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.  


Liberality said...

When my husband was in the Navy (1980s) we lived out by Virgina Beach, VA. I went swimming quite a lot and did my fair share of laying about the sand in my cute little bikini,(not that I would do that now--as I'm not so damn cute anymore). Anyway, one day after sunbathing my fill I went out to swim in the ocean and I'll be damned but I got stung by a jellyfish and did it HURT! It was just a little thing itself and I can see why sea turtles would think that a floating plastic bag would be their lunch. The book sounds very interesting. Will have to see if the library has it.

MRMacrum said...

If you want to read an excellent treatise associated to this but centered on the Chesapeake Bay, pick up a copy of "Beautiful Swimmers". While crabs are the main characters, the book goes deep into the intricate relationship and diversity that makes up the bay's ecosystem. I have read it several times.

I was hospitalized briefly once in Florida as a child after jumping in the Atlantic at a beach that had been closed because of Man o War infestation. You know kids, they never read signs. I ran from the car to the ocean without a clue and man, didn;t the life guard who hauled me out cuss and fume. He was stung also.

Tidelands, vernal lakes, swamps, wherever water has flowed or will flow, the life that depends on them is enormous. Here in Maine, we have just elected a governor who wants to toss out the protections for the easy developement bucks.

Pixel Peeper said...

Alas, as a "tree hugger" in South Carolina, you need to learn to bite your tongue.

Well, at least they backed off the plan to build a huge subdivision in the swamp near the sewer plant on the southside of Columbia.

Lowandslow said...

Sounds like an interesting book. However I'm more likely to find myself at 12,000 ft in the mountains than I am at sea level, so I'm afraid I'd forget most of what I'd learned before ever getting to use it.

Too bad about Amanda. :)

Beach Bum said...

Liberality: Checked out Google's online books, I saw it there one day. Yeah, that Sea Nettle freaked me out back in 91 when I almost ran over it. My cousin actually saw me about panic trying to back paddle and for years would never let me forget it.

Mike: I'll check out "Beautiful Swimmers." Sounds like a book I would really enjoy.

Yeah, our glorious new governor is also reworking the wetlands protections as we speak. Of course several of our brain dead legislators still want off shore drilling here even though oil company geologists have done tests and say we have no oil off South Carolina. Go figure.

Pixel: Yeah, it doesn't pay to be green in this state.

I remember Green Diamond, and every one and a while someone makes noise about trying to get it going again.

LowandSlow: Its a great book, one I keep even though my copy is getting dog eared. I dig the mountains too and wish I could get up in the Smoky Mountains more often.

Chef Cthulhu said...

"The surfboard I was using was an ancient nine-foot Hobie longboard made in the 1960’s complete with a balsa wood core."

Dude...I am salivating. I have promised myself that this summer my longboard comes out of layup. Ocean City MD is only a few hours away.

My surfing "run in" was with a stingray in Seal Beach in '92. Stupid me wasn't shuffling my feet as I walked out in the shallows and I stepped on one. The barb felt like someone was hammering an awl into one of my metatarsals. Hurt so much I was in tears as I drove myself to the ER at Long Beach Naval Hospital.

allen said...

Just remember, you may have missed a jellyfish, but Travis hit the pier, on more than one occasion!

Beach Bum said...

Chef: Damn! Seriously I know stingrays are mostly harmless but the little buggers freak me out.

On a previous Disney Cruise in 2002 my son and I visited "Stingray City" off Grand Cayman. My son was a lot smaller, the water was almost over my head and rough, and the stingrays were coming to the site very fast. As a wave lifted me up I held tightly to my son watching big ones swim directly underneath me.

I figured if I landed on one it was going to hurt. Only stayed in the water 15 minutes then got us both back on the pontoon boat that took us out.

My Uncle's Maxie's board was sweet but in bad shape. It had only one skeg and it was broken so control was hard. The bad thing is that back in 1991 I was just out of active service and in a lot better shape and weighed far less. God help me but I want to surf again this coming summer. I'm in decent shapr right now but with the middle age thing going I'm finding it hard to lose weight. I'm looking at a lot bigger board.

Allen: I sure wish Uncle Maxie had kept that board in better shape. And Yeah, I remember something about Travis losing yet more teeth impacting on the pier at Pawleys.

Good Times!

Windsmoke. said...

Watch out for the Box Jelly Fish we have here in OZ they are killers. We have to cordon off sections of our beaches with nets so we don't come in contact with them especially in Queensland and sometimes down here in Victoria :-).

Marja said...

oh you're a surfer. Surfing is very popular here as well and we only have little jellyfish. You were lucky indeed. I will tell a friend about the book as she is in love with the ocean and everything in it.

Ranch Chimp said...

Hey Bum ... I'm just like you I reckon ... some thing's I know well ... but some not jack squat about, I should, there isnt no excuse, but just never get around to alot of stuff I reckon. But this is interesting to me ... because I am aware of the importance of these thing's, and there are alot of folk's that only care about the beach to party/ have fun ... I was the same way as a kid, didnt think much about the ocean, current's, tide's, eco system's etc ... just strolling the beach with a decent size bag of pot and having fun. I reckon since I got older ... I see much more, or take interest in much more. But when I was a young kid I would go to place's like upstate New York/ Niagara Frontier, etc and go hunting, but so much hit me at that young age, which probably influenced my thought/ concern now. My dad as a young boy described nature to me when I asked him what God was ... after hunting, etc I would go into the city like Buffalo/ Niagara Falls Area, which was saturated with steel industry, I sware that the air over the city was sometime's a rainbow color and a bad looking yellow/ green, then they had the "Love Canal" which was so bad Guy ... I could stick a long stick/ pole in the water and it would come out dark brown to black in color, I shit you not Guy ... it was that polluted, as well as the air ... although I was young ... the contrast of sight's from upstate to that town was drastic. Then in LA at one of my mom's place's (North Hollywood) I would also go out to the desert region's to hunt, same thing almost, even though LA was much prettier/ cleaner than Buffalo or NYC ... the smog over the Los Angeles Basin was unbelievable in them day's ... it came across my mind at a young age Bum ... that human's must be doing something seriously wrong. In my opinion, having been all over Texas ... this place is one of the worst enviromental naightmare's in the country, you just dont hear much about it.

