Beneath the Surf

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A simple seining net reveals an array of ocean creatures living in the shallow waters just yards offshore.

By Meghan Miranda
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The salty ocean breeze wisps past Sea Island beach-goers lounging on the golden sand with a cold drink in hand. Only a few yards from the umbrella-shaded, oceanfront paradise, kids scuttle from the water’s edge back to their turf with brightly colored buckets of water used to fill the moats surrounding their towering sand kingdoms.
Just as the shadows of the umbrellas shift and the sun arches beyond the peak of noon, a commotion in the surf catches the attention of kids and adults alike. With a 60-foot net, Mike Kennedy, director of recreation at Sea Island, and his team of naturalists wade out into the water to begin the afternoon ritual of ocean seining. Seagulls congregate in the air, hovering just above the net to determine whether they would have a better selection at sea, and not far behind, onlookers make their way to the water to investigate as well.

Brimming with Life

Raleigh Nyenhuis, Sea Island’s lead naturalist, helps Kennedy guide the net out into the ocean. Once the net is stretched to its full width, the pair makes their way across the surf, dragging the net some 25 to 50 yards before circling back to shore. They won’t know just what they’ve caught until they investigate further in the shallows, but a lively show of fish and shrimp jumping up over the edge of the net as it closes in is a sure sign of an interesting pull.

“Many of our guests sit on the shore and see the surface of the ocean, but they have no idea what’s happening beneath the surf,” Kennedy says.

In the height of summer, crowds of 50-plus onlookers surround the net to catch a glimpse of the hidden sea life that seining reveals.

From angelfish and mullets to shrimp, blue crabs and spider crabs, there’s no telling what the seining net will hold. With naturalists as guides, seining at Sea Island is more than just seeing, it’s also about discovery.

Families can use nets to discover Sea Island’s vibrant marine life, including mullets
Families can use nets to discover Sea Island’s vibrant marine life, including mullets
Spider crabs
Spider crabs

Peering into the net, it is clear that the waters surrounding Sea Island are home to a vibrant ecosystem of ocean life. Since warmer water means a wider variety of creatures, the most interesting time of year for ocean seining is during the months of March through September—when water temperatures range from 70 to 80 degrees.
“When water temperatures rise, migratory fish make their way farther south to the waters of coastal Georgia,” Kennedy says. “We’re constantly seeing new species throughout the season.

“Even in a single day, we can expect a variety of new creatures that didn’t show up in the first pull,” he continues. “Many people see dolphins swimming, seagulls swooping in or the occasional fish jumping, so bringing this variety of sea life to the surface can really open their eyes to all that the ocean holds.”

The team pulls the net twice or even three times to expose an array of ocean creatures. Every pull reveals new species, each with its own stories to be told.

“We try to add value to every pull with stories that can teach people more about the sea life they are seeing,” Kennedy says. “For example, most people think shrimp swim, but they actually walk along the bottom. Kids and adults love learning little facts like that.”

Nyenhuis and Kennedy make sure that sea creatures remain submerged in the shallow water while surrounded by the net so they are not harmed. Beginning with the most delicate species (so they can quickly be released back into the ocean), Kennedy and his naturalists point out each creature as they bestow upon eager onlookers tidbits of knowledge and lesser-known facts that years of experience with coastal Georgia sea life have taught them.

“I like to equate seining to creating a wild touch tank,” Kennedy says. Brave hands can slip into the water to touch some of the sturdier creatures as they swim inside the makeshift “tank” and some even have the privilege of feeling a delicate crab scuttle along their upturned palms.

Then, after a thorough examination, the edges of the net are lowered and the creatures disappear into the surf until they are discovered by lucky beach-goers the next day.

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