snakes, it swims with its entire body on the surface of the water. It will only attack when it feels threatened. It will open its mouth wide to expose the white coloration of the inside of its mouth--the reason for its name cottonmouth. The alligator is common to South Carolina waters. Although a carnivore, it has been documented munching on fruit. Limited feeding takes place during temperatures less than 70 degrees. It can also survive for one year without eating. They have the ability to regrow lost teeth up to 2,000 to 3,000 times during their lives, thanks to special stem cells which lay dormant until they’re needed.

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Four Holes Swamp contains the largest stand of virgin bald cypress and tupelo gum swamp forest remaining anywhere in the world. The oldest known bald cypress is estimated to be about 1500 years old. It is a popular resting stop for many thousands of birds migrating to South Carolina after wintering in South America and a rookery to large numbers of colonial waterbirds. There are over 70 species of reptiles and amphibians and numerous species of fish. These wetlands are also home to the dwarf trillium (Trillium pusillum)--a rare flower found only in South Carolina at Four Holes Swamp.

At one time, Four Holes Swamp was logged for its biggest and best bald cypress. In the 1960's, the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy purchased 3,415 acres of the swampland from the heirs of Francis Beidler to create a sanctuary. Over the years, it has grown to 18,000 acres. Today, development from the greater Charleston area is spreading rapidly west toward the swamp. The Audubon Society and Nature Conservancy's goal is to protect as much of the swamp and its critical upland edge as possible before that development arrives.


OpenROV underwater footage of our expedition into Four Holes Swamp at the National Audubon Society's Francis Beidler Forest's Goodson Lake. Watch very carefully and you will see an ancient predator fish called a bowfin.

Great job, Rick, of editing the 30+ minutes of tangled mess down to 2 minutes of highlights! Hint for those who may need it: the bowfin is only around 20 seconds in, but watch the whole thing to see a largemouth bass and a bream of some kind. FYI, bream (which is pronounced so it rhymes with "rim" and not "dream,
is a generic term for any of the small panfish-sized sunfishes: blue gill, stump-knocker, red-eared sunfish, etc.

South Carolina Waters Expedition 2--Four Holes Swamp, Francis Beidler Forest
South Carolina Waters Expedition 2 took the team into the interior of South Carolina to a place called Four Holes Swamp--a dark tannin-stained slow-flowing river swamp known as a blackwater swamp and a tributary to the Edisto River. Thousand-year-old trees and native wildlife abound in this pristine sanctuary. There are over 70 species of reptiles and amphibians and 140 species of birds have been reported. As a bird watching photographer, you can really spread your wings.

Located in the heart of the Lowcountry between Columbia and Charleston, Four Holes Swamp is a 45,000-acre matrix of sloughs and lakes. It contains 18,000 acres of the largest remaining stand of virgin bald cypress and tupelo gum swamp forest remaining anywhere in the world. These wetlands are also home to the dwarf trillium (Trillium pusillum)--a rare flower found only in South Carolina at Four Holes Swamp.

Within Four Holes Swamp is the 15,000 acre National Audubon Society's Francis Beidler Forest where an educational center and a 1.75 mile self-guided boardwalk trail are located. The expedition team rendezvoused at the visitor center where we linked up with Mark Musselman, the Land Manager in Four Holes Swamp. Mark accompanied us on our trek over the boardwalk to Goodson Lake. Along the way, he shared with us his extensive knowledge of the swamp and with a sharp eye, pointed out the unique features of the swamp and its camouflaged wildlife--mostly the serpentine kind.

The launching point for the team's Trident was a two story observation deck deep within the swamp. Dave Eslinger unpacked the ROV and made the necessary connections. It wasn't long before our unusual activity drew the attention of curious visitors to the swamp, one of them being an inquisitive little girl with a boat load of questions, but Dave, a very personable individual, was willing to accommodate, thus fulfilling a primary objective of the team's explorations--to raise public awareness and appreciation for South Carolina's most cherished assets, its waterways and coastal estuaries, especially with the young.

