The coastal Georgia Adopt-A-Wetland Program is a hands-on education program that promotes wetland conservation through volunteer monitoring.
UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant coordinate the Coastal Georgia Adopt-A-Wetland Program from Skidaway Island, just outside of Savannah. The goals of the program are to educate the public on the importance of wetlands, increase public awareness of water quality issues, train citizens to monitor and protect wetlands and collect baseline wetland health data.
Georgia’s relatively small coastline is only 100 miles, yet it contains one-third of the total amount of salt marsh on the East Coast and approximately 90 miles of sandy beaches. Salt marshes and coastal wetlands are critical ecosystems performing many ecological functions. They help filter pollutants and protect our coastal areas from damaging floods.
Considered essential habitat, wetlands provide a nutrient rich environment for larval fish and shellfish, including many commercially important species such as mullet, sea bass, oysters, blue crab and shrimp. Our beaches are also home to several threatened species, like sea oats and nesting loggerhead turtles. Wetlands also allow for many diverse recreational activities, including photography, fishing and kayaking.
The State of Georgia’s Wetlands
The Coastal Marshland Protection Act and the Shore Protection Act provide the Georgia Department of Natural Resources with the legal authority to protect tidal wetlands and beaches. Clearly, these environments need protection – however, in recent years wetlands have come under increased pressures.
Acres of salt marsh grass have been lost to the “dead marsh” phenomenon. Marsh die-off events occurred throughout the southeast region after a prolonged drought period. It has been theorized that drought conditions encouraged habitat alterations including changes in the water chemistry of marsh mud, the spread of diseases and changes in the food web.
Additional losses are occurring due to the population explosion in coastal Georgia. Urbanization inevitably leads to wetland loss and causes adverse impacts to flood control, water quality, aquatic wildlife habitat, aesthetics and recreation.
How to Adopt a Wetland
The Coastal Georgia Adopt-A-Wetland Program invites you to form your own monitoring group and “adopt” a wetland. Our current volunteer groups include school classes in the 5th grade and up, civic organizations, individuals, families, neighbors, friends, clubs and companies. Your group can contact the Coastal Georgia Adopt-A-Wetland Program to schedule a free training workshop.
During the training session, instruction will be provided on the water quality monitoring and biological-sampling methods used to determine wetland habitat health. The workshops involve hands-on activities and certificates are awarded upon completion. All the supplies your monitoring group will need to collect data for an annual period are provided on a loan basis.
All the data collected by volunteers is compiled by UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and then added to the Environmental Protection Division’s water quality database maintained at the Atlanta Adopt-A-Stream office. Each group is provided with an annual report summarizing the data collected at their respective sites.
While monitoring, we ask that you adhere to our safety recommendations and immediately report any emergencies such as oil spills, marsh die-off events and fish kills to our “Coastal Wetland Emergency Team.” Volunteers are also encouraged to participate in the statewide annual cleanup event called “Rivers Alive.”
If you’ve decided to assist UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant by forming a monitoring group, our staff will help you select the most appropriate level of monitoring. Various monitoring options are available, some involving more of an effort that others.
What: A visual and physical evaluation of wetland conditions
Why: Critical water pollution, habitat damage and “die-off” can be detected through a visual survey
When: Quarterly surveys should be conducted.
What: An evaluation of wetland health based on water quality (e.g. salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and settleable solids).
Why: Salinity concentration can affect the distribution and abundance of marsh organisms. Changes in pH can indicate a pollution event. Oxygen and temperature are related to the respiration and biological activity or marsh organisms. Measurements of settleable solids are used to indicate an excess of sediment or other material in the water that can be a response to erosion.
When: Surveys should be conducted on a monthly basis.
What: An evaluation of wetland health based on the abundance and diversity of plants and animals.
Why: Changes in the composition of a plant and animal inventory can indicate habitat health. Healthy ecosystems usually contain great diversity. Typically, stressed habitats support less species with a greater number of individuals. Biological monitoring is also important in determining the spread of invasive species.
When: Quarterly surveys should be conducted.