Georgia researchers and residents work together to monitor harmful algal blooms

Anytime you take a dip in the ocean, you can expect to be swimming among hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of microscopic organisms called phytoplankton. They come in different shapes and sizes, and all play a critical role in the marine ecosystem, serving as the base of the marine food web and providing at least half the Earth’s oxygen.

In a balanced ecosystem, phytoplankton provide food for a wide range of marine life; however, when too many nutrients are available, some may grow out of control and form harmful algal blooms (HABs) that affect fish, shellfish, mammals, birds and even people.

“As nutrients and pollutants are making their way to the coast, monitoring harmful algal blooms is increasingly important,” says Katie Higgins, volunteer coordinator and marine educator at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

portrait of a young woman smiling outdoors with long brunette hair, glasses, and a blue shirt

Assistant Professor Natalie Cohen, UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

To help monitor the potential for harmful blooms, a UGA team including Higgins and Natalie Cohen, assistant professor at UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography was formed. They are collaborating to better track and understand HAB events along the coast as part of a research project funded by SECOORA, the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association.

“Currently, the only HABs monitoring in Georgia is done through NOAA’s Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (PMN),” says Higgins, who coordinates a team of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant volunteers who have participated in the network for 20 years by monitoring a site on the Skidaway River behind the UGA Aquarium. Every Thursday, volunteers collect water samples from the river and process them in the lab at the aquarium, counting and observing the abundance the phytoplankton in each sample before submitting the information to NOAA.

Back in 2017, their monitoring efforts helped researchers at UGA Skidaway Institute document a bloom of Akashiwo sanguinea, a type of phytoplankton considered to be a harmful algal species. The bloom coincided with a massive die-off of oyster larvae in UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Shellfish Research Lab, located next door to the sampling site. At the time, researchers hypothesized that this species of algae was to blame. It produces a sticky substance that has killed birds during blooms on the west coast by damaging the water proofing on their feathers.

a young woman with short brown hair kneels down on a dock next to water and holds an electronic measuring device

Mallory Mintz takes a water sample from the Skidaway River.

“The event in the Skidaway River demonstrated that [HABs] have the potential to happen here and could cause harm to local aquaculture,” says Cohen. She is working with Mallory Mintz, a master’s student at UGA, to build on the PMN volunteer monitoring efforts by collecting weekly data on cell densities of HAB species over a two-year period and incorporating more water quality parameters into the sampling effort.

By collecting quantitative cell count data and measuring oxygen, pH and salinity at the sampling site, the team can start to better understand environmental drivers that are conducive to HAB formation in Georgia estuaries, specifically Akashiwo.

“This is sort of the first step in coming up with a forecasting plan. We really have to figure out environmental parameters that are most important, and later we can predict when blooms are likely to occur,” says Cohen.

While volunteer observations have suggested a seasonality to the abundance of Akashiwo in the Skidaway River, through this more robust monitoring effort, the research team was able, for the first time, to quantify Akashiwo presence over an entire year and correlate this with water quality parameters.

“Starting in late July, Akashiwo cell counts went from undetectable to a max of 150 cells per milliliter, reaching bloom level,” says Cohen.

“We hope that through this season and next summer, we’ll see if there are patterns over time.”

The ultimate goal is to establish a regional notification network to communicate with local residents and aquaculture organizations in coastal Georgia about HABs. All the water quality and cell count data obtained through the project will be made publicly accessible so that others will be able to explore the data.

“These UGA and volunteer efforts will promote awareness and establish connections between scientists, shellfish farmers, and residents interested in the seasonal timing of blooms and the potential for HAB events to become more frequent in Georgia,” says Higgins.


Community science is for the birds: UGA Aquarium volunteers monitor nest boxes on the coast

With a pair of binoculars and data sheets in hand, Beth Webster heads out the back door of the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium to her first stop, a wooden nest box just outside the facility. She walks up to the box, gently knocking a few times so as not to alarm any birds, before opening the door to peer inside.

