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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).

 

 

Newest cohort of marine education fellows embark on year-long teaching journey

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has welcomed four recent college graduates to serve as the 2022-2023 marine education fellows based at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island.

As part of the fellowship, they will gain experience in environmental education, aquarium husbandry and coastal extension. They will also be able to participate in professional development opportunities and build a network of environmental educators, marine researchers and conservationists working in coastal Georgia.

Throughout the year, the fellows will teach field, lab and lecture classes that are offered to visiting school groups. They will also assist with animal husbandry at the UGA Aquarium and work closely with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s extension specialists to incorporate information about their projects into educational programming.

Meet the 2022-2023 fellows:

Photo of Vanessa Navarro, a young woman with dark brown hair wearing a blue t-shirt sitting in front of water and spartina grassVanessa Navarro is from Fort Worth, Texas. She completed her undergraduate degree at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi where she studied environmental science with a concentration in environmental health and monitoring. Navarro has experience in research and environmental education, including leading public programs while working at Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve in Corpus Christi. She will spend her fellowship year providing educational programs to people of all ages. She is most looking forward to learning all about the Georgia coast through outdoor adventures while sharing her knowledge with others.

 

Photo of Camryn Arnstein, a young woman with blonde hair wearing a blue t-shirt sitting in front of water and spartina grassCamryn Arnstein is from Huntingtown, Maryland. She graduated with bachelor’s degrees in marine science and environmental studies from the University of South Carolina. Arnstein served as a NOAA Hollings intern conducting species monitoring at Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve in Huron, Ohio. She also worked as a camp instructor at UNC-Wilmington’s MarineQuest summer camps. Arnstein will be advancing her aquatic husbandry skills while working in the aquarium. She is hoping to gain new teaching experiences and connect with experts in the coastal ecology field.

 

Photo of Micayla Cochran, a young woman with reddish brown hair wearing a blue t-shirt sitting in front of water and spartina grassMicayla Cochran is from Atlanta, Georgia. She went to school at Vanderbilt University, double majoring in ecology, evolution, and organismal biology as well as Spanish. For the last two summers, Cochran has been a volunteer with the Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Program at Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota, Florida, where she helped monitor sea turtle nests. Cochran’s fellowship will focus primarily on teaching classes at the aquarium and providing outreach programs to local schools. She looks forward to improving her teaching skills and learning how to communicate with diverse audiences about science.

 

Photo of Annie Laura Sculz, a young woman with dark blonde hair wearing a blue t-shirt sitting in front of water and spartina grass

Annie Laura Schulz is from Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has a bachelor’s degree in sustainability science from Furman University. Schulz worked at Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas studying sea turtles, mangroves, and sharks in field and lab settings. As a marine education fellow, she will conduct community outreach and work closely with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s extension specialists on different projects. Schulz is excited to learn about Georgia’s coast and marine life while being surrounded by others who are passionate about inspiring appreciation of the natural world through environmental education.

Graduate students from Georgia selected as Knauss finalists

Graduate students from the University of Georgia, Georgia Southern University and Georgia Tech have been selected as finalists for the 2023 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. The fellowship, sponsored by the National Sea Grant College Program, provides graduate students the opportunity to spend a year in marine policy-related positions in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government in Washington D.C.

Knauss finalists are chosen through a competitive process that includes comprehensive review at both the state Sea Grant program and national levels. The three Georgia finalists will join 83 others selected from a competitive pool of nominees representing 29 of the 34 Sea Grant programs in the coastal and Great Lakes states and territories.

The finalists from Georgia are:

Jeffrey Beauvais

Jeffrey Beauvais, who is wrapping up a Ph.D. in integrative conservation and ecology at UGA. His research focuses on environmental justice issues around access to marshes for coastal residents. Beauvais hopes to work on programs that facilitate people’s ability to make a living from the coast and help their communities thrive. Beauvais holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Georgia Tech. 

 

 

 

Alex Troutman

Alex Troutman, a master’s student in biology from Georgia Southern whose research focuses on the diet of the seaside sparrow, a bird that lives in the tidal salt marshes off the coast of Georgia. Troutman is a member of Black in Marine Science, a nonprofit that amplifies black marine scientists and encourages the pursuit of careers in marine science, and he is passionate about communicating science through social media. Troutman earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Georgia Southern University.  

