Exploring the ACE Basin Aboard the Discovery

Photos and text by Alexandra Key

If it weren’t for the wind whipping through my hair and bright sun burning across my face from the tip of my nose all the way across my cheeks, I would have already been asleep on one of the many benches lining the sides of the SCDNR’s Marine Education catamaran named the Discovery. While being one of the program’s interns had many “ups,” it also had one “down” . . . the early mornings.

Our team (consisting of Captain Tom and three educators named Lucy, Julie and Rachel) had left the SCDNR Marine Division’s campus early one Tuesday morning for a daylong program at the ACE Basin. After what seemed like a decade-long drive packed inside of an agency car, we finally made it to the ACE Basin, where our education program was taking place for the day.

Once we had prepared the boat for the kids, the group arrived and soon hopped onto the large, white vessel before we set off down the Ashepoo River. As Julie gave her presentation to the surrounding boys and girls about the creatures that lived within the murky water of the river beneath us, Lucy and Rachel tossed the boat’s large, green trawl net out the back so that Captain Tom could begin pushing us down our path for the day.

It wasn’t but ten or so minutes later that Julie called to the girls to begin raising the net to see what the catch of the day was. I readied myself beside the net with my camera, so I could make sure to capture any and all action shots that would occur within the next few short minutes. I was completely astonished by what laid before us — a sense of pure gratefulness and amazement for the coastal ecosystem I lived in rushed through me as I observed the organisms that flopped and swam in the tank. If I reached my hand out, I could touch the back of a butterfly stingray! A photograph simply couldn’t convey the true beauty of the gray and white organisms, with a deep blue color tinting their dermal denticles.

Not only did we catch two butterfly stingrays, but we also caught several blue crabs, a multitude of fish, a brief squid, a skate, horseshoe crab, shrimp, two lion’s mane jellyfish and a sharpnose shark. While I oftentimes hear many people complaining about the place they live in, whether it’s “too boring” or “doesn’t have enough life to it,” I can say that the South Carolina ecosystem has continued to amaze and intrigue me for the past seventeen years.