The midday temperature was in the high 50's with only a slight breeze shuffling the branches of the surrounding ancient trees. With the overhead canopy open at this time of year, the sun shined through the upper branches onto the lower vegetation and the countless fallen trees strewn about in the dark waters. Not too far away, a nine foot alligator passively soaked in what sunshine was being made available to it. The ROV was launched into the black tea colored waters and it wasn't long before we were confronted with the complexity of the underwater world of the swamp.

As the Trident cruised along under the water taking some stunning video, the ROV's tether inevitably became entangled around the numerous submerged fallen logs and branches. Unable to get the ROV to surface, the unavoidable now faced the team--someone was going get "swamped today" and enter the 50-some degree water to retrieve the entrapped ROV, and that person was our pertinacious team leader. Stripped down to his undershorts, Dave entered the stimulating 8-foot deep water and after several attempts, successfully rescued the valuable Trident.

Unlike the clear, aqua blue waters of the tropics and coral reefs of the Caribbean, South Carolina's waters offer a greater challenge to operate an ROV in. Each expedition logistically teaches us something new, preparing us for the challenges to come on future expeditions.

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After viewing the Trident OpenROV underwater video of our first exploratory practice expedition on the Ashley River, we were delightfully surprised to see it was more successful than we originally thought--the camera picks up what the eye does not.

With the wind, the current and the murky waters of the Ashley River, it was a real challenge for David Eslinger to maneuver the Trident into strategic positions for ideal images. Controlling the sensitive Trident takes a real knack and its smooth operation is an acquired skill that will only get better with experience.

We did learn the Ashley River bottom, especially around the docks in Bristol Marina, is quit barren and eerily foreboding--void of bright colors. There was no plant life to mention and the silty bottom is littered with abandoned shells and shiny objects.

The Ashley waters are thick with suspended particles catching a ride on the constantly moving current--to be expected of a tidal river where debris is constantly flowing in from Charleston Harbor and out from upstream runoff coming down from Dorchester. The hidden world beneath its shimmering surface is visibly cold-blooded in many ways--psychologically and metabolically, except for the occasional frolicking dolphin and rarely seen unhurried manatee.

Some of the more common species of fish that frequent these waters are the Atlantic croaker, southern flounder, striped mullet, red drum, spot fish and spotted seatrout. Although, we did not see any kind of marine life around the docks, while cruising the river we did some some bottlenose dolphin.

Diabolically lurking in these waters is an menace of the microscopic kind, persistent organic pollutants. Previous Charleston studies found high levels of these pollutants in the areas visiting dolphins. Dolphins are considered a sentinel species for monitoring the health of the environment and signaling emerging public health issues.

The sunken sailboat, well, that was another story. Its mysteries for now remain hidden. Maybe, someday we will return when are our skills have been honed more precisely to unlock its aging story.

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That's better visibility than I would have guessed! The stills you guys put up here are also very cool. How did you get those? Just a screenshot of the video playback?

I've heard rumors of divers frequenting these rivers for fossils, is that something you guys are going to try to find with Trident?

I should have said this first--this is really really cool!

Great post! I love the footage!

Open ROV Underwater Video South Carolina Waters Expedition #1--Bristol Marina docks

South Carolina Waters Expedition #1--Ashley River Baptism
It would be the maiden voyage for the expedition team's recently acquired Trident ROV into South Carolina waters. The main target of the preparatory National Geographic Open Explorer exploration into the Ashley Rivers murky waters was a casualty of a past hurricane, a solitary sunken sailboat. Launching point was Bristol Marina.

You couldn't ask for better weather for mid-January with temperatures in the sixties and considerable sunshine. We rendezvoused at Rick Olson's boat, the expedition team's home base, where we discussed objectives, strategies, and equipment. The Trident was unpacked and readied for a trial run around the marina's docks. Team leader Dave Eslinger discussed the ROV's features, controls, and video capabilities with the team members.

