Wild Georgia: Tidal creeks abound with life

In his wonderful 1878 poem “The Marshes of Glynn,” Georgia’s beloved poet Sidney Lanier wondered what creatures inhabited the waters that flood the coastal salt marshes, creeks and sounds at high tide:

I would I could know what swimmeth below

with the tide comes in

On the length and the breadth of the

marvelous marshes of Glynn.

Many of us probably have wondered the same thing as we watched a mixture of saltwater from the ocean and freshwater from upstream inundate the marshes twice daily during high tides.

But if you took a ride with Capt. Larry Credle on his shrimp trawler Lady Jane, as I did the day before Thanksgiving, you could have close encounters with some of the fantastic array of creatures that “swimmeth below” in Georgia’s tidal waters.

During a two-hour voyage through and around the marshes of Glynn, Credle and his crew deployed their net in a wide, winding creek shortly after leaving the dock in Brunswick. They let it drag on the bottom for about 15 minutes, trapping all manner of sea life in the water.

The loaded net was winched in and the catch dumped on deck. As we craned our necks for a look, deck hand Cliff Credle pointed out some of the diverse creatures from the creek -- white shrimp, horseshoe crab, blue crab, squid, spot, menhaden, sea robin, oyster toadfish, rock bass, mantis shrimp and many others. Then the animals were swept back overboard to go on their way.

Onboard marine biologist Phil Flournoy explained the array of creatures varies from season to season. Several species of small sharks, for instance, are netted in summer. He noted that right now white shrimp, which spent the summer and early fall maturing in the creeks and sounds, are heading out to sea to spawn in deep water several miles offshore.

The offspring from the egg-laying will enter the salt marsh and creeks next spring and become the crop that commercial shrimpers will pursue when the season opens in September. The season for Georgia's other commercial shrimp species, the brown shrimp, opens in May. Young brown shrimp enter the creeks and sounds around February.

The 60-foot Lady Jane is no ordinary shrimp trawler. With the Coast Guard’s approval, Larry Credle converted it to carry up to 49 passengers to give them an idea of life aboard a shrimp boat and provide a glimpse of the life that abounds in Georgia’s coastal waters. For that purpose, he holds a state “scientific collection” permit that allows him to deploy his nets in tidal creeks.

For prices of tours on the Lady Jane and other information, visit www.shrimpcruise.com.

In the sky: The moon will be new Sunday. On Monday, look for a thin crescent moon in the west just after dark, said astronomer David Dundee of Tellus Science Museum. Mercury sets in the west less than an hour after the sun and will appear near the moon Monday night. Venus rises out of the east about two hours before dawn. Jupiter is high in the south at sunset and sets around midnight. Saturn rises out of the east about four hours before sunrise.