Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Cooper River, South Carolina - Black Water Adventure 2010

ed.  I do not know why this didnt post when I wrote it But it is a cool post even though it is outdated by about four years.

The Cooper River near Charleston, South Carolina is probably in my top 10 of favorite places to dive.  This year was like my 10th trip out there?  I have done more dives in the Cooper River than an average diver has dives.  It is still a great place and somewhere that I would drop most everything to go.   We just recently got back from this great trip.  Over two weekends I got in 8 dives.  As a group we found lots of teeth.  Lots of unique things and lots of new friends.  The water temperature was 67degrees and the visibility about two feet but it was an amazing experience nonetheless.

So you may be asking yourself,  did I read that right?  Did he really write, two feet visibility?  Dive there?  Why?

To get you just as excited about this trip as I am every year you need to know a bit of the history of the place.   The entire state of South Carolina, most of Georgia, and a good part of North Carolina were very different at the end of the last ice age.   The shoreline was about 40 miles farther out into the ocean and as the ice melted, the river that the melt waters formed ended in South Carolina.  For millions of year the errosion of the river banks, the animals that died there and the fossils that were formed, deposited themselves in this river delta.  What you get is an area of the USA that is seriously rich in fossils.  The most popular of these fossils are the teeth of the Megalodon shark.  This prehistoric creature lived millions of years ago. It is thought to have existed from 1.6 million back to 5 million years ago but some experts trace it back even further.  The cool thing about sharks from way back then is that they were similar to modern day sharks in that they shed their teeth.  Hundreds of teeth lying on the ocean floor were buried and fossilized and now, in the present day Cooper River, they are eroding out into the river where divers can find them. 

Adding to the excitment is the fact that not only can you find sharks teeth,  you can find other fossil remnants of animals from around the last Ice age or about 11000 years ago.  This is pretty cool.  Divers have found whale bones,  fossil antlers,  turtle shells and wooly mammoth teeth on previous trips with us.  There have even been finds that are more significant in the area.  A piece of pottery from early man, Civil War artifacts and even modern treasures such as anchors and port holes have all come from the Cooper River.

This past trip was no exception.  We found lots of sharks teeth. Not only did we find the Meglalodon Sharks Teeth but, early teeth from other sharks ranging from .15 inches (tiny) all the way up to a whopping six incher which is a great find.  One diver also found a vertebrae fossil that was about 10 inches in diameter.  Very cool finds indeed. 

The roll off the boat into the murky waters of the Cooper River are not for everyone.  It take a little training and a total comfort in being alone in the dark on the bottom of a fast moving river.   The diving requires a light because no light penetrates from the surface past 15 feet.   The river is full of cool animals and home to many more.  When your light doesnt penetrate the gloom that far,  you have to find the teeth by searching a lot of area.  The more area you search, the better luck you will have.

The bottom of the Cooper River has four distinct strata that you have to be aware of.  First is the Mud. Found mostly near the edges, the muddy bank is where most of the errosion starts.  Fossils have been found in the mud, but it is difficult and hard to get your bearings.   The second type of strata is sand. Just like you can imagine,  the sand is constantly shifting and hard to get a grip in the current with your river tool.  Not much in the way of fossils here, but if you find one it is usually in great shape.   The Third stata is called Marl.  This stuff is an amazing substance.  Like hardened clay it is nearly impossible to get a grip on and even harder to find stuff.  In the Marl there may be pits and "oases" in the marl that tend to yeild fossils, sometimes big stuff but it is not as bountiful as the fourth and best strata, Gravel.  The gravel beds of the Cooper River are a gold mine of fossils.  Almost every rock is a piece of fossil and the trick is to pick up the whole and recogizable ones.  For beginners in the Cooper, the trick to finding cool stuff is to pick up everything that looks interesting and put it in your bag.  If it is nothing you can always throw it back.  But it may be something cool.  I picked up an interesting rock once that I found at the edge of a gravel bed where it poured onto marl, I thought it would look good in my fish tank.  As it turned out it was a Molar (tooth) from a Mastadon and I had a great treasured artifact for my collection.  Of course you can find the teeth from sharks all over the place.  The trick there is to stay in the gravel and search as much of the area as you can to see what you can find.

Although it is dark, muddy, has alligators and boat traffic,  the Cooper River is a great place to dive.   Hope you can join me on  a trip there soon.

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