Local captain makes boat tours both informational and fun

Visitors to Hilton Head and locals alike are showing more interest in activities that provide an educational highlight to their time spent on the island.

Local marine biologist and Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Project manager Amber Kuehn is owner and operator of Spartina Marine Education Charters, offering a “Marine Expedition” through the Coastal Discovery Museum on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  
This tour was very popular over the summer and will be extended through the fall schedule of activities.
With 15 years of experience behind the helm and a masters degree in marine biology, Captain Amber applies a scientific journey to a sight-seeing tour aboard SPARTINA. Turbidity, salinity, and water temperature measurements, an explanation of micro-organisms, live creatures on board in a viewing tank, and dolphin sightings take place on this floating laboratory.  Interjecting local knowledge and witty anecdotes collected from having grown up in Bluffton gives rise to laughter amidst the scientific information.  

The goal is to have each passenger retain “at least one fun fact” that they understand fully in order to explain the concept if asked at a later date.  Some examples are: “I learned… why oysters are in a cluster…the difference between a male and a female crab … the reason that you can’t see through the water here…why wading birds stand so still on the waters edge…that the nose on a Bottlenose Dolphin is actually the blowhole … that dolphins are born with HAIR!”  If any of these comments made you think for a moment, you would definitely enjoy the marine expedition.  Come to learn and be entertained.  Questions are encouraged.  Get the information straight from the scientist who has an active role in local conservation efforts. You may even absorb some passion for the marine environment and learn how to get involved as well.  

THE TOUR (with Capt. Amber)  
The two hour expedition begins with the basics until the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins “steal my fire” before finishing an explanation of tides, moon phase, and topography…Oh! It’s a dorsal fin!  And it never gets old when the dolphins steal the spotlight.  An explanation of the role of marsh grass is essential, bacteria decomposing organic matter in the mud flat, and oysters filtering the pristine water in the estuary is followed by a water study — A refractometer measures salinity from samples collected over the side of the boat and millions of micro-organisms are before your eyes in the crystal clear sample.  Blue crabs are a crowd pleaser as they are handled with ease having been “childhood toys that are fast, never run out of batteries, and provide hours of entertainment”.  These organisms are shown up close, and then placed in a viewing tank for further inspection.  The fiddler crabs emerge from their hiding place in my pocket as they are fairly harmless and sturdy.  These are decapods with eyes on stalks so that they are able to see you and me at the same time!  A fish from the live-well may make an appearance with obvious explanations that you may not have actually seen for yourself…their gills are bright red and their lateral line is a sensory organ.  I believe that a basic explanation with living proof makes it more memorable.  All organisms are returned to the estuary after their performance.  The stars of the show are seasonal and represent the organisms that are flourishing at varying water temperatures.  I am amazed by them every day and I absolutely love sharing their story with my passengers.

The Coastal Discovery Museum will be accepting reservations for a May River Marine Expedition on Thursdays  This Bluffton departure is a unique opportunity to venture off island to catch a glimpse of the high bluffs cut from tidal flow running back and forth from the headwaters of the May into Calibogue Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.  This winding path surrounded by marsh grass and plough (“pluff”) mud is full of wildlife...literally, inside and out.  The pristine estuary and all that it takes to maintain this treasure keep the marine life busy all year.  You are guaranteed to learn something new and exciting.   Afterwards, take advantage of quaint restaurants and the Bluffton Farmers Market…all on the same street!

SPARTINA is a 25 foot Jones Brothers Bateau that is US Coast Guard certified to carry 24 passengers.  SPARTINA is named after saltmarsh cord grass, or spartina alterniflora. This plant is the basis of our ecosystem and the topic for introduction to the estuary.