Written By Katy Meldau
Photography by Chris Heftner
Katy Meldau, a young sophomore at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, accompanied USGS scientists as a volunteer on one of the May River Water-Quality collection trips. I had the privilege of reading an E-mail she had written about her experience and knew immediately I wanted to share it with the Bluffton community. The following is her letter of permission to reprint as well as her original E-mail in it’s entirety.
Bluffton Breeze- Thank you for your interest. I would be happy to have the email reproduced in your magazine. I am so glad to hear such beautiful land is being appreciated and preserved. I truly hope to spend more time in your wonderful area. - My best regards. - Katy Meldau
ast night I got back home from one of the most awesome experiences of my life. A three day science trip into the salt marshes of South Carolina. It was incredible. The first day we assessed our sites and got set up. On the second day we took a boat through the estuary and into the deep channels to sample water quality. Dolphins came up and swam beside us until we went into the more narrow beds. The wind was blowing and the sky was as clear and as deep blue as possible which contrasted with the neon green of the salt grasses. Little crabs and snails crawled up and along the stalks like miniature monkeys. It was gorgeous. We got off the boat and did lab work the rest of the day which surprisingly enough I enjoyed too. That night we went out for food and I ate gator! As a vegetarian I know that is a little out of bounds but I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to feast on the creature for which I have the greatest phobia. It was chewy with a texture like pork (I was told) but the actual taste was pretty bland. There were oysters but I couldn’t make myself eat them after dissecting them in zoo lab. I was all too aware of the actual physio-logical content. Ick.
The next day was the best. We waded through the actual salt marshes at low tide to get bacteria samples. The area (Bluffton) is going through TONS of development and the study is being done to...“provide a base-line of current water quality data from which to determine whether that development has had an effect on the May River”.
Anyway, we went out into the marshes, slogging through in long camo pants, leather gloves, life jackets and steel-toed boots. Oysters grow in droves along the channel and they are capable of slicing through ligaments so we had to be careful. There were areas where I took a step and the mud slid up to my knee. Tom, the biologist I worked under, would yell just keep moving or you’ll never get out. I would pump my legs as hard as I could. It was a really odd sensation, at times I was literally swimming through land! In one area I jumped and jumped and jumped but I kept sinking and sinking and my boot got stuck. I couldn’t move and I started going down really fast. The mud was up to my stomach and I could tell I wasn’t standing on anything. It was quick sand/mud. Visions of the zebra in the old Swiss Family Robinson movie came to mind and I started to get really nervous. I yelled for help and it took both Tom and Eric (two very big guys) to pull me out. Each took an arm finally I got out and back into normal up to my knee sludge. We managed to get to the right spot for our sample. It was awesome. There so many crabs they looked like miniature herds of buffalo running across the prairie. It was impossible not to step on some.
At another site which opened into the estuary we saw a sea turtle bobbing along the marsh edge. It had such a distinct shape but, it took off when we got nearer to it. We waded in and got to the channel we were collecting out of, and could see there was something really big in the water that appeared to be chasing something. As we got closer we could see all these tiny translucent shrimp were jumping out of the water to get away. I got to go in and get that sample which was pretty scary because I was well aware that about fifteen feet away there was a rather large predator.
At another site we were questioned by a guy with a shot gun as to who we were and what we were doing, and then he said, “Ya’ll better be careful. That waters got a gator in there. We feed it sometimes.” We all know feeding gators is a very bad thing to do since it makes them come up to people as a source of food. I was on edge the whole time. Tom was taking the sample while Eric and I were writing down the information when we both saw this huge head come to the top of the water right behind Tom and we gasped and yelled, TOM! But it was probably just a gar. Anyway, I could go on and on sort of like I already have. It was such a great experience. I fell in love with the work and the area.
The last thing we did was tour the DNR research facilities. We walked out onto their tall deck and watched the wind sweep over the water and the marsh grass while the sun was beginning to set and I thought it was going to be a quiet ending to my adventure. Just then, a pod of dolphins showed up hunting fish. They cornered them right in front of us,(ten feet away) and we could look straight down and get a great view of all the action. A large pool of fish oil rose to the surface as they dove in and through the school, and no lie, it smelled just like watermelon. There was a mama dolphin and her baby which stuck right by her side. Occasionally one would swim away from the pod and jump up through the air. One dolphin came over near the deck and swam sideways sort of checking us out. It was incredible. They were so beautiful.
Finally we had to leave, but man, I can’t wait to go back. I’m going to try to call around today to see if I can sign up as an intern next summer. I hope everyone is doing well. I will see you soon back in Provo. If you want more stories just give me a call, but I can go on FOREVER so be warned. Adios for now!