#64: Keith Williams – Deep Discoveries in Shallow Water

#64: Keith Williams – Deep Discoveries in Shallow Water Nature's Archive


Keith Williams

Snorkeling can be a life changing endeavor for those who take it up. A new world of aquatic life is revealed before your eyes – sometimes colorful, sometimes cryptic, and always changing.

I’ll forgive you if you are thinking about ocean snorkeling, because as you’ll hear today, there’s magic waiting just beneath the surface of your nearby freshwater streams and rivers.

Keith is a freshwater underwater naturalist, educator, writer and photographer. He has a BS in Environmental Biology and MS in Ecological Teaching and Learning. He is the author of multiple books, most recently “Snorkeling Rivers and Streams: An Aquatic Guide to Underwater Discovery and Adventure”, and is the owner of Freshwater Journeys, which organizes snorkeling trips to show people the amazing life in freshwater systems close to home.

Today we discuss Keith’s own journey into freshwater systems, and then get into the ecology of these environments. If you are like me, this will serve as a great primer for the basics of these systems. And even if you are more advanced, Keith’s descriptions of river herring, trout, chubs, salmon, caddisflies, and more will have you longing to get into a nearby stream.

And if you do decide to take the plunge, Keith tells us what equipment is needed and how to do it safely – both for you and for the ecosystem you are observing.

What a fun conversation – you’ll hear Keith’s enthusiasm shine through. You can find Keith at freshwaterjourneys.com, and also on Facebook at freshwaterjourneys.

Did you have a question that I didn’t ask? Let me know at naturesarchivepodcast@gmail.com, and I’ll try to get an answer! I’ll add these Q&As to my monthly newsletter, so if you aren’t already subscribed, go here. I promise, no spam. I share the latest news from the world of Nature’s Archive, as well as pointers to new naturalist finds that have crossed my radar, like podcasts, books, websites, and more.

All photos courtesy Keith Williams

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People and Organizations

Jeremy Monroe, Freshwaters Illustrated

Shannon White PhD – brook trout research [twitter]

Dr. Shigeru Nakano

Freshwater Journeys

Books and Other Things

Note: links to books are affiliate links

Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey

Down the River, by Edward Abbey

RiverWebs movie

Snorkeling Rivers and Streams: An Aquatic Guide to Underwater Discovery and Adventure, by Keith Williams


Emily Smith provided rough cut editing for this episode.

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Spellbound by Brian Holtz Music
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/9616-spellbound
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://brianholtzmusic.com


Transcripts are automatically created, and are about 95% accurate. Apologies for any errors.

[00:00:00] Michael Hawk: Keith, thank you so much for joining me today.

[00:00:02] Keith Williams: Yeah, thanks for having me.

[00:00:03] Michael Hawk: So this is a topic as we were chatting here beforehand, that when I think of my naturalist endeavors, I think that I’m weakest in most things, water and especially rivers. So I am hoping to learn quite a bit from you today. To jump right in, can you tell me a bit about where you grew up and how you got interested in nature in the first.

[00:00:24] Keith Williams: Yeah, so I grew up in suburban New Jersey and I got interested in this two places really right behind my house One was the Pumpkin Patch Creek, a tiny little ditch of a thing that I didn’t know when I was elementary school kid growing up there. And then right on the other side of the creek was Mrs.

[00:00:39] Beck one of our neighbors who actually escaped Nazi Germany and was the first, at that time, homesteader to settle in that area. And I fell in love with the creek and all the organisms that lived in that creek and depended on it. And Mrs. Beck taught me about their interconnectedness. So that’s where I really got my start.

[00:00:55] and Michael, you’re not alone in, feeling deficient in freshwater systems. They seem to be under-recognized, under unnoticed and under understudied. Underappreciated. So I find that even within the naturalist community there’s a typical deficiency there in understanding what those, what’s in those ecosystems.

[00:01:12] Michael Hawk: Yeah, it almost creates a barrier, like it is a barrier. Physically, there’s a barrier to get into the water. And see what’s happening in there. And that’s the cool thing about what we’re gonna talk about today. And that’s river snorkeling.

[00:01:23] Keith Williams: Totally. River snorkeling is really just like an underwater nature hike. That’s how I think of.

[00:01:28] Michael Hawk: Yeah. And it’s really cool because I had never considered river snorkeling until we started chatting. And as I started to dig into it a little bit, I find that it’s a very common tool in the toolkit of biologists that are studying these systems. So we’re obviously gonna get into that a lot more, but I’m interested in this creek that you had by your home.

[00:01:48] Were you just out there exploring on your own, seeing what you could find?

[00:01:52] Keith Williams: Yeah, totally. Just, with a dip net and flipping over rocks and, it was a polluted little thing and, you know, I’d catch, banded killifish and a whole bunch of crayfish and, but that was about it. I’d just be out there exploring on my own just about every day of the year I’d, wind up in that creek one way or another.

[00:02:06] Michael Hawk: And w i was it Mrs. Beck?

[00:02:09] Keith Williams: Yeah. Mrs. Beck. Yep.

[00:02:10] Michael Hawk: So how did you get connected with her? Did she see you out there and take you under her?

[00:02:15] Keith Williams: No, actually. So all of our moms were making cakes for Mrs. Beck because her husband died. , right? Because that’s the, that’s what you did. And she had this two and acre, two and a half acre plot, and she had a big garden on it. And so us neighborhood kids decided to go over and see if Mrs.

[00:02:30] Beck needed any help. Because we recognized what was going on with her moms making all these cakes for her. And that’s where my friendship with her started was just going over to her house and saying, Hey, do you need any help with anything? And, she taught me gardening and composting and, all of that’s about connection in ecology.

[00:02:45] And it just translated right into the Pumpkin Patch Creek. And, when her and her husband moved into Colonial New Jersey, which is where the pumpkin patch is it was a beautiful, pristine stream. There were pictures on the mantle of her fireplace and the rock from her fireplace was harvested from the stream to make that mantle.

[00:02:59] There are pictures of her husband holding stringers full of brook trout the only native trout that we have in the eastern US in this, what is now a really dilapidated creek. So she had a, an amazing ecological memory and history of this place that I was coming to know as a, as an elementary school kid.

[00:03:14] Michael Hawk: and maybe as a point of contrast what’s the current state of brook trout in that?

[00:03:19] Keith Williams: Nonexistent, yeah, Brooks need the cleanest, coldest, clearest water to survive. They’re really the canaries in the coal mine in the east for stream health in terms of fish. And, their range is decreasing because of what we do on the watershed and because of climate change, you cut the forest down on a watershed, you’re gonna increase the amount of turbidity, the amount of mud that gets sent into the stream.

[00:03:38] And as we develop more and more of the eastern United States, as we cut down more of the forests, that clean, clear, cool water goes away that they need for. . And as climate change warms our streams, that’s another impediment in addition to, blockages to their migration. So they’re not long distance migrants, they’re short distance migrants, but they will move in and out of a, throughout an entire river system.

[00:03:58] And if we put even just a wrong culvert in not a big jumper like a salmon, that’ll keep them from moving to find those right places that they need at different times of year, like Coldwater refugia . So there was an actually a, a prediction made by the epa, oh, probably about 10 years ago now that estimated that Brook Trout would go extinct in their native range in the next a hundred years, a native range being east of the Mississippi.

[00:04:20] And a PhD candidate that I met I think she’s a full PhD now. Shannon White was doing research on brook trout and her research showed something different that as long as we allow those brooks to move throughout the watershed, they’ll find the right cold water refuge that they need to survive.

