I spent last Wednesday in a spartina marsh, covered in dark, oozing pluff mud and absolutely loving every minute of it! When project leader Joy Brown asked if I liked the mud, my reply was that I preferred it to sitting in the office any day! I had been invited by The Nature Conservancy to document the organization's first coastal SC installations of Oyster Castles – a type of artificial reef– on a few privately held islands near Charleston. Over the next year, I'll be traveling down three more times to photograph the progress of these initial structures.
After leaving my hotel just past six, we headed to the dock and motored out to the project site with a three man crew from the SC Department of Natural Resources. During the short trip, I saw a small shark skirting the edge of the marsh, brown pelicans and just missed seeing an alligator riding a wake of its own across the channel. The morning was gorgeous, cool and foggy; perfect lighting for this type of shoot.
Upon disembarking from vessel, I promptly threw any apparent caution to the wind and stepped into a very unstable spot on the island; instantly sinking up to my knees into the concrete-like mud. Comedians seem to crawl out of the woodwork in moments like this and Joy asked me if I could stay where I was for a minute while she collected a plank for me to use as leverage. After barely pulling myself out with a audible sucking sound –surprisingly similar to the sound of my fleeting pride– I managed to head for the water and more solid ground; sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but just take my word for it.
In order to place the castles properly into the marsh, the biologists had to measure the distance from the water's edge to the nearest vegetation and space the structures equally apart from one another. This was done using hand-made frames which allowed for quicker measurements; each device was about a meter long. Joy would call out how many 'flips' it took to get to the vegetation and this was recorded for later calculations.
The Oyster Castles were constructed from giant concrete blocks, similar to over-sized LEGO pieces. Each block was composed of quite of bit of natural material such as shell and limestone so that eventually, they would be taken over by the marine life that the structures are created to house. At one point, I felt slightly guilty for not carrying the heavy blocks into the water's edge but, hey, someone has to document this stuff, right?
As the morning ended, I felt incredibly grateful to be allowed to witness this really important coastal restoration project and am looking for to heading down again later this summer. Next time, I'm hoping to focus on the fauna of the marsh-edge and the new life that we hope will be clinging to these palaces by the sea.