 

 

Madison Willert

Madison Willert, who graduated from Carleton College in 2014 with a degree in biology and a minor in French. She went on to intern at NOAA and work in marine science labs at both the University of Massachusetts Boston and the New England Aquarium before starting her Ph.D. in biology at Georgia Tech in 2016. Her research involves using stable isotopes to investigate how humans impact marine food webs through stressors like overfishing.  

 

 

This year’s class of 86 finalists comprises students and recent graduates from 62 distinct universities, including 16 finalists from nine minority-serving institutions. Since 1979, over 1,550 fellows have completed the one-year Knauss fellowship program, applying their experience to lasting careers in science, policy and public administration.

Read the full announcement in a press release from the National Sea Grant College Program. 

Student researchers will study issues facing Georgia’s coastal ecosystems

Five graduate students from the University of Georgia, Georgia Southern University and Georgia Tech have been selected to lead year-long coastal research projects as part of the Georgia Sea Grant Research Traineeship. This marks the fourth year of the traineeship, which has supported a total of 26 students from universities across Georgia since its launch in 2019.

“The research traineeship allows students to apply their knowledge and identify solutions to real world issues facing Georgia’s coastal communities,” says Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “The experience of designing and executing their own project prepares them for future careers in a variety of disciplines.”

As part of the traineeship, students conduct independent research projects that address one of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s four focus areas: healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, resilient communities and economies, and environmental literacy and workforce development.

The students conduct these projects while being advised by university mentors. They also work with extension and education specialists at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to collaborate and share their research with coastal communities.

 

Chestina Craig

Chestina Craig is a master’s student in biology at Georgia Southern University where she’s studying stress levels in sharks that are captured or handled.

As part of her traineeship, she will study how capture and handling affects the physiological response and overall fitness of sharks local to Georgia. She will also be looking at the use of cost-effective research devices that can immediately measure blood stress levels in sharks when sampled in the field.

Results from her project aim to inform handling practices and increase the accessibility of this type of research using affordable sampling methods.

“I decided to apply to the Georgia Sea Grant Research Traineeship because it combines my love of research and community outreach into an incredibly rewarding fellowship. I knew that this program would give me opportunities to interact with stakeholders, conduct scientific outreach, and work with researchers that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to during the course of my master’s degree,” Craig said.

 

Jennifer Dorick

Jennifer Dorick

Jennifer Dorick is a Ph.D. candidate at UGA studying food science with a focus on food safety. This will be her second research traineeship and this year’s project will focus on identifying mitigation methods used in aquaculture and aquaponic facilities to control A. hydrophila, a bacterial pathogen that can cause disease in freshwater fish and humans.

Dorick completed a 2-year evaluation of a commercial aquaponics system and found A. hydrophila throughout the system. Now, she will study whether A. hydrophila identified in the system can form biofilm in aquaponic water and on common aquaponic material. She will identify targeted interventions to disrupt A. hydrophila colonization while preserving the nitrifying bacteria critical for nutrient cycling in these systems.

“The traineeship will contribute to my research goals by funding research to develop sustainable agriculture methods to produce fresh food sources for Georgia. By identifying mitigation methods to target A. hydrophila, it will encourage the safety of fish and produce generated by these farms,” Dorick said.

 

Sarah Roney

Sarah Roney, a Ph.D. student in the Ocean Science and Engineering program at Georgia Tech, is studying oyster reef restoration using naturally strengthened oysters to prevent erosion on Georgia’s shorelines. 

Roney, who has been selected for the traineeship program for a second year, will conduct a study that builds on her previous project looking at how chemical cues from blue crabs can increase the shell strength of oysters. Results from her 2021 project show that strengthened oysters on restored reefs have a greater survival against predation than other juvenile oysters. For this year’s project, Roney will use strengthened oysters to restore reefs in high wave energy areas, like the Intercoastal Waterway and South Channel of the Savannah River. She selected these sites based on research by fellow 2021-2022 research trainee, Alexandra Muscalus, whose research shows that there is significant ship wake energy in these areas due to shipping traffic to and from the Savannah ports. 

Roney plans to enhance reefs in this area using strengthened oysters with the goal of preventing future coastal erosion while also restoring important services that oyster reefs provide to coastal ecosystems and communities. 

“Working with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant in the past allowed me to form connections with industry professionals and learn new applications for my research topics, so I’m excited to continue our partnership this year. I hope that by implementing new scientific research to systems that majorly benefit our communities, such as oyster reefs, and making scientific information accessible to the public, we can improve the communication pathways between scientists and citizens,” Roney said. 