[00:04:34] Climate change, but that’s a big f right? That takes a lot of political will on our part to make sure that those blockages turn their mi their movement throughout the watershed are eliminated.

[00:04:42] Michael Hawk: There’s a big difference between hanging on and surviving and thriving and that’s probably another subtlety of of what you’re explaining there.

[00:04:50] Keith Williams: Yeah, totally. And that’s a great point, right? , So , we see a lot of times in, freshwater organisms, pretty significant declines. In fact they’re the most imperiled ecosystem on the planet. When we look at biodiversity loss globally, We’re losing species from freshwater ecosystems faster than we’re moving, losing species from any other system on the planet.

[00:05:07] I celebrate when the line flattens out. , right? In the case of mid-Atlantic River, herring, just mind blowing to snorkel with these fish when they migrate up into freshwater to spawn, right? So these are anadromous . They live their lives out at sea. They come into freshwater to spawn. And unlike salmon, which for most salmon species, it’s a one-way ticket.

[00:05:25] Herring can go back out to sea and spawn a couple different times. it’s just amazing being in the river with, thousands. And that’s not an overstatement. That might be an understatement. Thousands of these river herring these blue back and these elway herring that are coming into these freshwater streams to spawn.

[00:05:39] And where I live in Maryland, the Mid-Atlantic, you know, the mid-Atlantic population of River Herring has dropped 90% in the last 25 years. That’s a really. Precipitous decline in their population numbers and it’s it seems like it’s stabilized, so it’s at an all time low. Their numbers are at all time low, but at least it’s a flat line.

[00:05:55] And so I’m celebrating that flat line cuz they don’t, they’re not decreasing anymore. But to your point, it’s not restoration. It’s numbers that are at all time low and so I don’t think we would call that thriving. They’re hanging.

[00:06:08] Michael Hawk: So, Absolutely. And backing up you’ve obviously over the years gained a ton of knowledge about these systems, how they operate as a. and the ecology therein. But I wanted to back up again. And this childhood interest that you had, did that then translate into academics? Did you know, did you go to school and learn about these systems further?

[00:06:29] Keith Williams: Yeah, absolutely it did. So I started out going to school for marine biology. No surprise, . But for some reason, the freshwater systems didn’t register until I became an adult. So I went to school. The experience in that creek translated to oceans that I wanted to study the ocean.

[00:06:42] And I started out in marine biology. I ended in environmental biology. And then my, graduate work was in river ecology coupled with education. So it culminated in my, in, in me studying and spending a lot of time in river systems and educating about river systems.

[00:06:57] Michael Hawk: And has that been how you personally were introduced to snorkeling in these river systems?

[00:07:02] Keith Williams: Yeah. In fact my first, my very first snorkeling experience in the wild was in this Lake freshwater lake. And it was just this amazing forest of underwater vegetation and fish. And that again, that translated to ocean. I just wanted this snorkel in the sea and coral reefs, and I did that.

[00:07:19] I’ve been diving on the Great Barrier Reef and the south Pacific Palau, nuMe, all these coral hotspots, the Caribbean. And the first time I snorkeled a creek was the last time that I dove in the ocean. I’ve not been scuba diving in the ocean since I started snorkeling freshwaters, just because freshwater systems are so much more accessible and there’s so much beauty to witness in our freshwater systems that sometimes rival the beauty that I’ve seen in coral.

[00:07:46] Michael Hawk: do you have a specific memory or something that stands out at, that you observed that first time that really helped hook.

[00:07:52] Keith Williams: Absolutely. Yeah. So, um, you know, there, there a friend of mine, Jeremy Monroe, is the director of freshwaters Illustrated. It’s just an amazing organization that does documentaries, underwater freshwater documentaries about freshwater biodiversity. And his first movie came out called Riverwebs, and it was about a Japanese scientist that studied rivers by snorkeling, right?

[00:08:10] And as you said, snorkeling is a pretty readily available tool that’s used often by river ecologists and fisheries, biologists to do population studies. And Shigeru Nakano did a lot of work with fish just by observing them while snorkeling. And so I saw this movie that Jeremy did, freshwaters Illustrated, did Riverwebs.

[00:08:27] And I never really considered snorkeling a creek before that. And so I asked a question, I wonder what my streams look like around. And so I went to a stream that was probably the most polluted in my area. In fact, I don’t know why I picked that spot, , but it’s in the largest. I live in a relatively rural place and it was in the largest,, town that we have.

[00:08:43] And I stood on the shoreline. It was October, I remember like it was yesterday, it was about 20 years ago. I remember like it was yesterday. Stood on the shoreline holding my mask thinking, do I really want to get in this water? It looks terrible. There was a big storm sewer outfall right there where you know all this, the runoff from the street stream right into this spot and litter all over the place.

[00:08:59] And it was a highly eroded bank. So it was a really energetic system. It took urban runoff. 60% of the watersheds developed, I think, something like that. And then, know, the other piece of it was I had no idea what I would say if somebody saw me snorkeling, cuz it felt really ridiculous. It felt like wearing a life jacket in a bathtub.

[00:09:13] You don’t snorkel rivers, you snorkel tropical reefs. Not a temperate stream, but I’m like, you’re here, you got your gear, just see what’s there. And I put my face in water. I was blown away. There were common shiners, right? The name common shiner. Paints a really dr picture in your, in our minds, but they’re vibrantly colorful when you see them underwater.

[00:09:31] And a couple different kinds of darters are these fish that live on the bottom and baby eels and Rosie sided Dace and black nosed dace and just the colors were just amazing. There was rockweed growing on all the rocks, right? So this beautiful, vibrant green forest was there and it was just this amazing abundance and diversity of life that has completely hidden from view from the surface.

[00:09:51] As I was standing there on the surface, I saw no life in that creek, and I assumed that there was nothing there of value or worth or anything at all to look at. And as soon as I broke that reflective plane and looked beneath the surface in this fresh water stream that I’ve passed hundreds of times and assumed that there was nothing there, my mind was blown because there was this incredible beauty and abundance and diversity hidden from you.

[00:10:15] And I was hooked. And that was it. And my mission then became to snorkel as many rivers and streams as I could and to share that with as many people as I could in, in as many ways as I could.

[00:10:24] Michael Hawk: When you first decided to get into that river and take a look, do you need permission to do it? Is if it’s in a public park, can you just get in or how does that look?

[00:10:35] Keith Williams: Yeah, great question. It really depends on the rules, right? So for most places you don’t need permission at all. Obviously if it’s private land, you wanna respect that, right? But for most public lands, you don’t need special permission. If there’s a no swimming sign there, I tend to pay attention to that, cuz that often means snorkeling too.

[00:10:52] It depends on where you are. So for example, in Pennsylvania State Park, snorkeling is not allowed. Now we’re working on changing that rule, , because it doesn’t make any sense cuz it’s really safe. So in terms of, needing permission for most public places, you don’t need special permission to snorkel a creek or anything like that.

[00:11:08] But follow the rules and know what the rules are where you. It really changes state to state, county to county even. And beyond that, definitely honor private land and don’t trespass, but it’s a matter of finding safe water and, you wanna make sure that you’re not snorkeling in something that’s polluted, which is one of the biggest challenges actually.

[00:11:25] So a lot of times in cities we’ve got combined storm sewer outfalls, where the storm water mixes with the sewage. And, in theory it was a great idea. They were gonna treat all, everything running off the streets in the sewer plant. And reality is it overflows the sewer plant. And so there are those overflow outfalls that dump raw sewage into rivers after rain event.

