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Bodies of Water: Mapping the Savannah Harbor

The system that comprises the port of Savannah, the lower Savannah River, and Tybee Roads, where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean, is changing. In February 2018, the State of Georgia’s contractors began dredging the bottom of the river to deepen it from its former 42 feet to 47. Removing these five feet of earth will allow the larger ships that can travel the soon-to-be-wider Panama canal—post-Panamax, they are called—to reach the Port of Savannah via the 40-mile shipping channel that extends 18.5 miles from the river out into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) has generated a flurry of mapping and monitoring activities, suggesting the different ways that various interests in the Savannah River might understand it. The project has required archaeological, ecological, and navigational mapping to meet the requirements of logistical planning, historic preservation, and environmental regulation. These efforts have entailed raising the remains of the battleship CSS Georgia, unearthing the leg irons once used to the ship's workers on board in the face of harsh conditions, tracking endangered sturgeon with implanted monitoring devices, and oxygenating the water with enormous artificial lungs. The various mapping projects required for the harbor expansion, and their modes of representation, communicate different conceptions of marine space and evince the physical obstructions that the project clears to ease capital flows in and out of the port. I examine the various modes of representation required for the harbor expansion and ways they inform and motivate the conflicts over the harbor expansion’s planning and execution.