Beautiful Bird’s-Eye View: St. Marys River

Editor's Pick Video, March 2018

Take a look at this interesting, educational video offering aerial perspective of the meandering St. Marys River, the dividing line of east coast Florida and Georgia. Learn about the river with narration by Rick Frey, the St. Marys Riverkeeper. Glimpse scenes above Fernandina on Amelia Island’s north end and adjacent Cumberland Island at Atlantic Ocean, then flying westerly with SouthWings along the river to the Okefenokee Swamp, its headwaters.

How Long Is The St. Marys River?

The St. Marys flows around 140 miles to the ocean, according to the riverkeeper, but is around 50 miles “by way the crow flies.” The source of the river is the Okefenokee Swamp.

The Okefenokee

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

“The swamp is thought to be 6,000-8,000 years old. It is contained in a saucer-shaped depression that drains toward the south and southwest. Drainage from the swamp forms the headwaters for the St. Marys River and the Suwannee River. Indians inhabited the swamp for centuries and coined the term ‘Okefenokee’ which means “land that trembles when you walk on it.”

Possibly Bring Back Oyster Harvesting?

The river is currently designated for recreational use (i.e. swimming, watersports, fishing). The St. Marys River is a “very high quality river,” compared to the St. Johns River, according to riverkeeper Frey.

Even so, the U.S. EPA considers the St. Marys “impaired,” (explained in the video). Besides the Riverkeeper’s objective to “preserve and conserve” the river, it’s interesting to hear another goal mentioned is to “allow estuaries to clean up.” If accomplished, this could possibly lead to allowing oyster harvesting, once again. It would be a wonderful achievement.

Amelia Island Oysters (Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com eMagazine)
Amelia Island Oysters, Shells on Riverbank (Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com eMagazine)

A Look Back — Amelia Island Oysters

Thousands of years ago, native Timucuan Indians picked the location of settlements based on life’s sustenance.  They lived off the land and the sea, and here on Amelia Island, a major staple of Indian life was raw oysters.  Archaeological digs on this barrier island reveal Indian oyster shell middens, the discards of these former island dwellers.  

Oyster shells were also used in early building techniques.  Tabby walls can still be seen in Fernandina’s Bosque Bello cemetery, located adjacent to Old Town, dating back to Spanish occupation of the island.

Nassau County, Florida’s history included oyster canning and shipping. “Fernandina is a good location, for the oysters are plentiful, the territory large, and the shipping facilities particularly good,” according to a book published in 1890, “The Secrets of Canning” by Earnest Schwabb. In more recent times, there’s been a moratorium on oyster harvesting in the Amelia River Basin (since 1984).

Egans Creek E. Coli

The St. Marys Riverkeeper has a program where volunteers help to test local area bodies of water. A tributary to the river is popular Egans Creek that cuts through Amelia Island and is accessible to the public via boat ramps, marinas and public parks. Unfortunately, last summer in 2017, high levels of E. coli were found in Egans Creek water samples. View scenes of Egans Creek and an interview with Riverkeeper, Rick Frey, by Action News Jax reporter, Lorena Inclan, dated July 21, 2017.

Want To Help The Riverkeeper?

The St. Marys Riverkeeper welcomes volunteers, memberships, and donations. Find out more information by visiting the St. Marys Riverkeeper website.
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VIDEO, PHOTOGRAPHY CREDITS: The flyover video was made possible with the help of SouthWings, “Conservation Through Aviation,” providing “high altitude visibility for watersheds,” and photography by Pieter Jordaan.

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