Recreational divers immerse themselves in natural history to find fossils and adventure on the bottom of South Carolina’s blackwater rivers. But how did the fossils get there in the first place?
South Carolina’s Lowcountry boasts popular tourist destinations with scenic views and a variety of recreational opportunities at nearly every turn. It also offers up its own share of mystery. From moss draped live oaks to murky blackwater rivers, the Lowcountry conjures tales of heroic deeds and more than a few legends of famous – maybe even infamous – figures who contributed to the curious reputation of that region. More perplexing still, local mysteries don’t always begin or end in folklore. For centuries, scientists have studied, theorized and otherwise tried to explain the sometimes secretive nature of the coastal plain, only to find themselves with more questions than answers as they uncover the fossilized past only a few feet below the pluff mud or at the bottom of a blackwater river.
“It’s like holding a piece of history in your hands,” says Catherine Sawyer, a recreational diver who regularly descends the relatively shallow depths of the Cooper and other coastal plain rivers in search of prehistoric fossils.
Sawyer has always liked the water, but she first became interested in diving as a means to collect fossils or artifacts.
“Growing up, we would go to Edisto for summer vacations,” she says. “On one of those trips, when I was in the sixth grade, I saw some boys with a spear point they found snorkeling. I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Of course recreational diving is not a sport you can learn on your own at the old swimming hole. To become a certified diver, Sawyer took classes at a local dive shop, a basic class and another more advanced session especially for blackwater river diving.