 

Conner Simon

Conner Simon is a master’s student at Georgia Southern University where he is studying microplastic contamination in marine and freshwater systems. 

As part of his traineeship project, Simon will examine the abundance of microplastic fibers along the Ogeechee River and use both laboratory and field experiments to investigate the effects of microplastic fiber contamination on zooplankton. Zooplankton are an important food source for larger organisms, like recreational fish and shellfish, in nearly all freshwater and marine habitats. Simon will determine whether the length of microplastic fibers influences how harmful they are to zooplankton, and which zooplankton species are present in the community.

Findings will provide insight into how sensitive these important marine organisms are to microplastic contaminants and can be used to inform water policies that limit microplastic pollution.

“Through this traineeship, I will improve my ability to design, conduct, analyze, and present research on microplastic pollution, which will help me produce important results for scientists and water quality experts. The combination of academic and outreach training will prepare me to translate the results of future research both to a broad audience and into actionable steps towards effective marine conservation and stewardship,” Simon said.

 

Alexandra Theisen

Alexandra Theisen, a master’s student at Georgia Southern University, is studying aquatic species and how they interact with their environment, specifically the two-toed Amphiuma, a large aquatic salamander found in Southeast U.S. wetlands. 

Theisen’s project will compare Amphiuma populations sampled in freshwater wetlands at Fort Stewart Army Base to those sampled in fresh and saline wetlands on Sapelo Island. By comparing the two populations, she will be able to examine how Amphiumas on Sapelo Island are adapting to more saline wetlands. 

Her research has implications for how species in freshwater habitats will respond to rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion. It will also inform planning, research and resource management needs at Fort Stewart Army Base and at Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve where her research sites are located. 

“My professional goal is to work at either a nonprofit organization or at a state level as a wetland ecologist. This traineeship will help me achieve this goal by enabling me to attend networking opportunities and provide the means to enhance my research project with the help of these partners. It also gives me the opportunity to share my research with the community as well as learn from other experts in the field,” Theisen said. 

If students can’t get to the coast, UGA brings the coast to them

For more than 50 years, educators at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island have hosted pre-K-12 grade students for hands-on programs about the coastal environment.

This year, those educators are taking the show on the road.

With support from Bass Pro Shop, Georgia Power and Friends of the UGA Aquarium, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant staff and volunteers are taking programs into every Savannah-Chatham County school.

“Classroom outreach brings exciting marine science experiences to students and teachers who don’t have the resources or time in their teaching schedules to visit the aquarium in person,” said Anne Lindsay, associate director of education at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “We don’t want communities whose schools have limited resources to miss out on important learning opportunities.”

The education team began planning off-site outreach during the pandemic, when the aquarium was closed.

“Marine Debris, the Coast, and Me” introduces sixth and seventh graders to the topic of plastic debris and its impacts on the ocean and coastal zone. Students rotate between different stations, learning about the types of debris, including microplastics, that can impact plankton or dolphins through entanglement or ingestion. As a way of getting students involved outside of the classroom, educators share information about how to reduce marine debris by participating in community cleanups and avoiding single use plastics.

“CrabEcology” uses live animals and small group activities to teach third graders about the physical and behavioral characteristics of different crab species and where they can be found. The program covers topics such as coastal habitats, sand and mud studies, animal adaptations and Georgia’s blue crab fishery.

The goal of both is to engage students in learning experiences that connect them to the outside world. Since February, the marine education staff has presented the programs to more than 1,000 students in 12 different public schools.

Volunteer Michael Siegel educating students using an interactive touch tank.

Angela Willis, who teaches the STEM Lab for grades K-5 at Heard Elementary School in Savannah, signed her third graders up for the CrabEcology outreach program to expose them to outdoor activities that get them excited about the world around them.

“If we can stimulate children in a way that they’re using their sight, sound, sense of touch…it really engages them and anchors whatever topics you’re trying to teach,” said Willis. “Anything that’s hands-on is absolutely fantastic. When they saw there was a touch tank, just about all of them wanted to touch the crabs.”

In addition to the aquarium education staff, the outreach is being presented by four Marine Education Fellows who are spending a year at the UGA Aquarium gaining experience in environmental education. Diane Klement, who has a degree in ecology from UGA, helped deliver both outreach programs and created some of the teaching materials for the marine debris program.

