Nik: The ultimate small-town life. How many people live on Sapelo Island by this point?
Adam: Well, I don’t live on Sapelo. But there’s two types of people on Sapelo: descendants and others. Now for descendants, you have the Gullah Geechee. They’re descendants of the freed slaves of Thomas Spaulding, but they all claim descent from his head slave Bilali Mohammed. Bilali was a highly educated, Islamic slave from West Africa. He did all the day-to-day operations, so people could live where they want, they could keep their culture—that’s why the Geechee culture survived. It’s ironic they survived slavery keeping their culture pretty much intact, but now the price of their land is so high, and there’s all these wealthy white people moving in.
Nik: Wasn’t Sapelo given to the state of Georgia?
Adam: State of Georgia owns all but 400 acres. That’s the little Hog Hammock enclave, which is private property. It’s a nice work environment on Sapelo, we get along great, but there’s a bigger picture of animosity. They remember when their fathers or grandfathers were displaced from other parts of the island. There were many communities on the island, they all got moved to one community.
Nik: I am in love with the South, I am fascinated by the sea islands. I just read The Water is Wide, you know, the basis for the movie, Conrack. You’ve got prehistoric cultures, you’ve got 4,500 years of history, you’ve got slavery. You’ve got R.J. Reynolds and Detroit Motor bearings.
Adam: You’re well versed!
Nik: I read Buddy Sullivan’s history of Sapelo, because I’m so interested. Hate the sin, but love the SINERR, man! You’ve got so much going on down there. I just want to dive into it! But how did you get there? What are you doing there?
Adam: Education was never my career path. I have about 24 years working with the Department of Natural Resources. I’m an endangered species biologist by education and trade. I did research in Costa Rica with leatherbacks. I tagged green turtles and hawksbills in St. Croix. I actually met my wife on a loggerhead project in Georgia. I was with the Endangered Species Program for 14 years here.
And then I had kids and I just found out something—well, many things. But one is that I love teaching. I used to disentangle Right Whales, and it was a big high, but after a while that becomes work and I’m getting old, too.
When the education coordinator position came open I thought, you know, this would be a great way to give back. I love science, I love wildlife, and I thought if I’m going to really make an impact, this is probably more of a lasting legacy.
Nik: Did you have any experiences early on in childhood where you found yourself teaching?
Adam: It was really having kids that showed me. I coached soccer and taught Sunday school. You have a chance every day to make a difference. Saving a Right Whale is great, then it gets hit by a boat next week. Great.
Nik: Great job, whale. Stupid. That’s why you’re endangered!
Adam: Scientists can be absurdly, myopic. I’d say most scientists are terrible naturalists. Naturalists are generalists—they know a little bit of everything. I’ve always been more of a naturalist. I hate not knowing what I’m seeing. This job also allows me to do that. It’s more like imparting general knowledge, all of my 24 years with DNR. Adam’s Big Book of Useless Facts!
Nik: So what do you love about these places?
Adam: Well as I said, I met my wife tagging sea turtles on one of our northern barrier islands, called Wassaw. Most of our islands are protected. We only have about 110 miles of coast, but we have the 16 major barrier islands. You can only get to four of them, so that leaves a lot of wilderness. It’s probably the longest contiguous line of wilderness on the East Coast.
My favorite island is Ossabaw. It’s about 13 miles of beach, and the general public’s not allowed. You can be in these wild places and feel like you’re a million miles away. No one knows about this coast. It’s kind of a big kept secret. Come on, Nik! I’ll pick you up!
Nik: If I wasn’t afraid to leave my house, I would be on the next plane.
Adam: I got Kenneth out there, I could get you out there.