Enough said Guy, thanx for the posting.

Dave Dubya said...

It's sad that Nature is often seen as God's gift to Republicans, to play god with.

The Ex-Wiz said...

Damn, you get a lot of comments.

Kudos anyway.

I was just gonna cynically say that he "knows" God will take care of him and his and that the natural environment is only there to serve him (and his).

he lives in a strange world full of God endorsed “Right-wing” certainties such nuances would have completely escaped him

And sea nettles were ubiquitous where I lived along the Chesapeake.



And "Beautiful Swimmers" is.

Beach Bum said...

windsmoke: I have heard speculation that a few parts of the United States might have to worry about the Box Jelly showing up here. Southern waters are getting warmer with climate change which might allow those really nasty buggers to get a foothold. The idea is that freighters might suck some in with the water they use as ballast and spit them out in our parts.

Truthfully, this is mean but if they do come I hope like hell they sting the shit out of this butthole named Limbaugh.

Marja: My surfing days are for the most part over, while I'm going to try it again this summer I live too far from the coast to even consider buying another surfboard.

Ranch: ...just strolling the beach with a decent size bag of pot and having fun.

Its was beer for me, I lucked out and I always had a birthday right before they raised the drinking age.

...smog over the Los Angeles Basin...

I know what you mean, while stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado Denver would get these stagnate high pressure systems and the smog that developed looked like a sick brown jello. I was taking flight lessons in a Cessna 172 when the smog was "dislodged" and started to move/crawl south. It seemed both alive and monstrous.

Ex-Wiz: Yeah, and would you believe that's not the most insane thing he ever said. Most of the time I hate dealing with the guy, he's an ignorant pain.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

While not nearly as graphic as the thought of those Canadian seals getting clubbed to death, the image of sea turtles eating plastic is as disgusting a prospect as there is. Hopefully people can be far more effectively educated on this.

Beach Bum said...

Will: I don't know Will, just a few weeks ago the little weasel Hannity was chuckling on his show that he tells the bag guys at grocery stores to double up plastic bags for his items just to irritate any liberals behind him.

Those extra bags have to go somewhere and I doubt that little shit does the socialistic thing and recycles them.

Akelamalu said...

I only ever paddle in the sea so I can spot anything nasty. I save my swimming for the pool. ;)

TomCat said...

You'd think that fool would know that, without such ecosystems, the hospital would become much busier.

Cloudia said...

well done!

Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral


Beach Bum said...

Akelamalu: Looking back at it now i can't believe the stuff I did in the ocean since I was a kid. I sure don't let my kids do anywhere near as much.

Tomcat: He worships Beck, that explains it all.

Cloudia: Thank you, I'm just an ocean person.

Vigilante said...

Outstanding, Beach!

okjimm said...

Boy....Sting Rays and Jelly Fish... you get all the fun.... the most dangerous thing in my part of the world is a skunk....

Ranch Chimp said...

I liked beer too back then Bum, but liked pot as well. Back in the early 1970's you could drink anything at 18 across much of the nation, at least according to my experience's, except for state's like Ohio that had really confusing law's (for the visitor)as to what you could drink at what age, like 3.2 beer 19, wine and regular beer at 19, 21 for all. Spent quite a bit of time in both LA and Houston, and in both state's back then, it was 18 to get in club's and drink, period (Miami, Chicago, and New York too, I can tell you). When I lived in Houston for instance (Texas had the cheapest weed/ pot in the nation) my roomate and I basically didnt even pay to smoke pot, we would buy one pound every friday night, sell half of (3 finger deep bag's they called a "lid" back then) it to cover the $100 we paid for it, then the other half pound was at no cost to us, that way.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

Hannity has no regard for anybody or anything beyond his own little circle. And now he's apparently become a member of the pro-garbage lobby, too. He's unbelievable.

Beach Bum said...

Vigil: Thanks, unless I get a wild hair this is about as political as I will get for now.

Jim: Serious, for some reason I can deal sharks but skunks freak me out.

Ranch: Good reefer was sort or rare in my area during high school. There is a crazy reason why but I do not want to be sued for libel.

Will: Hannity has both the ability to turn my stomach and make me laugh since its hard to believe such a little pissant can think so highly of himself.

lime said...

sounds like a very useful resource. glad you and the nettle managed not to become entangled.

Beach Bum said...

Lime: It still may happen, I plan on renting a surfboard this summer and trying to catch a couple of waves. With my luck I will fall straight into one the first time I try and stand up while surfing.

squatlo said...

Reading your jellyfish story made me laugh, because I've always said "Pussy Makes you Stupid"...

"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." reminds me that the Right doesn't do nuance.
They'd strip mine and pave the Smokies if it meant a return on their extraction investment...
Cool blog, BB, I'll be back.
Some of your favorite movies and authors are mine, as well, and anyone who write like Vonnegott gets my attention.
Where do I sign up?
bob (squatlo)

Liberality said...

Hey, I found this article and I think you'd get a kick out of reading it, or not ;~D