The Coastal Isles and the Okefenokee Feature


The Nile of the East Coast

The Altamaha River is a national treasure. Formed by the confluence of the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers near Hazelhurst, it's the longest undammed river and the second-largest watershed in the eastern United States, covering almost 15,000 square miles. After running its 137-mile course, it spills into the Altamaha Sound, between Sapelo Island and Little St. Simons, at a rate of 100,000 gallons every second, or more than 3 trillion gallons a year—a flow comparable to Egypt's Nile.

The Altamaha's greatest value lies in the 170,000 acres of river swamps that shoulder the length of its course, serving as refuge to at least 130 endangered plant and animal species, including several freshwater mussels found nowhere else in the world. The swamps are also incubators for life-giving organic matter such as leaves, twigs, and other detritus. Spring floods flush this matter downstream, where it's trapped by the salt marshes that stretch between the mouth of the river and Georgia's barrier islands. This natural fertilizer feeds marsh grasses, which in turn feed fungi and phytoplankton, and so on up the food chain.

Updated: 2013-09-09

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