[00:11:43] So you wanna avoid those, obviously. You wanna be careful in agricultural areas because if you got cows that are in a stream, there’s e coli in their fecal matter that could be in that creek that you’re gonna be potentially exposed to. So you wanna watch water quality and then you wanna watch, water is a hazard.

[00:11:58] Our lungs don’t like water, even just a little bit. And so you wanna make sure that it, the current’s not too strong for you. You wanna make sure that you’re not in deep water. I typically go and water really shallow, like two feet, maybe three. My, my hands are usually in contact with the bottom because I don’t need to go to a deep hole.

[00:12:14] All that life is in that really shallow zone anyway.

[00:12:17] Michael Hawk: Wow. I want to learn about these, say, micro habitats that exist in the river but staying on this safety theme here for a moment , where does one learn where like raw sewage outflows might be on a waterway.

[00:12:29] Keith Williams: Yeah, there’s a couple different places. So, The local Department of Health will have those listed. If you also go on the EPA website and the State Department of Environment, whatever state you live in and whatever that department is called, they usually have a listing of impaired waters. And so you just find out what that impaired water is and typically stay away.

[00:12:44] Now that said, I will snorkel those impaired waters. I won’t take other people in those impaired waters. But I’ll go there on my own because there’s still incredible life there. So I’ve got a river near me called the Conestoga, and that takes raw sewage every once in a while from some of the towns that are along that river.

[00:13:00] But I know that if I’m snorkeling that a week after a rain, I’m safe, right? If I’m snorkeling that the day after a rain, I’m probably not safe. So even though that parts of that river are listed as impaired, I’ve still learned what that system flows like, and knowing it’s okay for me to get in.

[00:13:17] Michael Hawk: A little bit of ignorance on my part. You mentioned also if you have, say, cattle grazing in the area and the cattle will get into the waterways. I know out west it seems like most states have a lot of cattle grazing and they do, even when there’s fences or other things to help prevent that fences, fall, cattle get through, things like this happen all the time.

[00:13:35] Is it a similar situation back east?

[00:13:37] Keith Williams: Yeah, it’s actually, I, it might be a little bit worse in the east. Sometimes farmers intentionally put their cows in the stream to, to water them. So it’s not even that the stream was fenced off, it’s like the cows are in that creek intentionally. And so you’ve got a pretty high concentration of animals that are going to bathroom in the water that you’re snorkeling in, right?

[00:13:55] And me personally, right when I’m going by myself, I don’t worry about that so much because that’s a bovine, it’s not a human e coli. So there’s a chance that I can still get ill from that, but it’s a lower risk than if it was a human e coli, for example. But again, I won’t take somebody else in that river.

[00:14:11] I’ll find a place that’s cow free and really, the best rule of thumb is if you look at a map, look for the green spots on the map, right? That’s usually protected land forest service land is amazing. You know, We think of the Forest service as producing board feet of lumber, and they do that, right?

[00:14:25] Our national forests do a whole bunch of things for us, but our national forests are also incredible places for recreation and in an amazing clear water. So if you want healthy water, clear water, look for the green spots on the map and go there to those little creeks.

[00:14:39] Michael Hawk: Interesting. Yeah, for as many challenge. The National Forest have, it sounds like the waterways are perhaps better off there.

[00:14:45] Keith Williams: Definitely

[00:14:46] Michael Hawk: , if someone says, Hey, I have snorkeling equipment. I’ve been out before in a bay, or, some coral reef, or, as you were I wanna go do this, is there any other special equipment or precautions or considerations that one should take?

[00:14:59] Keith Williams: no, no special equipment. Really all you need is a mask in a snorkel. Now you can go with much more than that, right? I like going with a wetsuit because it provides thermal protection. It provides flotation, it provides abrasion protection from the bottom. In the wintertime, I’ll put a dry suit on just because it gives me more thermal protection than the wetsuit will, but it doesn’t really require any special equipment besides a mask and a snorkel.

[00:15:20] I, I always recommend that folks wear some kind of flotation. There’s no need to surface, dive and go to the bottom right. That’s the idea. This you really just float on the surface and look to see living there. So I always recommend people have a pf d a personal flotation device or a wetsuit just as a safety factor.

[00:15:37] Special precautions. Yes. So you’re in moving water compared to non-moving water so that it’s a whole new dynamic environment. So you just gotta pay attention to that. It’s not like it’s a big threat if you’re in really fast moving water, it is, right? But if you’re in a typical stream that’s just got a relatively general flow to it, and you can easily hold onto the bottom without getting flush downstream, there’s not much to it.

[00:15:56] But just recognize that you’re in a very dynamic place, right? And it’s gonna change and it, it also depends on locality. I’ve snorkeled in Puerto Rico, I El Yunque National Forest and those rivers there are very prone to flash flooding. So El Yunque is this beautiful mountain in Puerto Rico, and the top of that mountain could get pummeled with a thunderstorm that you don’t even know is happening further down the mountain where you’re snorkeling.

[00:16:17] And so all of a sudden, if you’re not paying attention, you get caught in a flash flood. Now, there’s certain signs that you look for free flash flood, that if you start seeing these things happen, You get out. So there’s the local components of that you really want to pay attention to,

[00:16:30] Michael Hawk: yeah, and I guess a case in point that I experienced personally, I lived in Arizona for a while and there was a large monsoon thunderstorm, probably about a hundred miles away, 90, a hundred miles away, and it dumped 5, 6, 7 inches of rain on a mountain. and about a day and a half later, that water reached the little wash that was up by where I lived and it flooded.

[00:16:54] It isolated the town, and it was a bright, sunny, hot day. You have no idea that this storm from a day or two ago, 90, a hundred miles away could do that. . Yeah. Be aware of those situations. So then in terms of, you mentioned that you mainly just float, you don’t need to go dive into the deep areas and things like that.

[00:17:16] The first thought that came to mind was that probably reduces your impact as well on the ecosystem. You’re not chomping around, where there may be eggs or other organisms. So can you tell me a little bit about how to take care of the environment while you are in there? Observ.

[00:17:31] Keith Williams: Yeah, I’m always really careful to do as little damage as possible and, and a lot of times, you know, just floating on the surface minimizes that, cuz you’re not wading through the bottom. But even that can change water flow, right? So the water’s gonna get forced under your body and it might wind up scouring something out.

[00:17:44] So a good example is I was in Oregon I think two months ago and I was snorkeling with Chinook salmon that were spawning. So Chinooks. Just like most salmon species in the Pacific Northwest are a 10% wild salmon are 10% of what they used to be. 10% left. And so these wild chinooks were out on their red spawning away.

[00:18:03] And I wanted to get some video of them and I wanted to get some stills. But in order to do that, I would have to snorkel over the redd, you know, their nest. And that would probably scour out all the eggs, even though I wasn’t touching the bottom basically. I was on my fingertips. But I knew that the water I was gonna force to the bottom by me being there would scour out that redd.

[00:18:21] And so I chose not to go. And so a couple things. One is, minimize the amount of waiting that you do, but also recognize that you’re gonna wind up scouring some stuff out by your water flow. And so really watch the environment around you and watch the fish around you and watch their behavior, especially if they’re spawning.

[00:18:35] I really don’t wanna disturb fish when they’re spawning, even the common ones, cuz who knows what’s gonna happen in five or 10 years. River herring were ridiculously common 20 years ago, and now we’re worried about ’em. American Eel. The most abundant fish in the east in rivers. And now they’re, they, there’s talk about considering them for inclusion as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

[00:18:55] So things go away, even common things, and the time to conserve something is when it’s common. So I don’t wanna disturb anything that’s spawning. And so I watch their behaviors really carefully, and I watch to see that I’m not gonna put myself in the water on top of a nest, on top of a redd, but outside of that, it’s a really low impact uh, activity.