The Trident was then launched and we got a view of the marina's pluff mud bottom dotted by various abandoned sea shells. After the quick run, the equipment was loaded unto the Sea Hunt where team mascot, a Golden Doodle named Willow, waited patiently and the necessary safety checks were made.

Leaving the protective confines of the Bristol Marina behind, it wasn't long before we passed under the historic Ashley River drawbridges of Highway 17. We could hear the loud traffic overhead zipping past on their metal grating. After slipping past the next bridge in line, the concrete span of the James Island Expressway, our target came into view.

Sitting in about twenty-seven feet of water at present--depth changes with tide--the solitary mast of the sunken sailboat rose out of the Ashley River across from the City Marina. Time was nearing the beginning of the high tide cycle. Our excitement was peaking in anticipation of getting some good underwater video and possibly marine life using the boat for cover.

Navigating and anchoring the boat into an optimum position in the afternoon breeze and changing tide was a little tricky. We changed our proximity and deployment of the ROV several times throughout our exploratory practice. If anything, it was a golden opportunity for team leader Dave to hone his skills at controlling the feisty Trident. Needless to say, the restless tidal current kicked our butts and the demised sloop was a formidable opponent to tangle with in the murky waters, literally.

Though it wasn't a perfect beginning and we weren't able to get much underwater video of the sailboat, we considered it a success. We learned some lessons, equipment was tested, and the Open Explorer ROV had its baptism into South Carolina waters.

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Happy New Year!
I hope you have a prosperous 2019! I'm looking forward to a great year. To get it started, here is a video of me unboxing the OpenROV Trident. For those wondering, OpenROV, is the company that makes this Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). They make several different models and the Trident is their newest.

As you can see in the video, it is a small, sleek, and elegant little ROV, whose main function is as a remote camera. It is designed to have a speed of 2 m/s and, as you will see in the upcoming video, it is not only fast, but agile---maybe too agile!

I hope you enjoy the video. I recognize it is not the best quality out there, but it is a first effort. I love to learn new things, and you can be assured I'm learning to make better videos. Stay tuned for another shortly showing some dive footage.

Happy Holidays Indeed!
I was very surprised and excited to find an OpenROV Trident shipping box on my doorstep on December 26th! I spent some time yesterday shooting an unboxing video and taking it for a test dive in a swimming pool. However, I've been away from the whole video editing process for quite a while and the tools (i.e., software programs) are all different. Iwan't too skilled back then, so now I'm going slow getting polished, or even rough, videos out. However, I suspect I'll have something to show tomorrow (12/29/2018) so check back then!

One thing for sure, the Trident is FAST and responsive. It is going to take some practice. Stay tuned!

P.S. If any of you suggestions for good software to color correct (white balance is way off) video files, I'd appreciate them. Just leave them in the comment section. Thanks!

Hi Dave - If you're using Adobe Creative Cloud, SpeedGrade is a good standalone tool for color correction, or there is the Color Correct window directly in Premiere. If you're not use Adobe, Da Vince Resolve is a free color correction software that is very powerful (but not terribly intuitive). Hope that helps!

Hi Jason - Thanks for the suggestions. I use Adobe Creative Cloud, but just the photography package, so don't have access to their video tools. Maybe something to consider. I'm checking out Da Vince.

Great News!
I learned yesterday morning that our expedition has been selected for a grant through the Open Explorer S.E.E. Initiative for an OpenROV Trident ROV! This is great news! We still need some more followers (and we always welcome more!), so if you are reading this and haven't followed us, please do! If you are following us, thanks, and please share this site with your friends!

Now that we know we'll be getting a very capable ROV (I am building another ROV, but it will not be as robust as the Trident), I've reached out to one local school to see how we can team up. More news on that as it develops. I'm also exploring contacts with other schools. Given the rich history and the cultural changes that have occurred in our expedition area, and the technical aspects of how we are conducting it, I think we can engage with a broad range of grades and fields of study. I'm excited to talk to the teachers I know and to engage some at other schools as well.