Four Eastern bluebird eggs, no bigger than peanut M&Ms, are nestled inside among twigs, grasses and pine needles. She records her observations on her data sheet before heading to the next box.

Webster is one of five aquarium volunteers participating in UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s bird nest box monitoring program on Skidaway Island. The program involves tracking the nesting and breeding behaviors of common birds, including Eastern bluebirds and Carolina chickadees.

illustration of a black, grey and tan bird in flight

Carolina chickadee

Between March and August, members of the group take turns checking the small circuit of boxes on the UGA Skidaway Marine Science Campus. They collect data on nesting activity, noting failed and successful nesting attempts, and submit their data to NestWatch, a nationwide nest-monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds.

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant educators have maintained a nest box trail on campus for more than a decade. Katie Higgins, marine educator and volunteer coordinator, decided to establish a more robust community science effort in 2019 with the goal of engaging aquarium volunteers in scientific research and increasing awareness of bird populations on the island.

“Community science is a really useful way to collect broader data on common birds,” said Higgins. “Scientists have access to this data so they can have basic information on developmental time periods and species prevalence. They can also look at long-term trends, like shifts in [population] range or when nesting is beginning in an area and when it’s ending.”

close up of an empty wooden bird box being opened by hands

A volunteer opens one of the wooden nest boxes as part of the community science project.

Information gathered through community science can also inform conservation efforts and management decisions. The Eastern bluebird is a prime example of this. From 1920-1970, the number of bluebirds in the U.S. plummeted due to habitat destruction, pesticide use, an influx of domestic cats and competition with non-native birds for nesting space.

In response, community members formed the North American Bluebird Society and set up bluebird boxes, creating networks of trails and monitoring bluebird nesting success. Because of these efforts, Eastern bluebird populations have rebounded and even stabilized.

In 2021, Higgins received funding from the Georgia Ornithological Society to expand the nest box monitoring program and develop a new educational display at the UGA Aquarium focused on community science and bird conservation.

She recruited and trained more volunteers and increased the number of boxes on campus with support from Skidaway Audubon. During last year’s nesting season, six volunteers gave 38 hours of service to the effort. In total, the group documented 28 nesting attempts and 74 baby birds.

Two summer campers and an aquarium educator peer into a bird nest box at the UGA Aquarium.

Katie Higgins (right) teaches students about the nest box monitoring program during Summer Marine Science Camp at the UGA Aquarium.

“It’s really a magical experience,” said Webster. “You’re in nature, you’re watching the cycle of life really unfold in front of your eyes. From the birds building a nest to the baby birds fledging, it’s a privilege to be able to peek into their world and see this cycle of life that happens so incredibly quickly.”

As part of the new educational display, aquarium visitors will be able to witness the nesting process in real time thanks to a live camera feed. The exhibit also provides information about birds that commonly nest in coastal Georgia and ways to support bird conservation efforts.

“I hope visitors take away that birds are fascinating and easy to observe,” said Higgins. “There are lots of local organizations that are working with bird species, and they can do something to enhance habitat or add to greater scientific knowledge.”

Writer: Emily Kenworthy, ekenworthy@uga.edu, 336-466-1520 
Contact:Katie Higgins, kt.higgins@uga.edu, 912-598-2364 


Dodie Sanders retires after 20 years of serving coastal communities

For two decades, marine educator and boat captain Dodie Sanders cultivated connections between coastal communities and the natural world by creating science-based educational programming for K-12 students and adults. In November 2022, Sanders retired from her role at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, leaving a lasting impact on thousands of students, educators, coastal residents and researchers.

Sanders began working at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant in 2002. Based at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island, she developed engaging curricula, programming and workshops offered year-round at the facility on topics like oyster restoration, marine debris monitoring and horseshoe crab ecology. She mentored and trained hundreds of marine education fellows and college interns, fostering their growth in environmental education and marine science.

