A Carolina Parrothead Book Review
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Tideland Treasures by Todd Ballantine
A Carolina Parrothead Book Review
One of my major pet peeves is how various individuals can be so willfully ignorant of the world and how it works. Keeping my mouth shut most of the time is problematic; for several reasons I am just not in a position to correct those who make such huge efforts to keep their heads buried in the sand. A convenient example that makes me doubt the long-term survival of humanity involved a discussion with a person on how hospital campuses like to expand to the point that often geographic restrictions are the only thing that stops them from growing.
It was an amicable conversation until I mistakenly mentioned how the hospital in my hometown was constructed close to a salt-water marsh and now after years of growth it sat on the edge with no room for further development. This goofball laughed cynically brimming in self righteousness and then said that in the good old days you could have easily filled in the marsh but now the evil tree huggers prevent such things.
This person has a relative position of power over me so I wisely kept my mouth shut and did not rise to what was more than likely bait to start an argument, despite of the fact I wanted to slap him upside the head. Now if the dude had been the rational type open to actual knowledgeable debate I would have informed him that filling in the marsh would be unwise since it’s a natural filter for water running off into the ocean, a nursery for wildlife, and provides a buffer from hurricanes stealing much of their energy as they come ashore. Since he lives in a strange world full of God endorsed “Right-wing” certainties such nuances would have completely escaped him, and I would have been on his shit list for a month.
Before anyone starts rolling their eyes assuming I believe myself to be an expert in anything, let me quickly add that I freely admit that I am woefully ignorant of many things, even stuff that I should know something about. Even though I was raised in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and both the marsh and ocean are as much a part of me as my eyes and ears, several times my own ignorance of my home almost cost me severe injury.
The worst time occurred in August of 1991’s while my cousin Travis and I were surfing on the south end of Pawleys Island, South Carolina. I had just returned to the water after talking with a very attractive girl named Amanda who was extraordinary concerned how sea turtles were dying after ingesting plastic trash humans had carelessly tossed away. Several dead Loggerheads turtles had washed ashore that summer after mistaking floating plastic shopping bags as jellyfish, a favorite on their seafood menu. Amanda had seen the pitiful news reports and was walking the south end in her blue bikini picking up trash to prevent it from happening as much as she personally could.
While I was lying on my surfboard waiting for the next set of waves to come rolling in I spotted what looked to be a discarded plastic bag floating in the water about a hundred yards away. Wanting to both save an endangered Loggerhead turtle from snacking on the bag and score some points with Amanda I started paddling over to the floating trash so I could properly dispose of it.
The surfboard I was using was an ancient nine-foot Hobie longboard made in the 1960’s complete with a balsa wood core. As I approached the piece of trash, it wasn’t until I was almost on top of the thing that I realized the “bag” had a dense network of long tentacles underneath. By that time, I had built up a large amount of inertia making my attempt to back paddle and stop before I was entangled in the stinging tentacles look like a severe seizure. I barely evaded being stung.
After finally reversing course, I paddled back over to my cousin who upon hearing what almost happened fell off his surfboard from laughter. As he splashed around enjoying my near pain and injury I was still puzzled, I was fully aware of jellyfish but that one I almost came to know biblically was nothing like the usual species who regularly visited the waters around Pawleys Island. The head part was too small to be a Portuguese man-of-war, which is rare in those parts, but the tentacles were far longer than the non-stinging Mushroom Jelly or Moon Jelly I have seen for years. Despite my curiosity, the episode was soon forgotten, especially since things didn’t work out with Amanda.
It was not until, years later, that by chance I discovered “Tideland Treasures” by Todd Ballantine and learned who the mysterious jelly intruder was. Quickly thumbing through the book on a whim I found out that the jellyfish was a Sea Nettle, and it would have been a serious world of pain for me had its tentacles and I intermingled.
Looking further through the book after buying it, I discovered it to be an amazing reference guide on the seashore environment. Using more than 400 examples of hand-drawn art and fine lettering, it explains how the ocean, tides, waves, currents, plant, and animal species all combine into a complex biosphere. For someone who thought he understood the basics of a salt marsh I was very surprised to learn I really had no idea how it worked much less the fact its complexity and importance cannot be overstated. Since I was a child, I understood that the marshlands were the foundation of the ocean food chain but I truly had no idea to the degree earth and life interacts.
Though centered on the Hilton Head Island region of South Carolina “Tideland Treasures” can be used as a guide encompassing the eastern seaboard from New Jersey to Florida. Each section of the book provides detailed but easily read descriptions that will satisfy both the professional biologist and the casual layman. Trying to prevent more episodes of my ignorance, I always take the book with me each time I visit the coast and regularly use it to learn more about such an important and vital place. Even with it, the most important fact I have learned is that I have only begun to scratch the surface and I will spend a lifetime learning more.
For anyone who lives on the coast, plans to visit, or has a simple curiosity about the world we live on and does not want to settle for bogus right-wing certainties I highly recommend Tideland Treasures.