Support for UGA Aquarium includes funding for tools and volunteer labor

New bluebird boxes are on the horizon for the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium, adding additional educational resources to help visitors learn more about the importance of native wildlife to coastal ecosystems.

New tools include clippers, hammers and rakes for outdoor projects.

New tools include clippers, hammers and rakes for outdoor projects.

Contributions from Friends of the UGA Aquarium, a nonprofit organization that supports UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, are being used to buy new rakes, clippers, hammers, gloves and other tools that volunteers can use to maintain the Jay Wolf Nature Trail and add educational attractions that will enhance the aquarium experience.

“This purchase affords our volunteers appropriate tools and storage of these tools to do regular trail surveys and maintenance, pruning, clearing of debris and other small but necessary maintenance at the Marine Education Center and Aquarium,” says Katie Higgins, educator and volunteer coordinator at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit. Prior to acquiring the tools, volunteers brought in their own equipment or worked with the personal tools of aquarium staff.

As the volunteer program continues to grow under Higgins’ leadership, so do volunteer opportunities at UGA’s coastal facilities on Skidaway Island. One of the most popular areas on the UGA Aquarium campus includes the bluff overlooking the Skidaway River and the Jay Wolf Nature Trail which runs through a maritime forest. The outdoor spaces inspire visitors to develop a stronger connection and appreciation for the outdoors.

Andy Van Epps, who has been volunteering with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant since 2018, was instrumental in putting together a list of appropriate tools needed to accomplish outdoor maintenance. He also helped assemble the new storage shed used to house the equipment.

“Having the tools provided by the aquarium allows volunteers like me to show up and to be ready to address the basic landscaping needs,” Van Epps says.

Writer: Emily Kenworthy, ekenworthy@uga.edu, 912.598.2348
Contact: Katie Higgins, kt.higgins@uga.edu, 912-598-2387

A school field trip to the coast was cancelled. The students’ support was not

Each Spring, fifth grade students from St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Atlanta visit the Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island.

And each year, they bring a gift: Proceeds from an annual cookie sale they hold in advance of the trip.

The students’ trip was cancelled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The $1,000 gift, however, made it as usual since the cookie fundraiser was completed before the school transitioned to online learning.

“The students did an incredible job and enclosed with this letter is the check that we are donating to help you continue to do the great work you do for the coast of Georgia,” wrote Mary E. McPherson, principal of the elementary school at St. Martin’s. “This is our way to continue to support you and to share our love with all of you who have been and continue to be an important part of our lives.”

Since 2011, students at the Atlanta school have donated nearly $10,000 to UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant for the Marine Education Center and Aquarium. Over the years, the money has been used to purchase a variety of items, including two life rafts, boat fenders, a hot water heater, a refrigerator, a ship’s horn, a spot light, and most recently, a hydrophone, which is an underwater listening device that can be used for dolphin observations, and estuarine and dock studies.

“St. Martin’s gift in support of learning science out on the water not only impacts their students but also the coastal experiences of many others,” said Anne Lindsay, associate director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “We are inspired by the St. Martin’s students’ commitment to paying those opportunities forward. It is a real joy to teach such curious and engaged students each spring and we a grateful for their continued support.”

The students raise the money each year at a bake sale, part of St. Martin’s annual Cookie Company project, in which fifth-graders work in small teams to form cookie companies. They learn about advertising, website development, budgets, and they sharpen their math skills through calculating for large-batch baking. All of this takes place over 10 days, culminating with a school-wide bake sale.

“It lets our students see where their money is going,” McPherson said, “which is an important part of our service-learning development.”

In closing her 2020 letter, McPherson wrote: “You are special to us and even though this year’s fifth graders weren’t able to visit you, we understand the importance of what you do and want to continue the tradition of donating money to UGA Marine Extension.”

Contact: Anne Lindsay, lindsaya@uga.edu, 912-598-2355

Friends of the Aquarium help expand educational programming on the coast

It takes fourth grader Ariona Taylor a few minutes before she is ready to touch the horseshoe crab in the touch tank at the UGA Aquarium. With a few words of encouragement from Marine Education Fellow Rachel Wilson, Ariona takes a deep breath and places her hand on top of its carapace with a huge grin on her face.