A woman wearing a hat stands in front of a coastal landscape as she speaks to a group of eleven adults all dressed in outdoor attire.

Sanders speaks to a group during a trip to Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge.

Early on, her work brought prominence to UGA on a regional and national level. In 2003 she helped launch G.E.O.R.G.I.A. (Generating Enhanced Oyster Reefs in Georgia’s Inshore Areas), the first oyster shell recycling program in the state. The community-based program focuses on collecting and recycling oyster shell to create new oyster reefs and enhancing public awareness and stewardship of oyster habitat. Its success led to new projects tied to oyster restoration, including hands-on fishing programs for youth that made the important connection between the conservation, restoration and protection of oyster reef communities and coastal fisheries.

a woman looks through a microscope with two children sitting on either side

Sanders looks through a microscope alongside a student during a program at the UGA Aquarium.

Between 2007 and 2014, Sanders developed and hosted a series of workshops for hundreds of educators to support the growing need for teacher training opportunities. Educators traveled from as far as New Hampshire to participate in workshops on the Georgia coast that focused on horseshoe crab ecology and marine debris. The workshops were rooted in field-based explorations that used the environment as context for learning, and teachers were able to gain new skills, knowledge and techniques to take back to their classrooms.

“A day on the water with Dodie is good medicine,” said Anne Lindsay, associate director of education for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Lindsay shares a 20-year history with Sanders, working alongside her to provide hands-on, experiential learning opportunities at the aquarium.

an old photo shows two women standing in a room

Sanders (left) and Lindsay (right) teach a Summer Marine Science Camp in the early 2000s.

“She has, quite simply, raised the bar on the quality and research content of our field and lab programming and outreach to classrooms and the community,” Lindsay said. “She’s been the link to current research being done along Georgia’s coast and speaks the language of science and education equally well.”

Sanders has been fundamental in bringing science-based information to coastal communities. Her passion for research helped build the connection between Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and researchers at UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. This partnership led to the development of public exhibits at the UGA Aquarium as well as programs and resources designed to make research findings understandable and accessible.

In 2018, Sanders teamed up with professor Jay Brandes at the Skidaway Institute to develop a microplastics monitoring community science program to engage the coastal community in studying the abundance and distribution of microplastics along the coast.

"A day on the water with Dodie is good medicine."

“Dodie was able to entice a series of volunteers to work for us to collect and measure microplastics in the area,” said Brandes. “She also gained funding for supplies, internship funding, and boat trips that greatly expanded our program.”

Between May 2018 and January 2020, volunteers collected 2,880 samples from various locations on the coast. Data they collected generated a map of microplastic abundances and types used by coastal zone managers and municipalities to identify hot spots of contamination for future planning and decision making.

a woman wearing sunglasses and a beige hat sits on a chair and steers a wheel in the cockpit of a boat

Sanders captains the R/V Sea Dawg on a trawling trip on the Skidaway River.

“She made the drudgery of filtering the numerous samples we would get from all the water sampling sites of the microplastics project feel like fun,” said Roger Cayer, a volunteer who participated in the microplastics monitoring program as well as other community-science programs launched by Sanders over the years.

“Working with Dodie helped me realize how much I enjoy being a citizen scientist,” Cayer said.

Sanders incorporated findings from the project into lab and field activities for K-12 students visiting the aquarium and published an article about the program in the 2021 issue of Current: The Journal of Marine Education with the goal of inspiring scientists across the country to use it as a model for engaging communities in research.

“Involving volunteers provided direct experience with all of this, which made a strong impact on them, and all of their friends and families,” said Brandes.

A theme woven throughout the projects and programs Sanders launched over the years is the focus on action-based conservation, education and research efforts that bring diverse audiences together with a common cause and goal.

