Tuesday, February 25, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Grab Your Mask and Snorkel and Get Ready for a Wet and Wild Adventure. by Don Orth

Title: Snorkeling the Hidden Rivers of Southern Appalachia: A Photographic Snorkel Guide to Sites, Species, and Gear. Freshwaters Illustrated, East Tennessee.  71pp.
Author: Casper Cox
Photographers: Jeremy Monroe, David Herasimtschuk, Casper Cox
Cover for Snorkeling the Hidden Rivers of Southern Appalachia. 
This is a one-of-a-kind snorkel guide by Casper Cox, aka the Snorkelmiester. It’s a how-to guide that also tells you where to go to learn all about the fishes and mussels of the hidden rivers of southern Appalachia.   These hidden rivers are a recognized biodiversity hotspot—that is, a region that has a biologically rich-yet-threatened flora and fauna.  The Southern Appalachians are a globally relevant biodiversity hotspot where aquatic biodiversity is declining faster than terrestrial biodiversity. Many groups of organisms, such as salamanders, trees, mosses, fungi, lichens, spiders, snails, beetles, crayfish, and fish reach high levels of diversity in the Southern Appalachians.  Over 550 North American freshwater fishes (79%) are found in the Southeast (Page and Burr 2011). Because little land is under protection, watersheds in this biologically rich area are undergoing land conversion to urbanization (Terando et al. 2014; Elkins et al. 2019). More than half of the U.S. population lives within a day’s drive of some part of the Appalachians (Ford 2015). Yet, because of access and remoteness, the treasures of the many rivers remain hidden from many of us.  
Excerpt from the guide describing the fishes of Conasauga River. 
The purpose of this guide it to introduce the reader to these hidden rivers by learning to use a mask and snorkel to look below the surface.   The snorkel guide is an outgrowth of the feature film, Hidden Rivers: Discover America’s Richest Waters, produced by Freshwater Illustrated.   As I read the guide, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem “Sometimes” (Oliver 2008):

Instructions for living a life: 
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it.
Excerpt of the guide describing the fishes of the Hiwassee River. 
On each and every page, Casper Cox tells about his experiences snorkeling in some very special places and shares his techniques, advice, and experiences.  Casper’s rich knowledge of the rivers and aquatic ecosystems of this region are evident on each page.  Clear and healthy waters may be found in this region and many of them are suited for exploring with a mask and snorkel.  If we “pay attention” we will be amazed and astonished by the diversity of life below the surface.  
Excerpt of the guide describing fishes of Citico Creek.
The layout of the snorkel guide is very effective.  The pages are on heavy duty paper and are spiral bound so you can lay the guide flat or fold it over.  Each page has color photographs or a color map to guide the reader to snorkel sites. Each fish watching site is described so you can plan your visit, find nearby camping, and drive or hike to access sites.  Underwater photos of many fishes will astonish you and motivate you to plan your next snorkel trip and bring along friends. David Herasimtschuk is a professional photographer who also dons a mask and snorkel in order to capture the rare moments and motivate one to explore these special waters.  Explore one of his underwater excursions here for a sample of his work. 

Snorkeling is an economical activity that every nature lover should try. "Have snorkel, will travel" is the mantra of Christopher Scharpf and this snorkel guide facilitates developing more snorkeling trails.   The snorkel guide provides essential advice about snorkel gear, equipment, and tips for getting comfortable in the water and being safe.  When you begin your explorations you will see examples of poor land management and road building.  Many local organizations participate in local stream clean ups.  In addition to connection to aquatic life, the guide pays homage to important institutions in the region.   Conservation Fisheries Inc., The Tennessee Aquarium, and the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute are engaged in conservation activities to make sure you can "get below the surface for the real show" now and into the future.
Author Casper Cox looking over a spawning aggregation of Tennessee Shiners.
Purchase this snorkel guide.   I liked it so much, I gave my first copy away and then bought more copies in order to "tell about it."    With this snorkel guide and Williams (2020) more readers will be motivated to safely explore local rivers and streams and tell about it. Snorkeling exposes us to aquatic life in their natural habitats.   "In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." (Baba Dioum 1968.)

Elkins, D., S.C. Sweat, B.R. Kuhajda, A.L. George, K.S. Hill, and S.J. Wenger. 2019.  Illuminating hotspots of imperiled aquatic biodiversity in the southeastern US.  Global Ecology and Conservation 19 300654 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2019.e00654
Ford, T.R. 2015. The Southern Appalachian Region: A Survey. University of Kentucky Press, Lexington, Kentucky.
Oliver, M. 2008. Red Bird. Beacon Press. Boston, Massachusetts.
Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 2011. Peterson Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes, Second Edition.  Houghton Mifflin, New York, NY
Terando, A.J., J. Costanza, C. Belyea, R.R. Dunn, A. McKerrow, and J.A. Collazo. 2014. The Southern Megalopolis: Using the Past to Predict the Future of Urban Sprawl in the Southeast U.S. PLoS ONE 2014, 9.
Williams, K. 2020. Snorkeling Rivers and Streams: An Aquatic Guide to Underwater Discovery and Adventure. Stackpole Books, Guilford, Connecticut. 224 pages.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

BOOK REVIEW Are You Ready for More Underwater Adventures? by Don Orth

Snorkeling Rivers and Streams: An Aquatic Guide to Underwater Discovery and Adventure, by Keith Williams, Stackpole Books, Guilford, Connecticut. Release date March 1, 2020.   224 pages.  ISBN-10: 0811738450 ISBN-13: 978-0811738453.  Product Dimensions: 6 x 9 inches.

