Tuesday, June 19, 2007

SC Aquarium, Sunset on Folly Beach, and the ACE Basin

My husband grew up on the Texas coast and spent the majority of his weekends fishing at Padre Island. Consequently, he has a love for the water and everything inside of it, a love that he passed on to me. Because of this, we often visit aquariums to catch a glimpse of life under the sea.

We love Charleston. We love aquariums. So why haven't we gone to the South Carolina Aquarium before now? We haven't seen it. We thought about it on several occasions, but upon arriving in Charleston, history, architecture, food, or landmarks snagged our attention from the attraction one has to look for to find. We remembered to do so on this occasion (since it was our destination) and though we had to make a few turns to get there, after turning east on Calhoun Street and passing the Holiday Inn that sits on the spot where John L. Girardeau ministered to the slaves at Zion Presbyterian Church, we found it.

The top floor of the aquarium houses the majority of the exhibits and, if I caught this correctly, the exhibits focus on either South Carolina, or the Carolinas as a whole. We visited "The Mountains", "The Piedmont", "The Marshlands", and "The Coast" displays. We also went outside on the observation walkway that overlooks the Cooper River. The lower level plays host to the "Secrets of the Amazon" exhibit, the gift shop, and the Great Ocean Tank, a two-story exhibit that allows one to see marine life ranging from snappers to sharks in a simulated natural environment. I also hoped to see the sea turtle hospital housed in the basement. So after paying admission ($16.00/adult at this writing) we went inside and discovered Kelly, the director of the hospital and the person we needed to speak to, was somewhere on the ocean releasing Lighthouse, the turtle who came back to shore after his initial release.

Yay for Lighthouse, drats for me. We enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

We still had plenty of day left after we finished touring the aquarium, so I suggested a trip to Folly Beach to watch the sun set. The majority of the beach crowd goes home around five, so when we arrived shortly after that, we immediately found a parking spot in one of the small beach access parking lots built between two rental houses. After paying the parking piper, we planted ourselves on the sand.

I love the mountains, but I love the beach a tad bit more. I love to stick my toes in the sand and watch the roaring waves tumbling toward the shore. I love the feel of salt air brushing around me, and watching sea gulls and pelicans float above the water. I love the beach houses lining the beach, the sea shells littering the sand, the primrose growing on fenced dunes, and the feeling of peace I get when I'm blessed enough to have the opportunity to enjoy it all.

And when I remembered the turtle nests, I loved it even more.

Each May, countless people hold their breath in anticipation and wait to see how many sea turtles will pull themselves from the ocean and lay their eggs in one of the remaining dunes on the South Carolina shore. Loggerheads (Caretta Caretta), Green Turtles, on occasion, Kemp Ridley's, and according to the SCDNR Marine Turtle Conservation Program, the ancient leviathan known as the Leatherback turtle all find their way back to the beaches where they hatched, and continue the cycle by laying over a hundred eggs in the dunes above the tide line. When I remembered this, we pulled ourselves off the sand and took a walk along the beach. Within minutes, we spotted the telltale posts and orange tape that indicated the presence of a nest. I couldn't contain my excitement when I saw the sign: Caution! Loggerhead Nest

And then we saw another one!

Turtle teams on the Isle of Palms and Sullivans Island are keeping an eye on seven nests, and nesting season just began last month. The incubation period for loggerhead turtle eggs is around fifty-five days, so beginning in July, hundreds of tiny turtles will break through the sand and start the scramble. Some will perish on the roads after following forgotten lights on beach houses. Some will become a meal for birds or ghost crabs. Others will actually make it to the water where the chance of survival is just about as high as on the shore. I've heard that only one or two turtles from each nest will survive to adulthood. But twenty years later, those turtles will return to South Carolina to lay their eggs in the dunes. Let's hope the dunes are still around for them to find.

And so ended the day. We slept well, and after we checked out of our hotel, we made a few pit stops on the way home. The first was the Edisto Unit of the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge. FYI, it's closed on Sunday (I don't have a problem with that, but next time I'll check operating hours before we go.) We tried to look at the plant life under the trees lining the road, but the mosquitoes finally found us. I took a couple of pictures and jumped in the car. The skeeters dived bombed the Durango. We did this little routine several times as we traveled back to 174. Then we decided to go to the Basin's Combahee Unit, located off Hwy 17. A sign pointing to Bear Island caught our eye. We turned and drove countless miles south, past trees and marshland. Talk about solitude! Finally, we arrived at Bear Island. It was closed.

Oh well. We found lots of neat flowers, saw lots of neat critters, and had a great time overall. Photos for the SC Aquarium, Folly Beach, and Cypress Gardens are below.

For more information on the aquarium's sea turtle hospital, including turtle releases, go to http://www.scaquarium.org/seaturtle/rescue.aspx

Information on S.C. Sea Turtles:
http://www.dnr.sc.gov/marine/turtles/cc.htm
http://web.ccgnet.com/turtleteam/index.html
http://www.turtles.org/loggerd.htm

Info on the ACE Basin NWR:
http://www.fws.gov/acebasin/

Bear Island:
http://www.dnr.sc.gov/managed/wild/bearisland/description.html



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