[00:19:11] So it’s really just about paying attention and leave no trace following, leave no trace principles underwater, essentially. And just knowing watching behaviors of the organs that you’re in the water with.

[00:19:19] Michael Hawk: Yes, you’re you’re not in there turning over stones and looking under fallen logs and , things like that. You’re just observing.

[00:19:27] Keith Williams: Yeah. Just watching and things come out. If you just, if you lay in that river for a couple of minutes and you just relax the river relaxes with you, it seems, and all the life around you just seems to relax and come back. and then all of a sudden you’re surrounded, and a lot of times that’s all I’m doing is just sitting in one spot, not even moving.

[00:19:44] Michael Hawk: So let’s set the scene a little bit further. know, You did talk about there’s cold water areas, there are deeper pools that even just the change of water flow can scour out an area. So I’m thinking about how dynamic of a system this is, where there may be stones and limbs, and you could have seasonal flooding that changes the dynamic.

[00:20:05] There may be areas with softer soils, more silt, you know what? Whatever the case might be. What are some of the micro habitats that are important or that you tend to like to observe when you’re partaking in?

[00:20:20] Keith Williams: Yeah, that’s a great question. All of ’em that you listed, because it’s so different, like in one little stretch of stream, the habitat behind a rock, you get like a, bowling ball sized cobble, and the eddy that forms behind that is such a different environment than the fast flow in the front.

[00:20:36] And you’re gonna get different organisms there. You’re gonna get different fish, different benthic, macroinvertebrates, soft bottom versus sandy. Eddies, you know, larger eddies on the side of the river compared to the alwa where the main water flow is in the middle of the river. All of those are, different habitats.

[00:20:50] And then you get into some of the organic stuff, right? Some of the, the large woody material which it provides incredible habitat for a whole bunch of different organisms. And, underwater vegetation, you know, different kinds of underwater grasses that are growing will provide different habitat.

[00:21:03] And then you start learning who likes what, where, like trout like to hang out in the right, just on the edge of the fast flow. So you’ll find them, tucked in one of the eddies behind a cobble, just really watching that flow so they they can feed uh, sunnys and bass, like the slower stuff.

[00:21:18] So you’ll typically find them in the eddies or underneath the uh, the bigger, woody material that’s in the river. But that’s one of the beauties of this is that, I just finished a project where I snorkeled the same tiny little stretch of stream. For every week, at least once a week for an entire year.

[00:21:33] And I still don’t know that stretch all that well. There’s that many different little micro habitats and different organisms that change seasonally. Totally. Not only is it related to flow, but it’s also related to migrations. We’ve got a ton of migratory fish that move into freshwater to spawn in the fall or the spring, right?

[00:21:52] So eels, for example, are gonna out migrate, they’re catadromous as in, as opposed to anadromous. know, anadromous fish spend their lives out at sea, come to into freshwater, to spawn, catadromous fish do the opposite. They spend their lives in freshwater, go out to see, to spawn. So you’ve got all these different moving pieces of the system that come and go seasonally.

[00:22:11] And so it’s such a dynamic thing that, I don’t think I would ever learn a little piece of stream completely.

[00:22:18] Michael Hawk: It sounds like to your observation and, consideration of the ecology as a whole it goes all the way down to the plants and insects, I’m assuming the invertebrates that are living there are, critical as part of the food web. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

[00:22:32] I’m not sure of a specific question for the fish you have in your area, but I would love to.

[00:22:36] Keith Williams: And the in and the invertebrates are just as fascinating as the fish. And there’s a seasonality to them too, right? So right now the caddis flies are out right now where I live in the east, right? We have wintertime here and the caddis flies come out. So these caddisflies. Most of the ones I have here are some kind of a casemaker.

[00:22:51] Caddisflies are related to the lepidopteran, the moth moss and butterflies. They have a silk gland on their lower jaw that produces a silk very similar to what a moth or a butterfly might make in terms of forming a chrysalis. And they use that silk to cement either sand, grains or little pebbles or sticks or leaves, depending on the species of caddisfly.

[00:23:09] And in the wintertime, they go nuts. They are just so abundant in the rivers and streams that I snorkel through the wintertime. The fish are hunkered down and sleeping for the winter, right? They’re kind estivating this winter is really mild in the east, so they’re still pretty out and active.

[00:23:20] But they’re not feeding right, that’s the point. They’re not feeding. And things that they typically feed on become more abundant, like the ca. And, they provide an incredible service. They’re the link between the vegetative and and animal matter, right?

[00:23:32] So these caddis flies will feed on, leaf matter that falls, or vegetative matter that falls into the stream, and they convert that into animal matter, their bodies, and then their bodies are consumed by fish and so on, right up the food chain. And then, you know, they’ll live for, one or two years as that aquatic larvae.

[00:23:45] And then they’ll emerge as a winged adult and then they’re food for bats and birds. And so, the movie I ref referenced earlier river webs, that was really about showing that there is no line between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems when you look at energy flow and when you look at food movement.

[00:24:02] In fact, in the Pacific Northwest I spent a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest looking at every, everything in those streams. They’re just beautiful. But obviously salmon are center stage. So they’re born in a stream. They become a parr, which is a tiny little thing, maybe an inch long. And then they’ll live in that freshwater stream for another year maybe, and they’ll become a smolt, which is maybe a three or four inch fish.

[00:24:21] And then they head out to the ocean and they’ll live out in the ocean for four or five, maybe six years, and put on incredible biomass by feeding in the ocean. And then they bring this biomass back in the form of a two foot, three foot, maybe even a four foot body, depending on the species of salmon and all that nutrition that they generated, that they gleaned from the ocean, that, that nitrogen and phosphorus and everything else, all those proteins then becomes part of that freshwater ecosystem, which also becomes part of the terrestrial ecosystem immediately adjacent.

[00:24:48] So it’s this incredible transfer of energy and nutrients. From the ocean back into the fresh waters. And when we look at that energy flow, we really can’t draw a line between water and land. One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had snorkeling was in this river in Oregon as the Chinook salmon were spawning and being really careful not to disturb them at all.

[00:25:10] And I’m just hanging onto the shoreline, right? So I’m, my body is right up against the shoreline and I’m watching these fish spawn in the middle of the, it’s a small river, and this one female is just finished, right? She’s just done. She’s dying. She’s exhausted, right? So she’s just swam from the ocean up the Columbia, up the Willamette River into the Mackenzie River, into the Elk Creek, where I’m at.

[00:25:32] And then she just spent maybe the last week, maybe two weeks, maybe three weeks, beaten redds into the bottom with her tail. So it’s the females that are making the nest, and they lay on their sides and they flap their tail hard, hard enough that they’re moving like grapefruit size and maybe even bigger cobble out of the way to make that red, that gravel bottom nest.

[00:25:48] And then they spawn multiple times. And so this female was just done her life was over and she just drifted in the and wound up in the Eddie that my, my knee formed on the side of the river. And I just watched her die. If you read Aldo Leopold and he talks about the green spark, leaving the eye of the wolf that he shot.