Most of the Expedition Team will be having a planning meeting this weekend, so look for some more content after that. Hopefully some posts will be from new contributors. In the meantime, have a great holiday season and thanks for sharing my excitement!


Rice Field Remnants
I mentioned previously that rice cultivation was an important aspect our local history. But even though it is no longer practiced on any large scale, its impact can still be seen along the Cooper River. In the below two Google Earth screen grabs, you can see two of the fates that befell the old fields. In the first image, which shows the Cooper River and Mepkin Abbey, the old fields have been permanently flooded; they appear as the open, shallow areas to the east and west of the river channel. The picture in my previous post showing the old headgate was taken looking out over those flooded fields to the east.

The second picture shows another alternative: the fields were high enough that, when flood control stopped, they became salt marsh. You can tell they were manipulated by the nice straight (relatively for a marsh) tidal creeks and the right-angle turns in them. You don't find many of those in natural marshes.

One other thing to note in the first picture posted here: the Cooper River Heritage Trail, an underwater collection of sites suitable for diving, or exploring with an ROV! Check it out on their web site. We'll post more about this later, you can count on it!

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Why explore the Charleston to Columbia water route? Not only is this a great example of a saltwater to estuary to freshwater river system, with all the natural diversity of habitat and wildlife that will bring, but there are also three interacting anthropogenic (created by man) elements that invite exploration: transportation, rice cultivation, and electrification.

Transportation is interesting because the current river route we are exploring is not the original one. The original navigation canal (the first in the United States, actually) was built along this route beginning in 1763. It was built to make it easy to ship goods from the upstate to the ports on the coast, and vice versa. You can find the canal on this great 1895 Rand McNally map of Berkeley County Rand McNally Berkeley County Map, 1895. For a nice quick history of the original canal, check out the Old Santee Canal Park web site.

Rice cultivation may seem an odd topic of interest to many of you, as it would have been to me before I spent much time here. However, it turns out that the region around Charleston was once a rice-growing powerhouse and made Charleston the economic leader of the East Coast, dominating even New Your City. Rice was cultivated in tidally flooded impoundments on local rivers, including well up the Cooper River. This cultivation occurred on a large number of plantations in the area. Rice production was dependent on slave labor and the industry died out after the civil war. You can find out more about this topic on a very instructive, and interactive, site Some of these old rice plantations can still be seen in the local area and there are 21 of them located along the water route we will be exploring. Intriguingly, there are 7 or 8 of them that have been submerged, as you can see from the map below, which is from the interactive map site. These old rice fields are great wildlife habitats, and have also left a number of interesting artifacts to be explored. For instance, here is an picture from a brief exploratory trip we took on Nov. 10, 2018. Cooper River and flooded rice field showing old headgate used to flood the rice field. It shows the Cooper River and flooded rice fields. In the middle right, where the vegetation is, you can see the remains of an old headgate used to , which would have been used to control when to flood, or drain, the rice field. I'll talk more about this in later posts, I'm sure.

Electrification is the third event that makes this a fascinating area. Why? Because there were two lakes created to provide the hydro-electric power used for the electrification of the region. Construction occurred beginning around 1939. You can read more about the project on Wikipedia and at various Santee Cooper sites, including an online historical account, Powering Generations, a History of Santee Cooper, 1939-2009 that has some great old pictures.

For now I want to focus on the impact of creating the two lakes, Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie. These flooded plantations, farms, small towns, roads, etc., even a horse racing track! Some buildings apparently were moved prior to the flooding, but I'm very interested to see what we can find under the lakes and along the "new" canal.

So those are what made me want to explore this area as our first expedition of South Carolina Waters. It has an interesting history, some beautiful natural areas, abundant wildlife, and is close to home. That seems to make it a perfect spot to hone our skills and to use as an example of what can be down in ones own area.

Stay tuned for more info on the area and our preparations!