Sanders has inspired people of all ages to look at the natural world from a new perspective, fueling a passion within others to study, protect and explore it, including her colleagues at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

“Her role with us as captain, educator and researcher lies at the heart of our work,” said Lindsay. “She has inspired thousands of people and mentored a lucky subset, including all of us.”

an old black and white photo showing a group of adults outdoors is shown on the left next to a modern photo on the right with a group of adults smiling together on a dock with water behind them

The education team in early 2000 poses on the bluff outside the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island (left). Current staff pose for a group photo with Sanders on her last day in November 2022 (right).



Trawling for trash: Using recycled shrimp nets to remove marine debris

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has come up with a creative way to clean up the Georgia coast and provide financial support to local commercial shrimpers whose income was limited during the pandemic.

Through Trawl to Trash, funded by the National Sea Grant College Program, commercial shrimpers are recruited to sew bags made of recycled shrimp net material that can be used to collect marine debris.

“It’s exciting to find a new purpose for these trawl nets and who better to make the bags than the shrimpers who have spent countless hours mending their nets ahead of shrimping season?” said Dodie Sanders, marine educator at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and lead on the Trawl to Trash project.

The shrimpers earn $20 for each bag they sew.

One fisherman, Jonathan Bennett, used the money he earned from the nets to pay the people working for him.

“It was extra money, it helped us out,” said Bennett, a fifth-generation commercial shrimper from Brunswick, who now captains his own boat, the Flying Cloud. Bennett has been shrimping since he was four. His grandfather taught him how to repair the shrimp nets.

Jonathan Bennett sews a Trawl to Trash bag

Shrimper Jonathan Bennett sews a trawl to trash bag made from a recycled trawl net.

“For years I was the only man on the boat who knew how to sew so I got pretty good at it,” he said. He and his grandfather, who is still a shrimper, joined the Trawl to Trash project during the off season when their boat was being repaired.

In an effort to produce more bags for outreach efforts, Sanders teamed up with the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium to recruit additional shrimpers into the program. As of January 2022, 15 shrimpers in both Georgia and South Carolina have earned a total of $30,700 for 1,535 bags.

“This opportunity came along at a great time, in that shrimpers are making the bags in between the peak of the brown shrimp season and white shrimp season, when landings and income are lower than the rest of the year,” said Graham Gaines, living marine resources program specialist at the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium and partner on the project.

A participant in one of the trawl to trash education programs learns how to sew the bags.

A participant in one of the trawl to trash public programs learns how to sew the bags.

With more than a thousand bags in hand, Sanders and other educators at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island have been working to distribute them to the public through education programs and community science efforts.

“We’re educating and engaging ecotour guides, students, recreational boaters beach goers and others who can make a difference by alleviating the impacts of marine debris,” Sanders said.

As part of their outreach effort, the team launched a Marine Debris Community Science Program, which engages volunteers in removing marine debris from barrier islands and salt marshes along the Georgia coast while tracking what they collect using the Marine Debris Tracker App.

Since April 2021, community scientists involved in the program have conducted more than 25 marine debris cleanups across three sites on the Georgia coast and collected thousands of items.

They are also working with ecotour guides who have been certified through Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Coastal Awareness and Responsible Ecotourism program. The guides are providing bags to their customers and encouraging them to collect debris while exploring Georgia’s beaches and barrier islands.

This summer, educators will deliver hands-on afterschool programs to Boys and Girls Clubs in Chatham and Glynn Counties, educating the next generation about marine debris and encouraging them to make difference by using the Trawl to Trash bags to clean up their communities.

“These efforts illustrate and reinforce the importance of building community capacity and encouraging behavior change as a way of supporting the long-term prevention of marine debris,” Sanders said.


Writer: Emily Kenworthy, ekenworthy@uga.edu, 336-466-1520
Contact: Dodie Sanders, sandersd@uga.edu, 912-598-2340


UGA creates stormwater management tools to help reduce flooding in coastal communities

Fact sheets, checklists and a video created by faculty at the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are helping coastal communities invest in green infrastructure that protect areas from flooding and pollution from stormwater runoff.

