Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cooper River, South Carolina

This past weekend was our annual trip to dive the black waters of the Cooper River in South Carolina. If you are wondering why anyone would travel to dive in limited visibility and perpetual darkness in a river where the tidal currents require that you litterally have to hang on to see stuff, you are probably not alone.

The Cooper River is part of a large fossil bed that covers most of the state of South Carolina and into North Carolina. There are hundreds of fossil fragments littering the bottom from the Pliocene period of geologic history. According to Wikipedia, The Pliocene Epoch (spelled Pleiocene in older texts) is the period in the geologic timescale that extends from 5.332 million to 1.806 million years before present. Because the River is cutting through the area and taking with it everything imbedded in that time period, it is not uncommon to find other bones scattered among the gravel on the bottom. Mastadons, Whales, Other sharks, fossilized sea creatures, and other amazing finds have all come out of the Cooper River.

Diving into the Dark waters is like travelling back in time 4 million years or so and discovering the remnants of those amazing animals. The coolest and most abundant fossils are the sharks teeth. For millions of years sharks roamed the waters of the area as the dominant predators. It is theorized that they have changed little over the years and it is assumed that the sharks of 4 million years ago shed their teeth like the sharks of todays waters. This means that over 4 million years, LOTS of teeth were deposited on the ocean floor.

In the Cooper River we go for sharks teeth, The Megalodon being the most coveted, but we find the teeth and bite plates of Great Whites, Tiger sharks, Rays, and even some of the older sharks. It makes for some exciting discoveries. The rule of diving the Cooper is to stay in the gravel beds and cover a lot of territory. If it looks interesting pick it up. I have added "if it is big pick it up" to my rules and have found some very cool things.

River diving in black water is definitely not for everyone. River diving alone is something that requires some additional experience and training, add limited visibility and your whole world being reduced to a square meter of murky water it takes some mental fortitude as well as physical stamina. Our dives are typically an hour long in 30-45 feet of water. Your light becomes your best friend so you bring a couple of back ups. A river tool to hold you in place, a little extra weight, a goodie bag and a tooth bucket and you are ready for battle.

But oh, the treasures you can find.

The largest sharks tooth ever recovered and publicized out of the Cooper River area was 7.25 inches long on a diagonal. That is almost the size of a piece of notebook paper on the short side. Way bigger than your hand. We haven't got that lucky yet. Paleontologists theorize that the Megalodon that had that tooth in its mouth would have been at least 60ft long. They also theorize that the Meg could have grown to 100ft but they need a 9 inch tooth to prove it. That is HUGE! The biggest tooth I have ever recovered was 4.25 inches. This trip we had a bunch of 3 inch ones come out but a lot of fragmented teeth that would have had sides much bigger. We also had a lot of species of sharks represented in our finds as well as a whale lumbar vertebra and an earbone or two. I like finding the other fossils as much as I like finding the teeth. Coming home with a bag full of goodies is really the reason to dive here. There are very few places on the planet that you are able to find some cool stuff for your collection at home.

One more thing to get you excited about the Cooper River, the history of the Charleston Area. A civil war and a revolutionary war were fought here so the area has a lot of really cool things to see from early American history. The Plantations that survived (or were rebuilt after) General Sherman's devistation are amazing and the historic buildings of Charleston and Fort Sumpter are pretty cool for the non divers that may want to tag along. The possibility of finding stuff from that time period on the bottom of the Cooper River is all part of the excitement.

My dive center takes this trip every year around the second weekend of April. If you want to join us and think you are ready to dive the Black Waters of the Cooper River you need to sign up well in advance. This trip has consistently sold out all of its spots for the last four years. I know I am looking forward to diving here again.

No comments:

Post a Comment