[00:26:05] I saw the same thing happen in that female salmon. I saw that life spark, leave her eye. And it was a little bit of a sad there. It’s only a fish, right? But fish are amazing and if you spend enough time in rivers, you realize that they’re more than just fish. It’s, there’s executive function there. These are, there’s an intelligence there that we just, we can’t comprehend from our perspective. But at the same time, her job wasn’t done. Her job in life was done, but her job in death was just starting because all that nutrition that she brought with her from the ocean, Was now gonna get reutilized in this freshwater ecosystem and in the adjacent old growth forest that phosphorus that she’s carrying is gonna be incorporated into the sitka spruces that were right there riverside.

[00:26:42] So it’s just this incredible, very intricate reciprocal relationship between aquatic organisms and terrestrial organisms that we’re just really starting to tease apart.

[00:26:52] Michael Hawk: A light, major light bulb just went off there. I’m thinking about how a fish that large that’s collected all of these different nutrients from the ocean that just don’t really exist in know, these freshwater systems. And then the impact it has on the riparian corridor and the vegetation around there.

[00:27:11] And I think, a lot of folks are aware of the importance of riparian corridors and you’re gonna get, very different vegetation that birds rely on, migratory species rely on and of course ungulates that browse and, all of that. It’s all connected. That’s an amazing story and, quite a thing to have seen.

[00:27:27] Keith Williams: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:27:28] Michael Hawk: I would love to hear about other surprises or stand. Encounters that that you may have had like that’s such an amazing one. It’s probably not possible to top, but does anything else come to mind?

[00:27:41] Keith Williams: There’s a lot, like almost, and it’s, this is gonna sound like an exaggeration, but just about every time I stick my face and what do I come away seeing something that I never saw before. I think, chub, mounds are probably up there. So chubs are really freshwater ecosystem architects in a lot of ways.

[00:27:54] They need clean gravel to spawn on, just like about everybody else that lives in the river. And they make their own by creating this mound of gravel. So the male chub will go and start piling up rocks and he’ll spawn on that. And that, that apparently attracts the female. So we’re not sure how the female gets attracted to the male.

[00:28:11] It might be the amount of tubercles , right? So these these chs like a lot of fish, will sprout these little horns on their face in spawning season. They put on these amazing breeding colors too, so they get really colored up and we figured that’s all part of the attraction of attracting.

[00:28:25] But it also might be the size of the mound that he’s making, kinda like a bower bird, right? How a bower bird brings presence to the female to attract a female to his nest. We’re wondering if maybe the nest is also an attractant to the female. So you watch this and I spent two days in a river in Tennessee watching this single male do this.

[00:28:42] I was in about three feet of water, and that chub mound went from nothing to almost breaking the surface of the stream with about a four foot diameter base. And this man was just working his tail off bringing gravel in, and big pieces of gravel too, almost, like rocks up into this mound and dropping it.

[00:28:59] And then he would spawn with a female. And then all these other fish were taken advantage of that mound, right? So we had Tennessee shiners, we had war paint shiners, we had this incredible color palette, red and purples and blues, all spawning on the habitat. That this chub created. And then back east, same thing.

[00:29:18] Different species of chub, smaller gravel it that this male was using to to build his nest. But then all these common shiners and these common shiners are anything but common that time of year. They’re neon. They’ve got neon orange and red and green and purple, just all colored up, spawning on that, male’s on that male’s nest.

[00:29:38] So this male, this poorest single male chub is just trying to find a mate. And all these common shiner males are taking over his house and having this rave, on his chub mound. And there’s this, just this exasperated looking chub, just looking for a female chub.

[00:29:53] Michael Hawk: So the chub isn’t like territorial about the mound. It just lets all that.

[00:29:56] Keith Williams: Yeah, totally. I think, and it’s probably protective because there’s egg predators that are looking for those mounds too. And so I wonder if it just, that just dawned on me that maybe that’s part of the strategy, right? That if there’s more eggs in that mound that aren’t yours, then the chances of your eggs getting eaten by some of those egg predators goes down, right?

[00:30:13] So maybe they, maybe the chubs of like having the big old party on their, in their house. But there’s, spawning runs are always phenomenal. The, I talked about the herring earlier and just being in the river with literally thousands of fish pushing up in the freshwater to spawn from the ocean, where they just don’t care that you’re there.

[00:30:29] They got one thing on their mind they wanna spawn and that’s it. And so they come right up into you. Hundreds of fish surrounding you, just unbelievable abundance and cleaning. Silversides and beauty eels are always a fun thing. They’re typically pretty curious fish. They usually come right up to you.

[00:30:46] And check you out. Northern Water snakes extremely maligned. The number of times I’ve heard, Hey, you better not go down. There’s a water moccasin down there. And I am well north of water moccasin range. And I’ve snorkel with water moccasins before and they’re not gonna chase me outta the river. I’ve learned

[00:31:00] Contrary to popular belief. In fact, I snorkel for a week in this same river in Alabama, and that one water mo has in stayed well within four feet of me the whole week on his little tough to grass. And he was happy that with his tough to grass, and I was happy with the water and yeah, nothing to fear.

[00:31:17] Obviously if you grab it, they’ll grab you back, and I typ typically don’t grab them, but water snakes are just these beautiful graceful, strong swimming animals just incredibly in the water with them. Trout, trout get all the attention. There’s so many more fishing rivers than trout.

[00:31:29] But just watching these little athletes ply the current masterfully and pluck off, morsels that are in the drift that I can’t see. And can’t detect and I certainly can’t swim like them. It’s just a humbling experience to watch this athleticism in these fish, trout and salmon and alike.

[00:31:47] So yeah, just about anywhere I go anytime I stick my face in the water, there’s something like, holy cow, look at that.

[00:31:52] Michael Hawk: Back to the Chubs for a moment because again, I’ll show. Here of these river ecosystems can you tell me a little bit about how big are they? How long do they live?

[00:32:00] Keith Williams: Yeah that’s a great question. So there’s a couple different species of chubs who we’re, I’m typically looking at creek chubs and river chubs where I go snorkeling the most. , river Chub will get to be a, maybe a foot and a creek chub isn’t quite that big. And they live a couple years, just like most of those those organisms in the in the minnow family.

[00:32:15] So you figure maybe a four or five year lifespan and they’re kind like these nondescript fish, picture something that’s about six inches long, brown on top. They’ve got a faint black stripe. Not a really well defined black stripe, but a black stripe down their. But then in the springtime which is their breeding season, the males get a bright orange glow to their petrol fins, to the fins in the front, along with some purple.

[00:32:38] They get a purple blush along their bellies. And they look like these floating sunsets to me. And then they grow these horns, right? These tubercles that uh, again, we think are well, we know they’re mating related.

[00:32:48] In fact, I’ve seen, I’ve, one of the cool experiences that just, I forgot about until now, I saw two, two chub males sparring with each other, so they’re actually headbutting each other out of the way, fighting for that prime breeding territory. I.

[00:33:02] Michael Hawk: So when you go in the water, are you measuring temperature? Are you looking for specific conditions or is it just, there’s still so much to learn, it doesn’t really matter. You just go in and you know there’s gonna be something exciting that happens.

[00:33:12] Keith Williams: Yeah, that’s a great question. I measure water temperature occasionally cuz I wanna learn that better, right? I wanna learn what behaviors to expect related to a specific water temperature. I know, after doing this for 20 some years, I know what behaviors to expect in a general season, right?

[00:33:26] So for example, right at Thanksgiving, I know all these little bait fish are gonna be schooled up, showed up in these huge numbers, thousands of fish. And I think that’s related to in the larger river systems the grassbeds die back right about Thanksgiving and that’s their cover.