Ariona, along with several of her classmates at Andrea B. Williams Elementary school, are visiting the UGA Aquarium for the first time through giving from Friends of the UGA Aquarium.

The charitable support provided scholarships for 100 underserved students in the Savannah-Chatham area to participate in a half day Estuary Exploration program led by marine educators and marine education fellows at the aquarium.

“This funding provides opportunities for students and teachers whose budgets do not allow for science-based field trips and experiential learning away from their school site,” says Anne Lindsay, associate director of marine education at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “The program also adds to the learning done in the classroom and increases awareness of Georgia’s coastal environments.”

little kids in the marsh

Andrea B. Williams Elementary school students learn about salt marsh habitats and wildlife.

The Estuary Exploration program includes lab, field, and live animal experiences. During the program, students practice microscope and scientific observation skills while learning more about the natural world around them and their role in protecting coastal resources.

“You could see the ocean and all the animals,” says Ariona in explaining why exploring the salt marsh was her favorite part of the trip.

“Science is cool!” adds classmate Rawshawn Nix.

These hands-on educational experiences allow students to expand their knowledge of coastal habitats and become inspired to steward the resources of the natural environment in the Savannah area.

Alumni turn their appreciation for the coast into an opportunity for a student

You can see the salt marsh from nearly every room in Dorothea and Wink Smith’s Hilton Head home.

The activity varies with the tide. When the water is high, boats cruise through a channel that connects residents and businesses to the intercoastal waterway and the ocean. At low tide, you can walk out to the edge of the marsh where there might be wading birds, like herons, egrets and wood storks. Geckos perch on the wooden rail of the deck.

Their fascination with the marsh, its occupants and importance to the coastal ecosystem is what drew the Smiths from their home in Ohio to the South Carolina shore once they retired.

And it was that fascination that drew the Smiths to UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on Skidaway Island, in neighboring Savannah.

“We live on the marsh, we walk on the beach,” Wink Smith says. “It fit right in.”

Since then, the Smiths committed money from the Patrick Family Foundation (Dorothea Smith’s family’s foundation) in Decatur, Georgia, to fund a summer internship at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on Skidaway Island for a UGA student interested in marine sciences. Their gift will endow one internship a year.

“We have an emphasis on education and community and being a part of anything that helps the environment,” Dorothea Smith says of the foundation.

UGA offers summer internships in public education programming, communications, phytoplankton monitoring, marine careers, aquarium science, facilities operations and shellfish research at the Skidaway Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

“We went over there and were very impressed,” Dorothea Smith says. “We are facing ecological changes, and they’re on top of it.”

“The connection between us living here on the marsh and seeing what they’re doing with education made this scholarship opportunity push all the buttons we were looking for.”

Students supported by the Patrick Family Foundation Fund for the Smith Family Marine Summer Internship will have an opportunity to engage in a broad range of activities at the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant facilities on Skidaway Island.

They can help care for the animals on display at the UGA Aquarium, learning to use scientific instruments commonly used in marine science research. They will have the opportunity to research specific behavioral and physical characteristics of several marine species, as well as their habitats and diet. They can shadow marine science researchers in the field and lab, learn about shellfish research, including oyster production at the UGA Hatchery, and perhaps apply their knowledge of marine science concepts in the design and execution of a research project.

“Summer interns in this role will gain a deep understanding of Georgia’s coastal habitats and the functions of coastal ecosystems,” said Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “The Smiths recognize that this experience is fundamental to a student interested in becoming a marine scientist or education.”

Dorothea Patrick Smith, from Decatur, Georgia, and Wink Smith, from East Liverpool, Ohio, met as students at UGA. They honeymooned on Hilton Head and made a home for their three girls in Ohio, where Wink Smith worked in the ceramics industry.

They bought their house in Hilton Head five years ago and spend 9-10 months of the year there. They plan to sell their Ohio home and relocate there permanently.

Between living on the marsh and the early morning walks on the beach, they have found ways to get involved in local conservation efforts. During a recent morning walk, Wink Smith found an unmarked turtle nest on the beach and contacted the person on Hilton Head responsible for tracking the turtles during nesting season.

“With education and communication we’re all becoming better stewards of the beach, the ocean and the marsh,” Dorothea Smith says.