In the first year of their development, eight communities, or 44% of the municipalities in coastal Georgia that are regulated to protect water bodies, have used the tools created by Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, a UGA public service and outreach unit.

With funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Jessica Brown, stormwater specialist at the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant office in Brunswick, partnered with Goodwyn Mills Cawood, an architecture and engineering firm, to produce a video highlighting the role of green infrastructure in coastal Georgia, factsheets on the most common green infrastructure practices, and inspection checklists to be used by professionals who maintain those practices.

“There is a lack of visual guidance and local, coastal examples of green stormwater infrastructure,” Brown said. “These tools help bridge that gap.”

Roads, buildings and parking lots that are impervious can lead to stormwater runoff and exacerbate flooding issues on the coast. When communities invest in green infrastructure, like installing permeable pavement or creating neighborhood rain gardens, they become more resilient.

According to the 2017 Coastal Georgia Low Impact Development Inventory, there are 220 green infrastructure practices in Georgia’s 11 coastal counties that manage 89.3 million gallons of stormwater annually. More than 94% of those green infrastructure practices are in the eight municipalities that are using the tools.

“We’re having to really rethink how we’re planning for our communities for the long haul,” said Jackie Jackson, director of advance planning and special projects with the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission. “In Chatham County we’re faced with planning for saltwater intrusion, we’re seeing things that are impacting our waterways and tree canopies, and we throw that on top of huge issues with localized flooding and more and more storms.”

“We’re kind of at that tipping point where we’ve got to start doing something different, and these are tools that we can use to start making some of those important changes.”

Constructed bioswale at Marshall’s Run apartments in Garden City, Georgia.

Since the work is often carried out by maintenance staff in public works departments, Brown, created the user-friendly tools with them in mind. Jackson helped Brown gather feedback from public works staff as the factsheets and checklists were being developed. She then worked with the cities of Bloomingdale and Garden City to incorporate the resources into their stormwater management plans, which led to the tools being approved by the state of Georgia for these coastal communities.

“All inspection forms have to be approved by the state and the state agreed that these tools will work,” Jackson said. “The end product is something that the state of Georgia actually permits communities to implement, so it becomes a win-win for everybody.”

The tools are free and available to anyone interested in learning about or implementing green infrastructure practices. They are available at https://gacoast.uga.edu/stormwater-management/

Writer: Emily Kenworthy, ekenworthy@uga.edu, 912-598-2348 ext. 107
Contact: Jessica Brown, jtrbrown@uga.edu, 912-264-7341

Phytoplankton monitors help keep communities safe from harmful algal blooms

Every Thursday, a group of dedicated UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant volunteers collect water samples from the Skidaway River. They process the samples in the lab at the UGA Aquarium, counting and identifying the phytoplankton in each sample as part of the National Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (PMN).

“I absolutely adore it,” said Sandy Haeger, a PMN volunteer. “Thursdays are really special to me because I love getting to see the marine animals at the aquarium, collect data with the team and catch up with the staff.”

Volunteers look at water samples under microscopes to find phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton are critical organisms that serve as the base of the marine food web and they provide at least half the Earth’s oxygen. In a balanced ecosystem, phytoplankton provide food for a wide range of sea creatures including shrimp, oysters and jellyfish. When too many nutrients are available, phytoplankton may grow out of control and form harmful algal blooms. These blooms can produce extremely toxic compounds that have harmful effects on fish, shellfish, mammals, birds, and even people.

The PMN program was created in 2001 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a system to monitor marine phytoplankton and the potential for harmful algal blooms. The network has 250 sites in 22 states across the U.S., including Skidaway Island, Georgia. PMN volunteers collect ecological data and send it to NOAA, state and federal agencies and industry professionals in true citizen science fashion.

“The more information we have, the better we can understand (algae blooms) and organisms and hopefully better protect people from their harmful effects,” said Jennifer Maucher, one of NOAA’s PMN program coordinators. “Our volunteers are instrumental in this effort.”

