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Let me introduce my superhero
On nature
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December 1 is a special day on my calendar. It’s the birthday of one of my heroes, a man I’ve admired since we met exactly a decade ago. He’s a champion of rivers, conqueror of polluters and destroyers, defender of wild things, campaigner for justice.
Meet James Holland.
James is a crabber who for 25 years watched his way of life go down the drain. “Used to,” he said, “I could harvest 1,800 pounds of crabs off 100 traps in a day. Now, on a good day, I’m lucky to get 160 pounds.”
Inland pollution was responsible, he learned, and he determined to do something about it. He founded Altamaha Riverkeeper, charged with protecting and restoring the river.
James became the riverkeeper. His job is to be eyes and ears for a watershed that begins as far north as Athens and drains a quarter of the state.
For years I’ve been a person with whom he shares his findings. He sends pictures of a blackwater creek ruined by logging, and a slough being filled with construction and demolition material. He sends disgusting photos of a town’s sewage pipe, stringy stuff hanging from vegetation downstream. “Y’all be the judge and the jury,” he says.
He sends pictures of a paper mill discharge pipe, images of foam and purple water. A year later he sends more pictures — “Still nasty as all hell,” he says.
He visits another discharge point. “It smells like soap around this pipe,” he says. “Maybe they call soapy water clean water?”
He tests a creek where a dairy farm runs off. The fecal coliform count is 24,000 colonies per 100 millileters (safe contact for humans is 200 colonies).
Oh, the pictures keep coming: clearcutting, illegal boat ramps, a beheaded alligator floating belly up, a deer carcass in the water, improper stream crossing during timber operations, deep rutting, illegal ditching, a stream destroyed by a road. Some of the pictures are taken from the air. Many are accompanied by ire. “Shame on the person who did this” and “How to ruin a perfect day.” And, “He needs to be in jail along with his cohorts, and if I can help him get there I will sleep good at night.”
Over the years, James has started sending pictures of beautiful things. I think he couldn’t keep focusing on tragedies. He sends tiger swallowtail butterflies, wood storks constructing nests, raccoons washing food, water hyacinth, gulf frittillaries, roseate spoonbills, sunning alligators. He has become a master wildlife photographer.
Because of the success of Altamaha Riverkeeper in and out of court, Holland was named one of the 100 Most Influential Georgians this year.
Help me celebrate James Holland’s birthday by giving a donation in his honor to the river on whose behalf he labors ceaselessly. You can send a check to ARK, P.O. Box 2642, Darien, GA 31305, or call (912) 437-8164.

An award-winning author, Ray is a founding board member of Altamaha Riverkeeper.
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