“Over time, I gained more confidence with teaching and adapting a program to unique schools and classrooms,” Klement said. “Moving forward, I am excited to apply the outreach program development and teaching skills to my future career.” She will return to UGA this fall to pursue a master’s degree in wildlife science from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Marine Education Fellow Diane Klement educating students at Heard Elementary School.

Aquarium educators and volunteers will continue offering the programs in classrooms throughout the 2022-23 school year, hoping to reach about 3,800 students in 46 different public schools.

It’s making a difference, Klement said.

“After the program, some of the students vowed to reduce their plastic consumption and were excited to get out and explore the salt marsh,” she said. “Some even said they wanted to be environmental educators.”

Contact Anne Moser, amoser@uga.edu, to make a gift to the UGA Foundation in support of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant education programs.

 

Writer: Emily Kenworthy, ekenworthy@uga.edu, 336-466-1520

Contact: Anne Lindsay, lindsaya@uga.edu

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 Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant welcomes new Marine Education Fellows

Four recent college graduates have been selected for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s year-long Marine Education Fellowship based at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island.

As part of the fellowship, they will gain experience in environmental education, aquarium husbandry and coastal extension. They will also be able to participate in professional development opportunities and build a network of environmental educators, marine researchers and conservationists working in coastal Georgia.

Throughout the year, the fellows will teach field, lab and lecture classes that are offered to visiting school groups. They will also assist with animal husbandry at the UGA Aquarium and work closely with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s extension specialists to incorporate information about their projects into educational programming.

The 2021-2022 fellows are:

Maura Glovins is from Corning, New York. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in marine science and a minor in education. While in college, Glovins served as the education outreach coordinator for the marine science club and worked as an educator for Harbison State Forest where she applied her teaching skills to a forestry setting. She is looking forward to finding her niche in marine education and turning it into a career.

 

 

Ashley Del Core is from Vacaville, California. She graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and received a bachelor’s degree in marine sciences. Del Core’s passion for marine science education and outreach developed through volunteering as an aquarium educator and aquarist, assisting with graduate student projects and serving as a teacher’s assistant for an ichthyology course. Del Core is excited to work with other passionate marine science professionals and introduce visitors to Georgia’s aquatic animals.

 

Chante Lively is from Atlanta, Georgia. She graduated from Nova Southeastern University with a bachelor’s degree in marine biology and minors in global engagement and Spanish. Prior to starting her fellowship, she worked as an environmental educator at the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance. She hopes to get back to her roots in marine science and use new tools and skills obtained through the fellowship to help determine her next career steps.

 

 

Diane Klement is from Augusta, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in ecology and a minor in studio art. Klement has worked as an elementary and nature kindergarten substitute teacher, helping students discover the wonder and joy that comes from learning about the natural world. She is looking forward to learning strategies to teach more effectively about coastal ecology and to help others better appreciate Georgia’s coastal ecosystems.

Seven students selected for Sea Grant Research Trainee program at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant

Seven students from universities across Georgia have been selected to participate in the year-long Georgia Sea Grant Research Trainee program. The students will work with faculty and professional mentors to conduct marine research and gain new professional skills.

Research conducted by the trainees will address one or more of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s four focus areas: healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, resilient communities and economies, and environmental literacy and workforce development.

“By pairing students with academic and professional mentors, and immersing them in interdisciplinary research experiences, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is helping prepare a diverse workforce for jobs in the future,” says Mona Behl, associate director of Georgia Sea Grant.

The trainees will design research projects that build on their dissertations or theses while connecting with extension and education specialists at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant who will help share their work with coastal communities. Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is a UGA Public Service unit.

Samantha Alvey

Samantha Alvey

Samantha Alvey is a master’s student in biology at Georgia Southern University. As part of her traineeship, she will be studying antibiotic resistance in coastal waters.

Bacteria are able to develop resistance to antibiotics and enter streams and rivers through wastewater discharge and runoff. These bacteria accumulate on river sediments where recreational activities, like fishing and boating, re-release the bacteria into the water where they can cause disease. Alvey will collect water and measure how the amount of antibiotic resistance bacteria changes when sediment is disturbed by human recreation. She will also examine the potential for the resistant bacteria to spread from rivers to the coast, which will be useful to inform water policy aimed at reducing ecological and public health risks.

“This program not only provides essential resources to support my research but also opportunities to communicate my findings to my peers and the public through conferences and public outreach events that I might not otherwise have access to during my graduate program,” Alvey said.