PMN volunteers gather a variety of important data used for long-term phytoplankton monitoring.

The monitoring program at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is one of the organization’s longest running volunteer efforts. Since 2003, volunteers have gathered data such as water and air temperature, salinity and tidal flow in addition to the water samples collected every Thursday morning. The volunteer program has been so successful that a new monitoring site was added in 2019 in Oglethorpe Bay, the waterway behind Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Brunswick facility.

“These are not folks that came into this with the knowledge to do this monitoring. They were interested in contributing, and we do our best to support them through it,” said Katie Higgins, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s volunteer coordinator.

Higgins works to ensure that each volunteer is trained in the data collection process before starting. They learn to collect samples by towing a plankton net for three minutes at a time. Then, they bring their samples into the lab and analyze them under a microscope where they look for 12 target organisms, or phytoplankton organisms with potential hazards. The volunteers will take the data they have collected and enter it into the national NOAA database for future analysis and studies.

“At the first meeting I attended, I hadn’t been near a microscope in almost 50 years, so it was a steep learning curve for me, but everyone was so helpful,” said Haeger. “Learning is so important, especially life-long learning which is what this volunteer program is for me.”

All PMN volunteers are given training in microscope usage and phytoplankton identification.

The life-long learning and citizen science component of the program is what makes it so special, Maucher, Higgins and Haeger all say. Regular people with an interest in scientific efforts, their immediate environment, public health and safety, or climate change and its effects can play a role in phytoplankton monitoring whether or not they have a background in it.

According to Higgins, one of the biggest successes of the PMN program is how volunteers have shifted into playing an education role within the organization. UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant hosts a variety of educational public programs, some of which are tailored around teaching the general public, both adults and children, about phytoplankton monitoring.

On numerous occasions, volunteers like Haeger have taken the lead on teaching aspects of the programs since they are doing the work weekly and know firsthand its impacts.

“[UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant] utilizes not just citizen scientist volunteers but incorporates PMN into their summer camps for kids,” said Maucher.

Anyone interested in being a part of this program is encouraged to join. To find out more about the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network volunteer opportunities, visit https://gacoast.uga.edu/phytoplankton-monitoring-network/

Community science supports environmental research

You don’t have to be a professional scientist with an advanced degree to make a meaningful contribution to scientific research. That is one conclusion of a recent paper by Dodie Sanders, an educator at the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography researcher Jay Brandes. The article was published in the winter issue of Current: The Journal of Marine Education.

The paper focuses on the researchers’ use of “community scientists” in a project to study the extent of microplastic pollution on the Georgia coast. The community scientists are volunteers, without extensive training or graduate degrees in the field.

The initiative began in 2018 when Brandes and Sanders were faced with the daunting task of collecting monthly water samples at 12 different sites along the Georgia coast, but without a large team to conduct the field work. The previous summer, a UGA undergraduate student, Jacob Mabrey, demonstrated that using community scientists to fill the gap might be the answer. Mabrey spent the summer traveling up and down the coast and collected dozens of samples.
Sanders and Brandes wanted to know whether community science could play a significant role in scientific research. They started with a model developed by the University of Florida microplastics project, Florida Microplastic Awareness Project.

“We took that model and adapted it to what we thought we needed here on the Georgia coast,” Sanders said.

Marine Educator Dodie Sanders

Sanders and Brandes initially approached the Satilla, Altamaha and Ogeechee Riverkeeper groups, who conduct monthly water tests in their areas already. The riverkeeper groups gladly joined the project. Sanders and Brandes then expanded to include a small group of volunteers who were working with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on the Skidaway Island campus.

“It’s worked out great because we have a group of volunteers that are very interested in learning more about this global issue,” Sanders said. “But more importantly, they’re interested in doing something about it. And so, this afforded an opportunity for volunteers to come in and not only help us do the science, but also become advocates for the project and advocates for what we were trying to accomplish.”