[00:33:41] But the bass, the bigger predators are still active. The water’s not cold enough for those larger predators to go inactive. And so all these little fish spot tail shiners, for example, are one of the most, most. Need to move into shallow water for protection. And so I know on Thanksgiving Day, if I snorkel some of these creeks coming off the Susquehanna River, I’m gonna be surrounded by, 1500 2500 fish, which is absolutely amazing.

[00:34:03] But I don’t know exactly at what water temperature that happens. So I am, I’m starting to do a better job of documenting those specific kinds of conditions. And I’m, I also target stuff now, right? So I go in rivers all the time just to see who’s there with no plan, with no particular species picked out or anything like that, just to go.

[00:34:24] But I’m also at a point where I wanna start documenting stuff before it goes away, And sometimes that means traveling to other parts of the country. And I’ve snorkeled all across the country. I’m lacking in the Midwest, so that’s on my target list to hit some of the rivers in the Midwest.

[00:34:36] But I’ve snorkeled extensively in the Pacific Northwest in New England, in the Mid-Atlantic, where it’s easy cuz that’s where I live. I’ve got preliminary plans to go and snorkel with some. Some uh, sturgeon in Wisconsin that’s coming spring when they’re spawning because they’re going away, and I want to get in there before they go away, and hopefully they won’t go away.

[00:34:54] Hopefully I can get in there and I can take some pictures and maybe write an essay or write something about ’em that’ll further their conservation. I’m in the middle of a project in the Pacific Northwest now, looking at salmon and all this pieces of salmon. But this past this winter, I’m really interested in steelhead.

[00:35:06] I really wanna see some adult steelhead spawning. I’ve got plenty of footage and photos of the par and the smot of steelhead. But I wanna see the adults. So I’ll target particular rivers in, particular seasons to try to document a, a certain phenomenon that’s going on right now underwater.

[00:35:20] But typically I’m just going wherever, whenever to see who’s.

[00:35:24] Michael Hawk: I would. That as the climate changes. I know one of the things that’s been of concern here in California, when we have a typical, traditional winter, there’s a lot of snowfall. And that snowfall when it melts creates very cold waters in all the runoff that’s heading towards the ocean.

[00:35:40] And in the few years where we’ve just had uncharacteristically, small amounts of snow, no snow even the water temperature is totally different and that really throws off the entire ecosystem. So it, it seems like that’s a very interesting area of study even for community scientists that just want to get out there and see what’s going on.

[00:35:58] Keith Williams: Yeah, absolutely. Temperature logging would be such a, so important here. And there’s a program, I think it’s called Ice Watch, that actually looks at rivers that ice up when they ice in and when they ice out. And we’re noticing. That’s changing. And ice in Rivers plays a critically important role in the ecology.

[00:36:13] That river, it shapes the geomorphology and it has a pretty significant effect. The lack of ice on river has a pretty significant effect on the ecology. Something else that’s related to climate isn’t just the temperature, but it’s also shifts in hydrology. And that’s one of the things I’m noticing here.

[00:36:27] In fact, one of the most heartbreaking experiences I had when I was snorkeling this one stream, I got to know the fish that were living there and I can identify them to individuals based on different markings. So same species. And there were these darters, tessellated, darters, really common fish, right?

[00:36:40] They live on the bottom, little brown things, pretty little fish. The males get bronze and maroon in the spawning season, which is really cool. And so I was able to watch this group of males spun. And what the females do is they’ll stick their eggs to the roof of a overhanging rock and the male will fertilize those eggs and the males provide parental care for those eggs in the young.

[00:37:00] Which is another thing that we’d often don’t consider in fish, but it’s actually a pretty common practice for the male to guard those eggs and then even after the eggs hatch, to provide pro protection to the babies until the babies finally are able to swim off on their own. So I watched this this group of male darters successfully spawn with females on these rock ledges. And we had a, a really dumpy thunderstorm in April, which is not common for here, right? And that whole flat got sedimented over, right? So all these rocks just disappeared in one storm because flow was so heavy and so all those eggs were destroyed. And that happened to coincide with when all the herring are spawning.

[00:37:38] And so all the herring eggs got blown out of that river in that one storm event. You know, We’re notice noticing small mouth, bass reproductive failures in a lot of the mid-Atlantic rivers. And a friend of mine who’s who was a river keeper, Has a pretty compelling theory and that it’s timing of dumpy rain events that their nests are just getting washed out. And so it’s not just a temperature concern in terms of climate, but it’s also a shift in hydrology and a shift from what that normal hydrology should be messing with reproductive timing.

[00:38:05] Michael Hawk: I think that’s a really good point. I’m, I’ve been a weather nerd among other nature endeavors over my life, and even in my lifetime, I’ve seen a huge change in the amount of severe weather events like thunderstorms, tornadic events in the winter. It used to be a rare thing, but now we see it more often and, and further and further north as well.

[00:38:25] Yeah, I hadn’t connected that to fish Reproductive success.

[00:38:30] Keith Williams: And I, I really hate to be an alarmist and because every time I go in the rivers, I also get a lot of hope from watching stuff there. And life is adaptable. If we give nature half a chance. It’ll take advantage of it and it’ll make it, but we have to give it that half a chance. Just like the Brook Trout, like Shannon White’s work was so inspiring that yeah, climate change is this huge, daunting thing that I feel like there’s very little I can effectively do as an individual to, to fix this.

[00:38:53] And so I’m just watching these systems go away and sometimes it feels like you justt throw your hands up and say, oh and yet this researcher found that if we just let Brook Trout move throughout that river system, they’ll make it, they’ll find the right conditions that they need to survive.

[00:39:05] And I think that applies to really everybody who lives in that river. If we just do the right thing for water quality, minimize the amount of stressors that they encounter so that thermal stress isn’t gonna be the tipping point for their survival. Things will make it. That doesn’t mean that we don’t do what we can to curb the amount of CO2 that we’re put into the atmosphere.

[00:39:24] We certainly have to keep working on that. But it’s certainly far from a hopeless situation. It just takes, our willingness. To make those kinds of decisions and to take those actions.

[00:39:33] Michael Hawk: Absolutely this is, this problem. Space is exactly why I’ve started Jumpstart Nature, and I won’t go off on that. I think my listeners know about Jumpstart Nature, but it does remind me of the quote, when we encounter situations like this, And it’s, I’m probably gonna butcher it a little bit, but the best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago.

[00:39:50] The second best time is today. So yeah, you could still do something, doing nothing. You know what the outcome of nothing is going to be. And not to stay on, too much of a negative track, but seems like you can’t go anywhere without seeing impacts of invasive species, whether it’s the vegetation or the animals or insects that are in the space.

[00:40:10] And I’m curious what your thoughts are or what your observations are from that standpoint.

[00:40:15] Keith Williams: Yeah. It’s a mixed bag. I encountered my first Snakehead underwater, I think two or three years ago. So snakeheads are introduced here in the east. They’re a top predator. They provide parental care. If they’re young, they have maybe two or three broods of maybe 10,000 juveniles, 10,000 babies a year.

[00:40:30] So the chance for them to really get into an ecosystem and take over and have a negative effect is pretty significant. So I’m snoring with this fish and it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s one of the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen in wearing an intelligent and so wary. And it was using a huge school of, banded, shiners as cover, right?

[00:40:48] So it would move with this school of fish to stay hidden from view, just this incredible intelligence, right? And so I’m looking at this fish and I’m thinking, man, you really, you’re terrible and you’re gonna mess up this ecosystem. At the same time, we dump rainbow trout in that same river.