 

Courtney Balling

Courtney Balling

Courtney Balling, a Ph.D. student in the departments of Integrative Conservation and Geography at UGA, is researching the environmental drivers of septic system failure.

Coastal areas are especially at risk of septic system failure in the coming decades due to sea level rise and changes in rainfall patterns. Balling will look at how environmental conditions, like tidal fluctuation and precipitation, impact bacterial concentrations in groundwater near residential septic systems. This research will be shared with officials working in public health, wastewater, and planning to help create sustainable wastewater solutions for the future.

“I would love to be a part of an extension service. I truly enjoy research and community engagement, and extension would allow for both. This traineeship is allowing me to gather more of the skills I’ll need for that kind of work—everything from grant writing and research design to strategic communication and community partnership,” Balling said.

 

Jennifer Dorick

Jennifer Dorick

Jennifer Dorick is a Ph.D. student at UGA studying food science with a focus on food safety. Her project will focus on food safety hazards in aquaponics, a sustainable agricultural practice that integrates aquaculture and hydroponic farming.

Dorick will study a commercial aquaponics system, looking at what pathogens, like E.coli and salmonella enterica, are present and where they are most prevalent within the system. This research will provide more insight into foodborne pathogen risks in the aquaponics industry and will provide valuable information to other commercial aquaponics farms that could prevent the introduction of these pathogens in their systems.

“The traineeship will contribute to my research goals by funding a research field that is creating an innovative and sustainable method to produce fresh food sources to urban, rural, and food desert areas in Georgia,” Dorick said.

 

Monét Murphy

Monét Murphy

Monét Murphy is an undergraduate student pursuing a double major in marine science and environmental science at Savannah State University. Her project will involve studying benthic foraminifera in the Savannah River Estuary. Benthic foraminifera are tiny, single-celled organisms that can serve as bioindicators of environmental conditions in marine environments, including natural variability and human impacts. They are generally well preserved in the fossil record.

As part of her project, Murphy will study foraminifera distribution and abundance in samples collected before, during and after the deepening of the Savannah River harbor. This research will determine if the upstream extension of saline waters due to Savannah harbor deepening has impacted foraminifera distribution and if these changes have the potential to be impacted in the sediment record.

“The traineeship program will help me better communicate my results, the importance of benthic foraminifera, and the impacts of harbor deepening to stakeholders and how the study of the fossil record informs us of the range of past climatic, coastal and oceanographic conditions,” Murphy said.

 

Alexandra Muscalus

Alexandra Muscalus

Alexandra Muscalus is a Ph.D. student in the Ocean Science and Engineering program at Georgia Tech. Her research focuses on hydrodynamics and coastal impacts of the wake generated by container ships, which pose public safety hazards and have been linked to rapid shoreline erosion along shipping channels.

Muscalus will study sites in the Savannah River to measure the wave characteristics and energy of ship wake in the main shipping channel as well as nearby secondary channels. Her research will be beneficial in providing new information for coastal managers when it comes to mitigating impacts of low-frequency wakes on shorelines.

“The traineeship will allow me to conclude my thesis work in a way that transforms my previous findings into meaningful and actionable results for stakeholders. At the same time, it will provide a means for me to interact with stakeholder groups and help me decide in which specific direction I would like to take my career,” Muscalus said.

 

Sarah Roney

Sarah Roney

Sarah Roney is a Ph.D. student in the Ocean Science and Engineering program at Georgia Tech. Her traineeship will involve researching how different types of organic compounds identified from predator waste products can improve how oysters defend themselves against predation.

Working with researchers at the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant Shellfish Research Lab, Roney will introduce two organic compounds in a hatchery system that have been shown to induce defensive responses in oysters. The goal is to produce a stronger, well-defended oyster that can increase the success of restored reefs and living shorelines as well as the productivity of farmed oysters, enhancing oyster restoration practices as well as oyster mariculture efforts.

“With the trainee program, I can work with not only my academic and scientific advisor, Marc Weissburg, but also the director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Shellfish Research Lab, Tom Bliss, learning about the ins-and-outs of the shellfish industry in Georgia and the ways scientific research can be beneficial and applicable to the trade,” Roney said.

 

Megan Tomamichel

Megan Tomamichel

Megan Tomamichel is a Ph.D. student at UGA’s Odum School of Ecology researching black gill disease in shrimp. Her project involves developing a stock assessment model of shrimp populations that incorporates black gill transmission and harvesting strategies under ongoing oceanic warming.