Roger Cayer is one community scientist volunteer. “I feel like studies like this are important to raise the awareness level of the general population about plastic pollution,” he said. “Who would have thought that synthetic clothing would become such a major problem?”

Brandes is very careful to avoid using the term “amateur” to describe the team of volunteers. “I think, sometimes, there can be a negative connotation to that word, but the people who have been working on this project have been wonderful and very dedicated.”

He said that everyone involved understands the critical importance of proper research technique, strict protocols and training in order to obtain believable data.

Volunteers collect water samples for microplastics.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to the field work for the past 12 months. As Brandes said, it is difficult to socially distance on a 24 foot Carolina skiff.

Sanders and Brandes would like to see their work benefit other researchers and community scientists. The overarching concept of the article is to provide a model that other researchers can put to work elsewhere.

“Take community science, and its advantages, and its bonuses and how people can be an integral, an important part of scientific research, because they are force multipliers,” Sanders said. “They allow us to do so much more on such a larger scale than we would be able to do on a day-to-day basis.”

Sanders said the community scientists opened her eyes to how the public is interested in environmental issues, especially issues that are in their own backyard. And they want to be advocates.

“So that’s been a rewarding aspect of this project, to not only get to know the volunteers or the community scientists on a personal level, but to realize their passion for the work is just as great as our passion,” she said.

That passion is echoed by Cayer who said he has enjoyed “the camaraderie, the laughs, the sharing of knowledge and ideas. And getting to know each member on a deeper level by sharing a common passion and goals.”

The entire paper can be found here.

Published by Skidaway Institute of Oceanography

New sustainable ecotourism certificate aims to protect shorebirds while supporting tourism

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is partnering with the nonprofit Manomet Inc. to develop a new certification program for water-based tour companies that provides them with the tools to implement best practices when it comes to birding-related tourism activities.

Georgia’s beaches provide vital habitat for shorebird species throughout the year. Many of the more remote habitats used by shorebirds are also areas used by recreational boaters and serve as a destination for guided tours. Beachgoers enjoying the warming weather may unintentionally disturb shorebirds’ nesting, resting and feeding behavior. Increasing awareness among boaters and beachgoers on how and why to give shorebirds space is a key step in conserving these unique animals.

A sandpiper bird stands among shells on the sandy beach.

A sandpiper looks for food along the Georgia beach. Photo by Emily Kenworthy.

“These habitats are very important for nesting species and for migrating shorebirds who need to rest and refuel,” says Abby Sterling, shorebird biologist for Manomet’s Georgia Bight Shorebird Conservation Initiative and partner on the project. “Our objective of partnering with the ecotourism industry means that we can work together to increase knowledge and reduce disturbance by incentivizing responsible behavior through a marketable ecotourism credential to protect these truly special places we all love.”

The Coastal Awareness and Responsible Ecotourism program will consist of a series of workshops designed for the public and ecotourism operators who will receive a certificate after completing the program. The workshops will highlight the important role Georgia’s coast plays for nesting and migrating shorebirds and how residents, tourists and tourism companies can work together to protect these fragile habitats.

“The program will allow us to leverage protection of our wild Georgia coast while also supporting local small business tour operators,” says Katie Higgins, project lead and marine educator and volunteer coordinator at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit.

“Ecotourism really provides an opportunity to build support for conservation action among coastal residents,” Higgins says.

The first workshop is scheduled for May 20 from 4-5 p.m. The event is open to the public but pre-registration is required. During the program, Higgins and Sterling will be joined by ecotourism operators Fran and Kathryn Lapolla of Savannah Coastal Ecotours who will talk about their experience running an ecotourism kayaking business.

Additional information and online registration for the event is available at https://t.uga.edu/5Xb

Manomet is a sustainability nonprofit grounded in science, named for the coastal village in New England where its headquarters have been located since the Manomet Bird Observatory was founded in 1969.

