Cooper River, South Carolina

Searching for ancient shark teeth

One giant stride and we start our descent. Visibility is limited; even at high noon it's like diving at midnight. We use the beams of our dive lights to find our way. We dig in to the sandy bottom to secure ourselves in the current, and start to search the fossil beds for artifacts, whale ribs, pottery shards and the most coveted treasure: one of the fossilized teeth of the mighty Megalodon.

Estimated to have reached approximately 60 feet in length, Megalodon is the largest known shark ever to have lived. It has been extinct for approximately two million years, but according to the Florida Museum of Natural History, Megalodon teeth can be found in places all over the world from the shores of Florida to Peruvian deserts. If you want to find some for yourself, dive in to South Carolina's Cooper River and search the fossil beds; you just might be lucky enough to stumble upon an ancient shark tooth.

A typical day on the Cooper River begins at a boat ramp in Berkley County not far from downtown Charleston, S.C. Dive boats usually depart mornings, catching whichever tide looks like it will provide the best conditions that particular day. Like the tides, dive times vary from day to day. Meet your captain at the dock at the appointed time, load your gear onto the boat, complete the necessary waivers and off you go on a Cooper River adventure.

Since it is a dark water river environment, diving in the Cooper requires a few extra considerations and pieces of equipment. For starters, you will need additional weight than you would typically wear in an ocean or quarry dive. You'll also need a "goody" or catch bag to collect your findings. Second most important is a substantial light to pierce through the dark water. "Dark water" starts soon after you descend; within the first few feet, the water takes on the coloration of strong iced tea. By the time you reach bottom, you'll be able to see only a few inches to a foot beyond the beam of your light. Which is why comfort with your dive skills and an environment of extremely limited visibility is the most important thing of all; there's little to fear in diving Cooper River, but you do have to keep your imagination from running away with you as you comb the bottom for teeth from the time of dinosaurs.

Upon arriving at your first dive site, the captain will give a detailed briefing on the bottom structure, tidal movement and where to look for your bounty. Most captains have extensive knowledge of the river bottom and the tidal movement of the river. Pay close attention to the briefing details and benefit from the captains' expertise.

If you get confused on the bottom and cannot remember the directions, the best thing to do is to surface and ask questions. But to alleviate the necessity of surfacing, listen closely to your captain.

Cooper River is one of the most unique dive sites an adventurer can experience. It offers what few others do, including the chance to discover and keep a reminder of one of the greatest creatures ever to have graced the waters. So pack your light, have some fun and enjoy your underwater archaeological dig. Good luck finding your fragment of shark history.
How to Dive It
Conditions: Visibility is nearly impossible to forecast; I have only been doing this 30 years and have not figured out that part of the puzzle yet. The best visibility is usually on the last hour or so of the falling tide.
The outgoing tide is also the strongest tide to deal with, particularly on a full moon. For first time visitors to Cooper River, it is a good idea to check with the captain prior to booking a trip and schedule a trip on a weekend that you would be diving on the incoming high tide.

Water temperatures vary depending on the season. Summer temperatures hover around the mid 80s and the winters bring the temperatures to the 40s. For current Cooper River water temperatures, click here.

Getting There: If travelling from upstate, take I-26 East heading toward Charleston and exit onto Highway 78 to Goose Creek. The boat ramps are just a few miles from most of the major motels in Goose Creek. Check with your captain on best choices and restaurant recommendations too.

Dive Operators:
Captain Tom McMillan's A Day on the Cooper River
Cooper River Diving
Charleston Scuba
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