In our state a courageous and resourceful person has dedicated a large portion of his life to the environment and preserving it, so the rest of us may enjoy it. I am fortunate to have known and worked with this man for the last six years or so -- my dear friend and personal hero: James Holland, retired Altamaha Riverkeeper.
James R. Holland was born in Berrien County on Dec. 1, 1940. He loves fishing and roaming the woods observing wildlife -- plant and animal. Today, he is one of the most patient, dedicated, genuine and caring individuals you will ever meet.
As a young man, James enlisted in the Marine Corps and served as a food service specialist. After being discharged from the Marine Corps, he continued to work in the food services industry for 11 more years.
However, the call of the great outdoors continued to beckon, and in 1977 he decided he could make a decent living as a commercial fisherman and went into the commercial blue crab industry. He and his family did quite well until the early 1990s when James noticed a significant decline in the number of crabs being harvested. Ever inquisitive and thorough in his investigations, he started asking why and soon came to the conclusion that somehow the delicate balance of the coastal estuary ecosystem was under siege.
Pursuing his theory, James launched a full-scale investigation and soon discovered that man was at the root of the problem. Ditching and draining of inland fresh and saltwater wetlands and increasing demands on natural aquifers were affecting the salinity in the saltwater marshes along our coast, a natural breeding ground for countless forms of marine life, including blue crab.
Additionally, periods of high heat and drought started to affect the marshes even more due to the extremely high salinity of the waters (due to decreased freshwater infusion), and a parasite called Hematodinium took its toll, killing thousands upon thousands of blue crabs along our coast. Then rampant development along the Georgia coast compounded the problem beginning about 1998.
At this point, James and a few select individuals began formulating a plan to bring attention to environmental concerns, including developmental improprieties, through an organized, concentrated effort. The Altamaha Riverkeeper, Inc. was chartered. The rest is history, and James was a driving force as the first person to be designated as the Altamaha Riverkeeper, a position he held for some 10 years until his retirement in 2010.
As he became experienced in his environmental work, James became attuned to the world around him. He became a self-taught wildlife photographer of the nth degree. He has documented and photographed many rare plants and wildlife species and in 2008 discovered and photographed a plant (Justicia carnea) never before seen in the wild in the United States as it is native to South America. He also has found and documented the green fly orchid, Bartram’s air plant and Diceandra radfordiana (one of the rarest plants on Earth).
While documenting wildlife, James has photographed some rare butterflies. He has documented and photographed the endangered gopher tortoise as well as Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, the Florida manatee, bald eagles and wood storks.
All of these specimens have been photographed in the Altamaha Watershed, which James knows like the back of his hand. My wife and I are fortunate to have been on several guided tours within the Altamaha Watershed with him. They have each been incredibly revealing and rewarding. Readers can view some of James’ work at jameshollandphotography.com and altamahariverkeeper.org. One can also visit the Altamaha Riverkeeper headquarters in Darien for a first-hand look at some of his work.
This gentle giant of a man saw a problem years ago that needed correction and has yet to give up the fight although he is now retired. He and his wife, Sumiko, reside in Brunswick. James is the real deal, and I dedicate this column to him: James R. Holland. My cherished friend. My valued mentor. My true American hero.
Walton Wood lives in Kathleen. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.