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.

Connecting Georgia seafood producers to consumers during the coronavirus pandemic

As farmers and food distributers struggle to get their products into the hands of consumers, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has teamed up with UGA Cooperative Extension and the Georgia Department of Agriculture to generate business for the seafood industry.

The Ag Products Connection, a partnership between UGA Extension and the state agriculture department’s Georgia Grown program, is designed to connect farmers and seafood producers with customers around the state looking to source local food products. Businesses can sign up to have their companies promoted through the online platform, which lists local businesses by county.

A man dumps a basket of vermillion snapper in a cardboard box at a seafood farm.

Photo by Peter Frey

“The resource was developed for producers who had a glut of product. Some were selling to school systems or restaurants, but now they don’t have those avenues of customers,” said Tori Stivers, seafood and marketing specialist for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “With this program, they can market directly to consumers who can serve as new source of revenue for them.”

Stivers is working with fisheries specialists in UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to promote the resource to seafood professionals, many based on the coast, who are dealing with a surplus of product during the pandemic. She recently shared the resource with a list of more than 150 seafood wholesalers in Georgia, encouraging them to sign up.

“My hope is that it provides some income to those who have seen their business drop during this time so they can keep as many employees on the payroll as possible,” Stivers said. “If they can supplement their business by going directly to consumers, it might help them stay open.”

Some seafood businesses, like Southside Shellfish in Savannah, have already signed up for the program.

“We’ve seen a decline in clientele, but we’re still here and we’re still operating,” said Hope Meeks, owner of Southside Shellfish. “That’s why I think this resource will be so good because people keep calling and asking if we’re open, which we are.”

Meeks’ business  has been involved in commercial crabbing since 1991. The retail business began in 2007, with the opening of a market in south Savannah. In addition to local blue crabs, they sell black sea bass, snapper, flounder and other seafood native to the east coast.

Large, fresh fish in cardboard box at a seafood farm

Photo by Peter Frey

“I’m hoping that this will bring in our regular customers as maybe new customers that don’t already know we’re here,” she said. “We have raw and cooked seafood, so for those who are skeptical about eating out, this is great way for people to source shellfish and fish products you can catch in our area.”

Georgia’s seafood producers and wholesalers who are keeping regular hours, providing curbside pickup, home delivery or e-commerce sales during the COVID-19 crisis can join the program by visiting the Georgia Grown Ag-Products Industry Promotion or Georgia Grown E-Commerce Promotion pages and filling out forms that will add their information to the statewide database of producers that is being shared with consumers and buyers.

Consumers can find seafood resources listed by county here https://extension.uga.edu/ag-products-connection.html

Georgia Grown — a state membership program designed to help agribusinesses thrive by bringing producers, processors, suppliers, distributors, retailers, agritourism and consumers together — is waiving all membership fees for the service until July to help producers affected by the crisis.


Writer: Emily Kenworthy, ekenworthy@uga.edu, 336.466.1520
Contact: Tori Stivers, tstivers@uga.edu, 770.460.2506

UGA brings coastal constituents together to discuss sustainable tourism

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has launched an initiative designed to promote the state’s 100 miles of shoreline to tourists, while protecting and sustaining the natural coastal environment.

A Coastal Georgia Tourism Conference in April at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens drew almost 100 people, including representatives from the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD), Tybee Island, the Golden Isles (Jekyll Island, St. Simons and Sea Island), the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Troy University, nonprofit environmental groups like 100 Miles, and communities along the coast (Savannah, Darien, Brunswick and St. Marys) that depend on tourism for their local economy.

Attendees discussed a branding campaign for the entire coast, which would be in addition to, not in place of current branding for individual beaches and communities.

Jonathan Tourtellot, founder of the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations, was the key note speaker for the daylong conference. Tourtellot warned that marketing the coastline to more tourists should be done carefully in order to sustain the beaches, saltmarshes, wildlife and native cultures.

“You cannot put an infinite number of tourists in confined spaces,” Tourtellot said. “Managing tourism and managing places are the same job.”

It would be hard to make up the revenue lost if there was no coastal tourism, because the tourism industry is the fifth largest employer in the state, said Cheryl Hargrove, director of industry and partner relations in the tourism division of GDEcD.

On average every household in Georgia would have to pay an additional $885 a year to replace the tourism taxes received by state and local governments in 2017, Hargrove said.

Mark Risse, director of the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, said he had wanted to bring stakeholders along the coast together to discuss these issue for several years.