When you see a river or stream, do you want to explore it?  Do you wonder what lives there?  Do you feel the river calling to you to get wet?   If you answered yes, to any of these questions, then I have a book for you.  Snorkeling Rivers and Streams: An Aquatic Guide to Underwater Discovery and Adventure, by Keith Williams, is an invitation to explore the many secrets that lie beneath the water's surface.   

Keith Williams is executive director of NorthBay, an outdoor educational program.  He has snorkeled extensively in rivers across the United States, has developed river snorkeling-based science curriculum, and works with the U.S. Forest Service to develop river snorkeling programs. This new book helps you to understand how to see beneath the water surface with a mask and snorkel.  There are twelve chapters, ten about specific fish you may encounter via snorkeling, and one chapter on frogs, toads, turtles, snakes, and gators, and one chapter on benthic macroinvertebrates.  The reader will learn about many types of animals seen when snorkeling.   However, the book must leave out many fishes in order to keep the book reasonable short and accessible.   I found a broad and national representation of fish groups so the reader will not be bored.  Salmon, lamprey, eels, darters, minnows, tomcods, sculpins, herring, quillback, shad, sunfish, and bass are dominant fishes described in the book.  These provide ample opportunities for fish watching and specific issues and people related to the conservation and restoration of these fish. You meet many people on snorkeling adventures.  One that Keith Williams met was Elmer Crow, a Nez Perce elder who shared his philosophy— “We are the circle. That’s what life is about. So when one of us is in trouble, that’s when the rest of us need to step in.”

The introduction uses a story of Keith instructing a young student to find and identify a small fish.   After seeing and identifying a new species for the first time, she stops and asks “How can we conserve something if we don’t know it’s there?”   The introduction illustrates that the focus on this book is educational.  This student quickly got the message and understood that in order to protect a stream, we need to know and appreciate and love it.  Watching and experiencing aquatic animals means we must watch and experience their life in its habitat.   The introduction provides thorough descriptions of gear, safety, snorkel etiquette, and where to go, before providing a message for conservation.  Throughout the book, it’s clear that conservation starts with snorkeling.  

Each of the chapters provides useful information on where to go and how to observe the fish or other animal in its habitat.   Specific locations for planning your next underwater adventures are described and illustrated with photos.   In addition, specific directions on how to get to the access site are provided.  Lack of public access may deter many would-be snorkelers.  I error checked the directions for some rivers and find the information complete and accurate. The reader will find much useful information on where to go and how to observe the fish or other animal in its habitat.   Specific locations for planning your next underwater adventures are described and illustrated with photos.   In addition, specific directions on how to get to the access site are provided.  Lack of public access may deter many would-be snorkelers.  I error checked the directions for my local rivers and found then accurate and complete.
Kate Meyer surveying the South Fork of McKenzie River. Photo by Keith Williams. 
Spawning Brook Lamprey. Photo by Keith Williams. 
This book is written for anyone and everyone.  You don’t have to be an aquatic ecologist to read and apply what is learned.  The only requirement is a desire to “get your face wet and appreciate underwater life right in your backyard.” My favorite parts of the book were the many snorkeling experiences described and illustrated with color photos. I felt as though I was underwater with Keith Williams, surreptitiously experiencing the same places and unique aquatic animals. 
Iridescent metallic scales make river herring one of our most beautiful fish. Photo by  Keith Williams. 
Is it the best book on subject? It’s the only book on the subject that has a national perspective.  If you want to explore rivers and streams, you will find this book very helpful for your first trip and all subsequent ones.  One regional guide Snorkeling the Hidden Rivers of Southern Appalachia includes descriptions of 7 snorkeling sites and how to find others.   This guide also explores safety, proper gear, species encountered, and environmental concerns and contains outstanding photos by Casper Cox, Jeremy Monroe, and Dave Herasimtschuk.  This is for sale on here.  

Large stonefly nymph. Photo by Keith Williams.
Female lampsilis mussel lure.  Photo by Keith Williams.
You will be ready to jump right in before finishing the book.  In the closing chapter on benthic invertebrates, Keith Williams calls us to “stick your face in the water, and get to know those unknown species—on their own terms underwater.  Settle into the creek to just watch and learn and admire the beauty and intricacy of even the smallest freshwater lifeforms.” The book and the similar regional Snorkeling the Hidden Rivers of Southern Appalachia confirm that snorkeling streams and rivers is a legitimate and growing outdoor educational activity.   

I expect the book will help the activity to expand.  What comes next is anyone’s guess. Jim Herrig, a longtime Fisheries Biologist on the Cherokee National Forest began programs to get youth groups to snorkel in creeks on the National Forest.  Keith Williams has worked with the U.S. Forest Service and other to develop a freshwater snorkeling curriculum.  If you wish to expand your own underwater adventures with youth groups, consider the snorkeling toolkit and curriculum available here.   

Jim Herrig, of the Cherokee National Forest, started public snorkeling programs in the Conasauga River basin as a way to connect people with the incredible diversity of aquatic life in Southern Appalachian streams. Photo by Tom Martin, public domain. Flickr
In the future, I hope to see evaluations of the educational values of these activities. Educators and education administrators want to know if these short-term outreach activities can have a positive impact on the scientific literacy and long-term career goals of the participants.