: Kelly Simmons, simmonsk@uga.edu, 706-542-2512

Nina Sassano joins Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant team

Nina Sassano is UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s new marine educator and intern coordinator based at the UGA Aquarium on Skidaway Island. In her dual role, she will be teaching k-12 educational programming to visiting school groups and managing marine education fellows and summer interns.

“I am a naturally curious person,” said Sassano. “In this career, not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new along with the people I am teaching, which is as exciting for me as it is for the group I am leading. I could not think of a better way to spend my days, and I am thrilled to be on the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant team.”

Sassano has years of experience in public service, intern and volunteer coordination, and program development and management. She previously served as the volunteer and research coordinator for the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s MarineQuest k-12 outreach program, which involved developing research projects and recruiting, training, managing and supervising interns and volunteers.

Her passion for experiential learning and providing workforce development opportunities to student will serve Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant well as the program seeks to expand internship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. In addition to coordinating schedules and providing professional training opportunities for new interns, Sassano will act as a mentor to support growth in their careers.

“Without experiences like volunteering and hands-on learning, I would not have grown in my career as I have, and it is my mission to help passionate community members, students, interns, volunteers, and people of all ages in the same way,” said Sassano.

Sassano grew up in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, which cultivated her love for the coast and interest in marine science. After earning her bachelor’s degree in marine biology from Stockton University in New Jersey, she moved to North Carolina where attended East Carolina University and obtained a master’s degree in biology.

Meet Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s summer interns

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is hosting 14 summer interns at the coast who are working with staff and faculty in Brunswick, Athens, and Savannah on a number of research, education and outreach initiatives. Summer internships with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are critical to enhancing environmental literacy and workforce development in the coastal region. Seven of the internships were made possible thanks to support from Friends of the UGA Aquarium.

Celebrate World Oceans Day at the UGA Aquarium

Join Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant in celebrating World Oceans Day at the UGA Aquarium on June 8.

As part of the celebration, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant will offer family-friendly activities including behind the scenes aquarium tours, crabbing off the aquarium dock and hands-on interactions with Georgia sea life.

Visitors will also meet one of the aquarium’s newest additions: Neptune, a 9-month-old loggerhead sea turtle who was recently moved to a public display tank.

Marine educators will hold reptile talks throughout the day with opportunities to interact with live snakes and turtles. They will lead a special “blue crab expo” with interactive educational activities about recreational crabbing in Georgia. Visitors can explore the aquarium’s teaching labs and look at some of the smallest marine organisms through microscopes.

“With events like World Oceans Day we hope to inspire people to enjoy and protect the coast and our oceans,” says Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “The aquarium exhibits are a great teaching tool for visitors to learn more about local wildlife and habitats that exist in our estuaries as well as offshore at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.”

All World Oceans Day activities are included with general aquarium admission, paid by cash or check. Credit and debit cards are not accepted.

The United Nations designated June 8 World Oceans Day to celebrate human connections to ocean conservation.

World Oceans Day kicks off the summer season at the UGA Aquarium. In June and July, visitors can sign up for a variety of recurring programs taking place on Tuesdays and Thursdays, including family field trips, behind-the-scenes aquarium tours, toddler touch tanks and turtle Tuesdays.

More information available at https://gacoast.uga.edu/events/ 

UGA Aquarium will celebrate migratory birds at Spring Celebration event

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant will host its annual Spring Celebration event at the UGA Aquarium on May 11, from 12:30 – 4:30 p.m.

This year, the event will take place on World Migratory Bird Day and will feature family-friendly activities designed to educate participants about migratory birds that visit the Georgia coast.

“There is an incredible diversity of birds visiting our coast in spring. Several species are listed as threatened or critically endangered, so we want to educate coastal residents and visitors about ways they can help protect our feathered friends and the coastal habitats they rely on,” says Kayla Clark, public programs coordinator for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

Georgia’s coast is an important stopover site for birds embarking on their spring migration. Red knots, for example, stop on the Georgia coast to rest and feed on horseshoe crab eggs that fuel their annual flight to nesting grounds in the Arctic.

In an effort to engage participants in bird conservation, marine educators at the UGA Aquarium will use activities from the Project Flying WILD education curriculum, sponsored in Georgia by the Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division. A migratory bird obstacle course, for example, will help participants understand the types of challenges birds face along their migratory journeys. Binocular lessons and hands-on activities focused on preventing plastic pollution will also be provided.

