Originally created 08/28/06

Advocate is sought for coastal Altamaha



BRUNSWICK, Ga. - Altamaha Riverkeeper James Holland's watery workplace rises in north Georgia and flows to the coast.

The Darien-based Riverkeeper organization is trying raise funds to put the sand, marshes and saltwater portions of the 14,000-square-mile Altamaha watershed in someone else's hands, freeing Mr. Holland to concentrate on the upstream.

The organization is raising money to create the Altamaha Coastkeeper, which would monitor and advocate for the coastal environment of Glynn and McIntosh counties and upstream along the Altamaha to the point the tidal influence ends near the Wayne County line, said Deborah Sheppard, the executive director of Altamaha Riverkeeper.

The Malcolm Fraser Foundation is offering $50,000 to match contributions, she said.

The coastkeeper would remain, at least for the time being, under the auspices of the Altamaha Riverkeeper. As the riverkeeper, Mr. Holland is the face of the organization, and the designation of a coastkeeper would provide a face to represent coastal issues.

It is important to protect the coastal zones because the marshes and their inhabitants - especially oysters - filter sediments and toxins from the waters, Ms. Sheppard said. The field work and advocacy roles are more work than one person can do effectively, she said.

"It will help me tremendously to not have to work the coast and the inland,'' said Mr. Holland, who has been taking pictures of silted areas in wetlands, collecting water samples and talking to people along the Altamaha and its tributaries for seven years.

Mr. Holland, a former crabber, said he prefers to continue upstream, where he has developed relationships over the years as he ferreted out sources of pollution such as industrial and municipal waste treatment sites and runoff from development.

Someone needs to be on the ground and on the water in Coastal Georgia looking for problems and making sure the regulatory agencies address them, he said.

As much as people like to complain about treatment plants and industry, individual irresponsibility can add up to big problems, Mr. Holland said.

Perhaps no spot is worse than Homer Wilson Boulevard, a dirt causeway in Brunswick where people dump bottles, cans, bags, wrappers and at least one bathroom sink.

One of the empty beer bottles came in handy. George Rozier filled it with water and set it on the edge of the bank as a tidal gauge while he fished there last week.

"If they wanted to, they could stop all of us from coming in here fishing. People don't care,'' he said.

The shrubby growth along the bank was filled with trash.

"People that'll do stuff like that,'' Mr. Rozier said, "imagine what their houses look like.''

The coastkeeper, whoever it turns out to be, can use the eyes and noses of people to find problems and pass them on, Mr. Holland said.

"We need the citizens helping. They can smell it,'' he said of pollution.