[00:41:03] Rainbow trout aren’t from here. Rainbow trout are top predators. And there’s a couple of studies that show when we put rainbow trout in a creek or a stream or a river, it changes the feeding ecology of that river to the same degree as if we clear cut the banks, right? So 50% of the river’s food comes from.

[00:41:19] Streamside vegetation. And by putting a rainbow trout in that stream, we’re doing the same damage as clear cutting, basically clearcut streamside veg. And yet we’re pointing our fingers at, at this snakehead, right? That’s the bad guy. But the rainbow trout are good . Same thing with small mouth bass from here.

[00:41:35] And yet we fight tooth and nail to protect them. So I am not suggesting that we go and we throw non-native things into our rivers and streams by any means, right? They have the real threat. And there’s been a couple of documented cases of those things significantly altering freshwater ecosystems.

[00:41:52] And I’m thinking of some of the non-native crayfish that we’re dealing with right now and completely changing the benthic ecology, even the fish composition because of predation on eggs. But really once the genie’s outta the bottle, it’s too late, right? Once they’re there, they’re there.

[00:42:04] We have to learn how to love them. Certainly control methods would work. , but I think it’s funny that we call one thing invasive and another thing, not even though ecologically they have the same effect. So a lot of that is perception and certainly human self-centeredness, but to me, the real work is in preventing those invasives to from getting into the systems in the first place.

[00:42:23] Michael Hawk: A topic that I’m really interested in is. Shifting baseline syndrome, and as you’re talking about this, I’m thinking, okay, the rainbow trout, the small mouth bass, they were probably added, correct me if I’m wrong, probably added for sport.

[00:42:37] Keith Williams: Totally. Absolutely. Yes. Yeah. And where I live in the eastern us smallies in my, in my area, I live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Were introduced into the Susquehanna drainage in 1840, I believe it was, by a train engineer. Who found these fish fun to catch and eat. And so he filled up a bunch of milk jugs, the big metal milk jugs with them and dumped them off a train trestle.

[00:42:58] Rainbows are probably the most I, and I don’t think probably, I think they are the most abundantly introduced fish globally for foot, for put and take fishing, right? So rainbow trout are put into rivers here and they typically are not a reproduce, they don’t form a reproducing population where I live.

[00:43:13] But just the introduction to them seasonally for put and take fishing pretty significantly alters the ecology of that river. And I think for the most part, most agencies are pretty good about not stocking them on top of wild breeding fish. I’m not opposed to stocking rainbows.

[00:43:27] I There’s certainly a place for them. I grew up fishing for rainbow trout and impaired waters in New Jersey and that, you know, one of the reasons why I got connected to Rivers is because of the memories that I have of my dad and I going out on an opening day for a put and take trout fishery in the rare and river, which is a significantly impaired waterway. So there’s a place for putting trout in rivers. It just can’t be willy-nilly everywhere.

[00:43:46] Michael Hawk: Right, and then now that’s established a baseline. I think that’s probably where some of this desire to save the small mouth bass and so forth, comes from and maintain those.

[00:43:55] Keith Williams: And you know, I worry about the same thing with shifting baselines, right? Because my memory of streams is a, an impaired one. And yet I think that’s pristine, right? That’s what I think is like the pumpkin patch is a great example. When I think of the pumpkin patch, I think of band achi fish and black nose dace and white suckers as abundance as the pristine baseline.

[00:44:14] And if I never saw those pictures of brook trout from Mrs. Beck’s husband holding those fish, I would’ve never, ever thought that creek could have supported Brook’s. And as a kid, I had no idea what that meant. It wasn’t until after I got outta college that the, I was like, whoa, those were brook trout.

[00:44:31] I had no idea. and so that baseline, For pumpkin patch is very different than what I remember it, and so much more abundant and likely more diverse than what I remember it as. And so what are my kids and my grandkids gonna remember the herring run be, as, and there’s still thousands of fish in that, in these creeks, but they’re at 90% of what they used to be.

[00:44:51] Michael Hawk: So you also mentioned something and sorry if this is like a hard turn, but you mentioned something about benthic zone, benthic something. Can you tell me what that is? That’s a term I’m not familiar with.

[00:45:00] Keith Williams: Yeah. . Benthic is bottom. you know, a lot of times I’ll just, I’ll watch the benthos, the things that will on the bottom. And typically those are invertebrate. So we have, things we call benthic macro invertebrate. So benthic living on the bottom, macro meaning big enough to see without the aid of magnification.

[00:45:14] And then invert, no backbone. And these are usually insects, different kinds of aquatic. Things like mayfly, stoneflies, caddisflies, crayfish would be in that group. Freshwater mussles, which are absolutely fascinating, animals are part of that community. And, their lifestyles are just fascinating to me.

[00:45:29] You know, The uh, the insects all start out as a winged adult and then they lay eggs in the water. And watching that process is mind blowing. . I was snorkeling this rapid and these little silver balls were hiking down this rock in the middle of this rapid. I’m like, what the heck is that?

[00:45:42] They were female cata flies encased in air bubbles going to the bottom to lay eggs. Now think about the suicide mission that is right. If the current doesn’t get you, the fish are gonna get you. And it just, just incredible. And then watching, you the caddisfly egg case or the caddisfly larval cases are mind blowing.

[00:45:57] Just the engineering that goes into the creating these cases. But then there’s beauty to them, like why are they picking out all the quartz grains to make their cases outta only the quartz grains? When there’s a whole bunch of other sand greens they could be using and why?

[00:46:12] And some of them will make these really beautiful, smooth tubes out of vegetation. And why are you alter, altering green and purple, green and purple, green and purple? What’s the purpose of that beauty that you’re incorporating into your engineering design? And I’ve seen other caddisflies actually, glue a uh, like a rudder lengthwise to their case to keep ’em pointed into the current that rudder would be a longer twig or a uh, a pine needle.

[00:46:33] The bentos, there’s always stuff to see on the bottom, even the middle of wintertime when there’s no fish around. Like I said earlier, that’s when a lot of those insects become really apparent and really abundant. So there’s always something to see. And sometimes it’s this matter of looking at the bottom and seeing who’s living on the bottom.

[00:46:47] Michael Hawk: Amazing. The other thing I really wanted to talk to you about is some of your outreach, and I know you do it in so many different ways, but in particular, you’ve authored books. You founded a company called Freshwater Journey. So why don’t we start with the book. It’s a long title here.

[00:47:01] I’m gonna read the whole thing. Snorkeling Rivers and Streams and Aquatic Guide to Underwater Discovery and Adventure. , when was it published? Who’s your ? Target audience for.

[00:47:10] Keith Williams: Yeah, so that was published by Stackpole and I’m really grateful to Stackpole. And it’s actually, it came out two weeks before Covid hit . March of 2020 is when it came out. And it’s the, it’s, the target audience is really anybody who has any kind of interest in river streams.

[00:47:24] And so it’s geared towards folks that might have a naturalist background and wanna learn more about rivers and streams. It’s also geared towards folks that just want to get out and explore it. So it’s really a how to guide what gear to use gear selection, how to pick the right places to go.

[00:47:39] But then it also is a summary of places across the country that you can go to and what you can expect to see in those different places. So it. It’s a travel log of rivers that I’ve snorkeled and the organisms that I’ve encountered across the country, combined with a how to guide, how to get into the activity of river snorkeling.

[00:47:56] Michael Hawk: I see. So somebody who picks it up will have the tools then to try it themselves, but also have a, an idea of what they might be able to see and how to see.

[00:48:05] Keith Williams: Absolutely. Depending on the different regions and even where to go in different parts of the country.

