“We came too far not to get in.” I told myself as I peered into the dark water of the Edisto River in South Carolina. The Edisto is Americas longest free-flowing blackwater river. Blackwater says it all from a snorkelers perspective. The water is over brewed tea dark. It is clear, but orange black, and I can’t see much past 2 feet.
The purpose of this South Carolina trip was not to snorkel the Edisto, but I have a hard time passing up an opportunity to get into a new river especially one that is labeled the longest blackwater river in America. I really didn’t expect to see much due to the dark nature of the water, but sometimes the allure of river snorkeling is experiencing the river from a different perspective, whether I see fish or not. We came too far for me to pass up the opportunity to get into the Edisto, so I waded out between cypress knees and eased myself into the fast moving tannin stained water.
The river was cold and dark and my breathing reflected the chilly fear. There are gators here though the chances of me seeing one were slim due to the cold temperatures. Even if I were lucky enough, it was unlikely that a gator would bother me. Still there was this kernel of fear in the back of my mind that came from being in unfamiliar, dark, cold water and it fueled an active imagination. My breathing slowed as the first water into the wetsuit warmed and I controlled my anxiety.
Everything glowed red and cypress knees rose from the bottom like mountains in a hobbit middle earth world. The journey was rewarded with a completely new view. Even if I saw nothing else, this scene was worth it.
I hoped to watch a bowfin since I have never seen one. The cold water meant that fish wouldn’t be very active so I searched for some hiding in the woody debris covered bottom. There could be a dozen looking back at me from well camouflaged positions and I wouldn’t know it. I saw some spent Asian clam shells scattered on the bottom, but no fish. Finally just as I was getting out of the water due to cold numbed hands and feet, I saw a school of some kind of juvenile fish hold over a shallow sand bar.
The Edisto’s label of longest free-flowing blackwater river unfortunately doesn’t guarantee this amazing rivers protection. People are competing for its water. Its fish are contaminated with heavy metals and other pollutants so that the consumption of some species can cause health problems. It receives unhealthy runoff and wastewater discharge. But we have come too far to give up on the Edisto, just like we have come too far to give up on protecting any river. The issues facing the Edisto generically face just about every river. Fracking places countless rivers at risk and needs to stop. We each need to take responsibility for the non-point sources of our pollution and correct it. Install rain barrels. Plant rain gardens and planters. Urge local officials to retrofit out dated storm water management systems to better control and filter runoff, and let your elected officials know that the quality of our rivers and streams are important to you. Get involved with your local conservation group, or the group working to protect your favorite river like the Friends of the Edisto. Finally, get into your local rivers and streams and appreciate them for what they are. You will be rewarded with a completely new view. We have come too far not to.