UGA’s new Green Living Series promotes conservation through individual action

Residents of Georgia’s coastal communities can learn how to save money and better preserve natural resources during “Green Living,” a new series of programs offered by the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant in Brunswick this winter.

“Our goal is to help coastal residents realize how everyday actions, from picking up after pets to using reusable bags, not only saves money but also helps conserve and protect our vital coastal resources,” says Kayla Clark, public programs coordinator for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “We know how much people value living in the Golden Isles. Our hope is to share some fun, innovative ideas for how they can help protect this area as well as the rest of the coast.”

From December through March, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant will offer sustainability-focused events, including a film screening, tips on how to save money by using less energy, the environmental impacts of animal waste, recycling habits, and a lesson in building a rain barrel.

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.

Film Screening: The Human Element, Dec. 5
Enjoy a free screening of the visually stunning documentary, “The Human Element,” in which environmental photographer James Balog captures the lives of everyday Americans on the front lines of climate change. Following the film, a panel of local experts will discuss efforts to address climate resiliency in coastal Georgia. Panelists include Susan Inman, the Altamaha Coastkeeper; Randy Tate, Ft. Stewart/Altamaha Partnership coordinator for the Longleaf Alliance; and Rachel Guy, research coordinator at Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Home Energy Economics: Saving Money by Going Green, Jan. 23
Learn about utilities that save energy and money. Talk with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s marine economist, Adam Stemle, about the costs and benefits of different types of energy, and make a plan for reducing energy costs at your home or office.

What’s the Scoop? Environmental Impacts of Animal Waste, Feb. 6
Animal waste from wildlife and domestic pets can introduce harmful bacteria into waterways. Understanding where this waste is coming from can help us better prevent and manage it in the future. Join Asli Aslan, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Georgia Southern University, on a field trip to St. Simons Coast Guard Beach where you will survey the beach for possible sources of pollution. Afterwards, participants will engage in hands-on activities in the Brunswick Station laboratory to learn about the water testing that takes place behind the scenes to help protect human health.

Beyond the Bin: Rethinking Recycling Habits, Feb. 20
Learn about some of the negative impacts of single-use plastics and other types of marine debris on coastal ecosystems before exploring new, creative ways to reduce, recycle and reuse plastic material. Lea King-Badyna, executive director of Keep Golden Isles Beautiful, will discuss local cleanup and recycling initiatives taking place in the Golden Isles and Jennifer Zamudio, owner of Dot and Army Sustainable Everyday Goods, will share her story about building a sustainable business out of reusable materials.

Planning for Rainy Days: Building your own Rain Barrel, March 6
Rain barrels are an easy and affordable way to manage and conserve rainwater that can be used for your garden or to maintain your lawn. The Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is partnering with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to teach residents how to build a rain barrel they will take home following the program.


New Adopt-A-Wetland coordinator plans to enhance monitoring efforts on the coast

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant welcomed Luke Roberson as the new Adopt-A-Wetland program coordinator for coastal Georgia. Roberson is recruiting, training and coordinating citizen scientists who are interested in protecting the aquatic resources surrounding Georgia’s coastal communities.

“My job involves talking with people about stewardship of their local waters, the science of water quality, and traveling along our beautiful coast with a terrific team,” says Roberson. “What’s not to like?”

Roberson will work to increase public awareness of water quality issues by training citizen science groups in different communities on how to monitor water quality and conduct biological sampling to determine wetland habitat health. All the data that is collected will be compiled by Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and 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.

Roberson made his way to Georgia from Maryland, where he worked on the local rivers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and served as a biologist for eight years with the Maryland Department of Natural Resource’s Monitoring and Non-Tidal Assessment Division. Prior to his role at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, Roberson worked as the monitoring and education coordinator for the nearby Ogeechee Riverkeeper.

Roberson earned a bachelor’s degree in biology as well as graphic design at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. He then pursued his master’s degree in environmental science and policy from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

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