Educators interested in learning more about Project Flying WILD are invited to attend a special teacher workshop at the aquarium from 8-11 a.m. before Spring Celebration. Registration for the workshop is required. More information is available at https://t.uga.edu/4WB

In addition to educational activities, Orphaned Bird Care, a local bird rehabilitation organization, will have resources and information about where to take injured birds and how to get involved in other bird-related activities on the coast.

All Spring Celebration activities are included with general aquarium admission, which is accepted by cash or check.

Summit inspires students to develop conservation projects in their communities

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is hosting the fifth annual Youth Ocean Conservation Summit (YOCS) on Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island. The summit, one of several taking place across the country, empowers middle and high school students with the knowledge and skills necessary to implement ocean conservation projects in their communities.

This year, participants will have the opportunity to engage with scientists and conservationists who are tackling issues that threaten marine ecosystems. They will also work with their peers to develop community conservation projects and attend sessions that focus on leadership skills, invasive species, plastic pollution, and community engagement through citizen science.

The keynote speaker for the 2019 Summit is Laura Early, the Satilla Riverkeeper. As the Satilla Riverkeeper, Early engages local citizens in the conservation and protection of the Satilla River, its tributaries and watershed. Early will share her experience working in the field of conservation and will educate participants on how to involve their communities in local conservation projects.

The 2019 summit will include a career fair featuring professionals from various organizations including the Georgia Forestry Commission, Skidaway Island State Park, UGA Extension, Allen Campbell Studios, and Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. The career fair will allow students to explore various disciplines and careers in the field of conservation.

Additional speakers include representatives from local conservation organizations, including The Nature Conservancy in Georgia, the South Carolina Aquarium and One Hundred Miles.

The summit is being organized by the 2018-2019 Georgia Sea Grant Marine Education Interns Emily Little, Anna Baynes, Emily Borger and Meghan Carpenter.

Online registration for the Summit closes Jan. 11, 2019. To register, complete the online registration form and payment available on the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant website https://gacoast.uga.edu/youth-ocean-conservation-summit/

Winter Science Series will investigate Georgia’s saltwater fishes

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is offering a series of science classes this winter at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island.

The Winter Science Series provides experiential learning opportunities for those who want to explore the coast and learn about the roles that recreationally and commercially important fish species play in supporting healthy coastal ecosystems and economies. Three classes will be offered that focus on fish biology, morphology, taxonomy and diversity.

Topics will be introduced through scientific experiments and exploration. Participants will learn about sampling methods used for different types of fisheries research. For example, one class will involve a boat trawl in Wassaw Sound, collecting and recording information on different types of marine life. All the data recorded becomes part of Georgia Department of Natural Resources marine inventory record.

“This series offers something for everyone, from the person who wants to explore his or her artistic side to the person interested in processing and analyzing fish samples for scientific research,” says Kayla Clark, public programs coordinator for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

Class topics and dates are provided below. Registration is required for each class. Participants can register online here. More information is available on the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant event calendar.

Fish Taxonomy, Jan. 8
In this class participants will improve their fish identification skills through the application of art and science. Fish taxonomy is a branch of science that involves classifying organisms. Before photography, illustrations were used to document different types of marine life. Gyotaku, the Japanese art of fish printing, is one type of art form used to document and identify fish. Participants will practice Gyotaku and will learn how to use a dichotomous key to identify different types of preserved fish species.

Microplastics and Fish, Feb. 12
This class will focus on the ingestion of microplastics by marine life. If enough anchovies are available, participants will dissect and analyze their gills for the prevalence of microplastics. If they aren’t available, participants will process water samples collected from the Skidaway River. Marine educators will discuss the potential impacts of microplastics on marine ecosystems and will share information about a new citizen science initiative that involves sampling for microplastics at sites along the Georgia coast.

Fish Sampling Cruise, March 12
This program will include a cruise aboard the R/V Sea Dawg in Wassaw Sound. A trawl net will be pulled along the bottom of a tidal river to collect marine specimens. Participants will examine and learn to identify the animals collected. Trawl samples vary, but a typical catch includes fish, horseshoe crabs, squid, stingrays and more.

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