“All the things I thought a conference like this might be able to accomplish, I heard today,” Risse said.

Sponsors of the conference included Georgia Power, Georgia Grown and UGA Cooperative Extension. Attendees indicated in a survey that they would like to hold the conference on an annual basis.

Economic developers learn about UGA’s investment in coastal communities

Economic development professionals from Georgia’s inland counties got a firsthand look at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant operations in Brunswick, and learned how work done there affects the rest of the state.

Sean McMillan, director of UGA’s Atlanta-based office of economic development, accompanied 23 members of the Georgia Economic Developers Association (GEDA) to Brunswick. McMillan organizes the tour each year to connect businesses and communities across Georgia to UGA’s economic development efforts on the coast.

Sean McMillan (left) talks with Jessica Brown (right), stormwater specialist with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant during the GEDA visit.

“This tour impresses upon the economic development community in Georgia all of the wonderful work that Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant does for our coastal communities,” said McMillan. “Faculty and staff here provide the underpinnings for successful businesses and vibrant communities.”

The visit included a trawl on the Georgia Bulldog, UGA’s 72-foot research vessel. During the trip on St. Simons sound, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant Director Mark Risse told the group that his faculty and staff support sustainable commercial fisheries and explore options, such oyster aquaculture, to diversify the coastal economy.

“We are working with shellfish growers to study methods to make farming oysters easier and hopefully attract new farmers,” Risse said. “We’re also training commercial fishermen on how to collect data on black gill, a condition impacting Georgia shrimp.”

In 2015, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant launched an oyster hatchery at the UGA Shellfish Research Center Lab on Skidaway Island. Extension agents at the hatchery create oyster spat (baby oysters), which they give to local shellfish farmers to grow out. The hatchery has distributed 1.4 million spat to farmers since 2015. With a change in state regulations that would allow the use of proper equipment to farm the oysters, marine extension agents predict they could produce 15 million spat at full capacity, with an estimated harvest value of $3.75 million to $5.2 million.

The total value of Georgia’s commercial seafood landings in 2017 was $16.8 million, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

In addition to fishing and aquaculture, the seafood industry creates jobs in the service sector, such as hotels and restaurants that draw tourists, who spend money, boosting the local economy.

“The work with the seafood industry directly relates to economic development in so many ways,” said Pat Merritt, GEDA vice chair and president of community and economic development for the Georgia Electric Membership Corp. “There’s a job-creation aspect to it and that’s what we’re all about; creating jobs and investment.”

In addition, GEDA members learned that specialists with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant partner with local governments to improve stormwater management and plan for coastal hazards. They also promote healthy coastal ecosystems through education and outreach focused on reducing marine debris and improving water quality.

“It’s interesting to hear about all the different areas (UGA) works in,” says Megan Baker, business retention and expansion project manager at the Fayette County Development Authority. “We’re fortunate to have this program here because it supports economic development as well as the people and the coast.”

The Georgia Economic Developers Association is a non-profit association of professionals and volunteers who are involved with the economic development of the cities and counties of Georgia. GEDA was organized to increase the effectiveness of individuals involved in the practice of economic development in Georgia by encouraging cooperation, exchange of information, and upgrading of professional skills.

Savannah launches Green Infrastructure to Green Jobs Initiative

The City of Savannah partnered with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to form an advisory committee of community leaders for the city’s new Green Infrastructure to Green Jobs Initiative. This program will create three urban tree nurseries on vacant FEMA lots in Savannah neighborhoods.

A portion of the plantings will be grown for city use in rights of way, while the remaining trees will become permanent green infrastructure, creating pocket parks for the enjoyment of surrounding communities.

Hurricanes Matthew and Irma caused significant damage to Savannah’s tree canopy, with Hurricane Matthew costing over $13 million in tree debris removal and unknown losses in water storage from mature trees. The City of Savannah owns over 350 flood-prone FEMA lots that are underutilized community assets. As coastal Georgia experiences extremes in weather, municipal governments are looking to green infrastructure, such as tree canopies, to improve their resilience to major storm events.

The plantings will be paired with comprehensive green jobs training for unemployed and underemployed residents of Savannah, helping low-lying, low-income neighborhoods reduce their flood risk while providing STEM-based workforce development.

Additional project partners include the Savannah Tree Foundation, Victory Gardens, Work Source Georgia and the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission, with funding from The Kendeda Fund and the Southeast Sustainability Directors Network.

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