The model will account for the impacts of black gill on shrimp, and it can be used to inform management strategies for shrimp harvest under changing environmental conditions.

“I was interested in applying to the Georgia Sea Grant Research Trainee program to support my current research addressing a disease of concern in Georgia fisheries. This program aligns with my goals to use science as a tool to help support the people and ecosystems of the Georgia Coast,” Tomamichel said.

Program certifies ecotourism guides at the Georgia coast

UGA program provides best practices related to water-based tourism activities

Osprey diving for fish, roseate spoonbills foraging in tidal creeks and American oystercatchers tending to their nests on barrier islands are just a few things visitors may see while exploring the Georgia coast by water.

A new certification program developed by the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, in collaboration with Manomet Inc., is ensuring that ecotour guides educate visitors about nature and how to protect it.

Led by UGA marine educators, the Coastal Awareness and Responsible Ecotourism, or CARE, program provides ecotour companies with tools to implement best practices when it comes to water-based tourism activities.

“The program has long been a goal for shorebird biologists and others, including veteran ecotour guides, involved in wildlife conservation,” said Katie Higgins, environmental educator and volunteer coordinator at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “No other program like this exists to strengthen the growing community of ecotour guides along the coast.”

In spring 2021, 15 water-based Georgia coastal tour guides were certified after taking the 16-hour course that focused on recreational use and potential disturbance of coastal habitats, which has serious implications for wildlife, specifically shorebirds.

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 animals.

A woman uses binoculars to look in the Wassaw Sound for migrating shorebirds

Abby Sterling with Manomet, Inc. leads a field trip for participants in Wassaw Sound where they learn about stewardship activities that protect migrating shorebirds. (Photo by Fran Lapolla)

“CARE began with the idea that if those leading ecotours know more about coastal ecology and wildlife, they can in turn teach those participating in their tours more about this critical balance and how best to preserve these resources,” Higgins said.

Participants in the UGA certification program, who offer tours by kayak, paddleboard or boat, graduated just in time for the spring birding migration and summer tourist season, allowing them to share information learned from the program with tourists.

Some of the certification participants are new to the profession. Others, like Cindy Dennard, owner of SouthEast Adventure Outfitters in St. Simons and Brunswick, is a veteran tour guide.

“I’m always interested in continuing education and it’s always hard to stay current on what the latest info is that everybody is passing around. I feel like it’s really important to stay on top of that kind of stuff,” said Dennard, who participated in the course along with three of her employees.

“It seems like this area is going to be continuing to grow and people are going to want to get outdoors,” Dennard said. “If the main folks that are taking people out have a similar standard of what behaviors should be and what’s communicated to visitors, that seems like it would help protect what people are trying to enjoy.”

Funded by a grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division, the course has the potential to expand in the future to include other topics related to coastal stewardship. Higgins and her collaborators at Manomet plan to offer the UGA course again in February 2022. More information about the program as well as a map of certified guides is available online.

UGA graduate students selected as Knauss finalists

Two graduate students from the University of Georgia have been selected as finalists for the 2022 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, sponsored by the National Sea Grant College Program. The finalists will spend one year in Washington, D.C. in marine policy-related positions in legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

The students will join 74 finalists in the 2022 class representing 28 of the 34 Sea Grant programs in the coastal and Great Lakes states and territories.

The finalists from Georgia are:

Rebecca Adkins, 2022 Knauss Finalist

Rebecca Atkins, 2022 Knauss Finalist

Rebecca Atkins, who is working towards her Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology. For her dissertation project, Atkins is exploring spatial patterns in snail-plant interactions within salt marshes from Florida to Delaware. She holds a bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology and conservation and a minor in fisheries and aquatic studies from the University of Florida.

 

 

 

Chandler Countryman, 2022 Knauss Finalist

Chandler Countryman, 2022 Knauss Finalist

Chandler Countryman, a Ph.D. student in marine sciences at the University of Georgia and is studying the oceanic biological carbon pump. Countryman is also earning a certificate in water resources to better understand the human dimensions of environmental issues and the role that government plays in allocating resources. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Northern Michigan University.

 

 

 

The 2022 Knauss finalists will become the 43rd class of the fellowship and will join a group of almost 1,500 professionals who have received hands-on experiences transferring science to policy and management through the program.

Placement of 2022 Knauss finalists as fellows is contingent on adequate funding in Fiscal Year 2022.

The National Sea Grant College Program announced finalists for the 2022 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowships. Here is a link to the national release.

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