Our campers had to hurry to get across the Piedmont and into the Coastal Plain. Today they find themselves walking through low grasslands and fields that stretch as far as they can see. . . .

Where are we?

The Coastal Plain is part of a lowland that extends around the coast of the eastern United States from New York to Texas. In Georgia, a chain of low islands called the Sea Islands lies just off the mainland, separated from it by a narrow waterway.

Georgia's barrier islands are constantly changing, but the biggest changes take too long for us to see. 18,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, the sea level was 400 feet lower, partly because so much water was frozen in glaciers. Georgia's coastline was 95 miles east of where it is now. But if we look back even further, when the sea was higher, the coastline was more toward the west, and all the coastal property we see now was under water.

Although we may not see much change in our lifetime, ocean levels are rising at an alarming rate—about 6 inches in the last century. But if global warming continues, we may see it rise 18 inches during this century, pushing the shoreline another 2 miles to the west and slowly covering everything in between—towns, highways, outlet malls . . . everything!

Snowy Egret

The Snowy Egret lives on shores, marshes, swamps, and tidal areas. It's easily spotted by the long plumes on its neck, head, and back. During the mid-1800s, it was very fashionable for women to have bird feathers on their hats, and many coastal birds were hunted to the point of being endangered. Laws were passed to protect our native birds, and today the Snowy Egret does not need special conservation attention—an environmental success story!

Brook: When are we gonna get to the Coastal Plain? Where's the ocean? I hope one of you brought a beach umbrella.

Sky: Silly, we've been walking through it all day. The Georgia Coastal Plain is big, and it's not just the coast. It's prairie, wetlands, even a swamp. A little bit south of here is the biggest swamp in North America, the Okefenokee.

Forrest: Bless you! That's a funny name.

Sky: Funny to you maybe, but not to the Creek Indians who hunted in the swamp about a hundred years ago.

Brook: Can we spend the night there?

Forrest: Uh, I'd advise against it. If the mosquitos don't eat us alive, the alligators might.

Brook: Alligators are on the endangered species list in Georgia, aren't they? Does that mean if one grabs me I can't fight back?

Sunny: I guess you can fight a little. . . . Anyway, alligators are off the list. When an animal is on the endangered species list it's protected and people can't harm it. That gives the animal time to multiply and increase its numbers. Alligators lay about 45 eggs at a time, so it didn't take long for the population to bounce back.

Forrest: Sunny, sometimes I think you're a walking encyclopedia. Where do you get this stuff?

Sunny: It's a little thing I like to call "paying attention in class." Wait, just one more thing about the swamp, then I'll be quiet. You'll like this one, Forrest, cause it's weird. Remember we learned about adaptation in nature?

Forrest: Yeah, that's where a plant or animal's body or behavior changes to adjust to its surroundings.

Loss of habitat is the biggest threat to many endangered species. Wet habitats are often drained or bulldozed to make room for housing. This causes big problems for plants and animals that can live only there. Pitcherplant bogs have slowly moving water which usually comes from a spring head, and are one of Georgia's most beautiful habitats. Once covering thousands of acres, Coastal Plain bogs are now reduced to tiny pockets because of suppression of fire, drainage of habitat, and chemical runoff from agriculture. Visit the web site for the Georgia Endangered Plant Stewardship Network to learn more about conservation of pitcherplants and how your school class can build their own pitcherplant bog!

Sunny: Right! In the Okefenokee, the water is acidic and low in nutrients, so the kind of plants that do best have learned to compensate. It's an ideal habitat for carnivorous plants, which get extra nutrients by eating insects. Some of them trap bugs by snapping shut, and some catch bugs on their sticky leaves so they can't get away, then digest them.

Brook: Whoa. . . . Well, it sound like a cool scene but maybe a little too creepy for spending the night! Let's move on a little farther and make camp.

Forrest, Sunny, Sky, and Brook walked all day to get across the rest of Coastal Plain and, if they can make good time tomorrow, they plan to make it all the way to the ocean!