[00:48:09] Michael Hawk: And then Freshwater Journeys. Tell me about,

[00:48:11] Keith Williams: Yeah. The goal of all this work is to connect people to rivers through snorkeling. And I think snorkeling is important. , seeing things on its own terms is so different than seeing things in air, right? So when I went to school to study rivers, it was always, we would, catch fish in a net and bring ’em into the air to study them.

[00:48:28] Same thing with the benthic macroinvertebrates. And breaking that reflective plane and sticking my face in the rivers really made me understand these things as beings and not just objects to counter study, but they’re, they’re subjects, they’re beings. And so the sparkling piece is pretty important.

[00:48:41] And the motive for all of this is to, you know, the first step to stopping biodiversity loss, to stopping species losses, to help people become connected to those organisms. And so the books, the speaking engagements and then freshwater journeys all have the same mission. And it’s really to show people this amazing life that’s right in the rivers that are in our backyards.

[00:49:00] So they can appreciate that and then start doing whatever they can. To protect it. And so freshwater journeys we take people snorkeling, so we organize snorkeling trips, we provide all the gear and we guide people in underwater explorations of rivers and streams.

[00:49:14] Michael Hawk: and do attendees do they need to have any background in swimming, snorkeling, anything like that?

[00:49:20] Keith Williams: Nothing at all. No, no requirements to swim cuz we’re not even swimming. We’re in shallow water. We’re in thigh deep water usually or less so it’s just a matter of laying there in a wetsuit with a mask and a snorkel on and hold onto the bob and watching the life.

[00:49:32] Michael Hawk: The tours that you organize, are they primarily in the vicinity of where you live or across the country?

[00:49:38] Keith Williams: Yeah. Typically in the mid-Atlantic, I’ll do some work in in Florida and I’m trying to figure out what it might look like in the Pacific Northwest cuz I spent a lot of time there. But it’s usually somewhere in the mid-Atlantic.

[00:49:46] Michael Hawk: Well, If you manage to get one in the Pacific Northwest, I would try to make it work for my

[00:49:51] Keith Williams: Yeah. Cool. Yeah.

[00:49:52] Michael Hawk: attend. Very cool. And of course, all these things, there will be links in the show notes so that people can easily find them. So yeah, that’s, it’s so great talking about people experiencing this for themselves, because I know, at least for me personally, I can read things over and over and hear about how amazing they are.

[00:50:08] But until I actually see it and have that self discovery, seeing it, in the novel way for myself, it it doesn’t quite sink in. So definitely would encourage people to give it a shot or at least look at your local river or stream or creek a little bit more closely. Keith we’ve reached that time where we’re starting to wrap up a little bit.

[00:50:28] So a couple of my standard wrap up questions, so thinking back, you mentioned Mrs. Beck, of course, as being a pivotal influence on you. Are there any other influences that stand out from, in terms of books or documentaries? Aside from River Webs,

[00:50:44] Keith Williams: Yeah, that was, pretty influential. Yeah, you know, a book desert Solitaire by Ed Abbey was pretty influential. I read that in high school. Ed Abbey’s really in I irreverent and I think I like that about him, but it’s a book about his season as a ranger. It arches National Monument in the desert.

[00:50:58] So it’s not water related, but the concepts in that about human relationship to the. I think ring true regardless of ecosystem.

[00:51:05] Michael Hawk: doesn’t he? If I’m not mistaken in that book, doesn’t he actually canoe down the Colorado as part of it? So there is a little bit of a water tie in.

[00:51:13] Keith Williams: There is a bit of water, a little bit of water time. In fact, there’s another book by Ed Abby down, down the down the river with Thoreau. And that’s a story of Abby on a raft trip down through the Grand Canyon while he’s reading Thoreau.

[00:51:25] Michael Hawk: I, I’ve missed that one, so I’ll have to look for it. But Desert Solitaire is definitely one of my favorites. I found it really entertaining and engaging and eye-opening. So if you could magically impart one ecological concept that you’ve learned about through this long endeavor that you’ve had that to help the general public see the world as you see it, what would it be?

[00:51:44] Keith Williams: I think it’s the idea of reciprocity, right? That in ecology it’s all about reciprocity. That there’s not any organism any being out there just. Everybody’s giving and taking, right? That’s how we all survive. And and there are multiple examples of that. We talked a bit about, salmon, reciprocity, how, salmon are using those freshwater streams to reproduce.

[00:52:05] And as babies are getting their nutrition, they get out into the ocean they gain body mass and they’re bringing so much more back into the river again, right? And so it’s this reciprocal relationship that’s there. And I think if we could just work to try to emulate that and model it in all of our relations in how we relate to each other as humans and how we relate to other beings than human.

[00:52:25] With that reciprocal concept at the front of our minds, I think we’d be a lot further down the path of restoration.

[00:52:31] Michael Hawk: Yeah, that’s great. I can’t improve upon that Senti. So, I won’t . Looking ahead, do you have any projects books tours, anything like that that you want to highlight?

[00:52:41] Keith Williams: Yeah, so I’ve got a couple of speaking engagements coming up in uh, Eastern US. And I’ve got a fourth book that I’m looking for, a home for . Or I’m sorry, it’ll be the third book. I’ve got a fourth book in works. The third book is complete and just looking for a publisher right now.

[00:52:55] And I’ve got uh, it’s under review by a publisher, so hopefully they’ll pick it up. And that’s the story of a, I followed, I snorkeled the stream I was talking about earlier. I snorkeled the stream at least once a week for the, for a year, and documented how that stream changes underwater through the seasons and all the amazing life that’s there.

[00:53:11] And also the threats that it’s facing as the world changes in, its in its watershed. And so I’m hoping that that’ll find a published home here shortly, and it’ll be out in a year. I.

[00:53:20] Michael Hawk: As you were talking about it, that was my thought, was like, that would make a great book. That would be really interesting to see. If and when it does get published, let me know and I’ll make sure to share it with the audience. I have a monthly newsletter and I like to share things I’m reading and watching.

[00:53:32] And

[00:53:33] Keith Williams: Yeah I’m hoping I, I just got a nibble, so I sent a prospectus out to a couple publishers and I had one ask for the full manuscript. That’s a positive sign. Fingers crossed,

[00:53:41] Michael Hawk: all right good luck. And if people want to continue to follow you directly, not through me or your work in general, where can they go? Website, social media.

[00:53:49] Keith Williams: well, freshwater Journeys website. So it’s freshwater journeys.com. And then also, you know, Facebook, I’ve got an author page on Facebook, and that’s where I post most of my stuff as I snorkel throughout the year when I get some, lucky enough to get a halfway decent photo and put that up there with a little bit of the natural history behind it.

[00:54:06] Michael Hawk: All right, sounds great. Then I’ll link to that as well. So Keith, before we wrap up officially, is there anything else that you would like to say? Anything that we missed?

[00:54:15] Keith Williams: No, just thanks for the opportunity, you know, just you know, take the time to, to look at those rivers and streams that are tucked into the folds of civilization that we drive past and over, you know, multiple times a day because there’s just this amazing life that’s there. It’s just hidden from view.

[00:54:27] Michael Hawk: I like your term, break the reflective plane, and I think that’s gonna stick with me.

[00:54:32] Keith Williams: Yeah. Cool.

[00:54:33] Michael Hawk: Thank you so much for spending the time today. I appreciate you and, time that you’ve spent and all the work that you’ve done. It’s really been fascinating.

[00:54:39] Keith Williams: Yeah. Thanks for helping spread the word.

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