Hi folks!

My name is Dave Eslinger, and I'm the instigator of this particular expedition, so feel free to blame me! I think we are going to have a lot of fun and learn a lot along the way. I hope you will follow us and learn as well. Since we are all pretty new to the whole blog and formal(?) expedition approach, I'm going to start with a pretty casual approach (my preferred approach) and tell you a bit about myself by way of introduction.

By training, I am an oceanographer, and have worked in both academic and government positions over my career. I decided to become an oceanographer when I was twelve, based off a book I read, while living in Idaho, my native state. I didn't see the ocean for another 4 years, but I devoured every book related to marine science and oceanography that I could find. When I finally saw the Pacific at age 16, my first action was to stick my hand in the water and taste it... it really was salty! I've been doing hands-on discovery ever since.

I left Idaho to go to school at Florida State University (Go 'Noles!), a much better place for a budding oceanographer. I studied a lot of biology, physics and computer programming at FSU, eventually ending up with a Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography. My research involved phytoplankton dynamics, computer modeling and satellite remote sensing. After graduating from FSU, I spent a couple of years at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center continuing to work on remote sensing topics. In 1992, I joined the faculty at the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks as a Biological Oceanographer.

I spent a great 6.5 years at UAF, mainly working on phytoplankton and zooplankton dynamics using a combination of field work, remote sensing, and coupled biological-physical computer modeling. I really enjoyed being a faculty member and Alaska, but those winters were long and dark. In February, 1998, I came down to Charleston for a six-month stint as a visiting scientist at NOAA. Charleston was around 100F warmer and had about 7 hours more daylight than Fairbanks at that time. I never went back.

I'm currently working in the Charleston, SC area, where I've been for over 20 years. One of the reasons I picked Charleston to settle down in, besides the weather, is the wealth of natural and historical sites and activities nearby. Charleston is located on the southeastern U.S. coast where, so the local say, "the Ashley and Cooper Rivers come together to create the Atlantic Ocean." I'm not going to take a stand on how accurate that claim is from an oceanographic point of view, but it does give a true flavor of old Charleston.

[Oops! Gotta run, need to see some holiday lights with my family! More later on why I'm interested in starting our investigation with this particular water route.]


Thanks for sharing! Can't wait to see more.

Expedition Background

Welcome to the SC Waters Expedition! We are a small group of citizen scientists and explorers who enjoy exploring our local environment and teaching others how to do the same. We have done a number different exploration activities independently, but are now teaming up to pool our resources and do something more organized and substantial.

We are in the planning stages currently. Our initial expedition will be focused along the waterways between Charleston, SC and Columbia, SC. It is possible to drive between these two cities on US Interstate 26, a trip of around 120 miles, in a couple of hours. Boring! It is your typical Interstate trip. Instead, we plan to explore the 165 mile waterway between these two cities, making several expeditions to investigate different parts of this waterway.

The water route from Charleston to Columbia can be seen in this map from Santee Cooper. The route begins in the salty Charleston Harbor; goes up the Cooper River, during which the water changes from estuarine to freshwater; and then passes through a couple man-made canals, locks, and very large artificial lakes. Along this portion of the route, we've left the old, historical channel of the Cooper River and pick up (in the lakes) the historical Santee River channel. The two lakes, Lake Marion and Lake Moutlrie, are, not surprisingly, commonly referred to as the Santee Cooper lakes. Our water route leaves Lake Marion as the Santee River; which soon forks into the Congaree and the Wateree Rivers. We will focus on the Congaree, which leads to Columbia, SC. This stretch is a totally different river than what exists to the south in the slow, tidally influenced Cooper River. We are excited to explore all the different habitats and historical locations along this route.

Since we haven't posed for a nice team photo, here is a January photo from Yellowhouse Creek, a side-slough of the Cooper River, just northwest of Charleston Harbor. You can see some of the extensive salt marsh we have, as well as our nice pines and live oaks.


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