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).



Marine educator awarded PSO Spotlight Award for developing virtual programming during the pandemic

Kayla Clark, a public program coordinator and educator at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, is the most recent Public Service and Outreach Employee Spotlight awardee.

“We are so proud of your work and its impact. Both really embody the spirit of this award,” PSO Vice President Jennifer Frum said in presenting the award at the start of a Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant Zoom meeting.

A framed certificate and a box of treats were delivered to Clark, who is based at the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant office on Skidaway Island.

Clark was nominated for the award by Anne Lindsay, associate director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. In her nomination Lindsay cited Clark’s role in researching, creating and implementing virtual activities for the summer, when the UGA Aquarium was closed because of the pandemic.

“The result of her leadership has provided the public with a series of exciting online explorations that show the world the work of our unit and the impact Public Service and Outreach has on the State,” Lindsay wrote in her nomination.

“Kayla makes us proud to be her colleague each and every day, but especially so over the last several months,” Lindsay wrote. “She sets the bar higher for all of us! Her foundational work now provides us with a springboard for developing and implementing virtual programming through the school year.”

Clark came to UGA in 2015 for a one-year Sea Grant Marine Education Fellowship. She was hired as a public programs coordinator when she completed her fellowship in 2016. She earned a bachelor of arts degree from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and is working on a master’s degree in biology from Miami University of Ohio in Oxford, Ohio.

Clark is the sixth PSO employee to receive the spotlight award since it was launched by the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach in November 2019.

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant expands virtual programming

When the coronavirus pandemic caused Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to close its coastal facilities in March, Public Program Coordinator Kayla Clark came up with a plan to offer a suite of virtual summer programs that families could enjoy remotely.

Throughout June and July, Clark worked with educators and extension specialists to host a series of online events that have attracted hundreds of participants, reaching new audiences that could not visit the Marine Education Center and Aquarium in person.

“Virtual programming is a pretty new thing for our faculty and staff, and it’s been a bit of a learning curve,” Clark says. “We’ve got the rhythm down now and are looking forward to offering even more virtual programming this fall so that we can continue to engage children and adults.”

Each program includes interactive activities that families can do together at home. The style aligns with the hands-on, feet-in approach that educators at the UGA Aquarium use to facilitate coastal exploration with all ages. Recordings of the summer programs are available for viewing on the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant YouTube channel.

“I’ve been blown away by the engaging material, the way you’ve found a way to connect with kids of all ages and have made them something that we all look forward to,” Brookwood High School teacher and Friend of the Aquarium John Chvatal wrote in an email to Clark. “You have put together lessons that can work for any age group, you have great transitions, interesting information and the enthusiasm and depth of knowledge is really at a topnotch level.”

Trey Cooper holding meeting to explain how to use new equipment

Trey Cooper, a member of the communications team, led a socially distanced meeting for faculty and staff to learn how to use the new equipment.

The communications team at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant was recently able to purchase multimedia equipment that will boost the quality of the online programs. The new equipment, purchased with funding donated by Friends of the Aquarium, includes wireless microphones, tripods, a webcam, a 360-degree camera and a WIFI hotspot device. The communications team held a socially distanced training session for faculty and staff to explain how to use the equipment and offer tips and best practices on creating video content.

“Our faculty and staff are working together to deliver engaging, educational content during a time when connecting with people can be difficult,” says Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “Our hope is that with this new equipment, we can expand the type of programming we’re offering and make our facilities and field experiences virtually accessible to broader audiences.”

The new equipment will enable faculty and staff to utilize specific areas of the aquarium where background noise and lighting can be a limiting factor. It will also allow them to host programs about dolphin studies and barrier island explorations in the field. The new microphones can capture dialogue without interference from the wind and other outdoor noises.

Details about the new fall programs will be available on Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s event calendar in early September at https://gacoast.uga.edu/events/

In addition to increasing virtual programming, the UGA Aquarium will reopen on Aug. 5 for small group visits. Groups of up to 10 people may reserve an hour to visit the aquarium with a marine educator who can talk about the different exhibits and answer questions. The programs will be offered Mondays through Thursdays at 10 a.m. and at 1 p.m. Masks, social distancing and hand sanitizing will be required. The program cost is $50 and online payment is required when the reservation is made. More information is available at https://gacoast.uga.edu/visit-us/

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 receives $50,000 grant from AT&T to address flooding in Athens-Clarke County

A grant from AT&T will help an interdisciplinary team of UGA faculty assess long-term flood frequency and severity for Athens-Clarke County in order to better plan for future development and infrastructure investments.

Paul Chambers Jr., regional director of external affairs for AT&T presented the check to Jennifer Frum, UGA vice president for Public Service and Outreach, and Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Risse will work with Shana Jones, planning and environmental services program manager at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, and Brian Bledsoe, the UGA Athletic Association Professor in Resilient Infrastructure, in the UGA College of Engineering. Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government are UGA public service and outreach units.

The UGA project will assess potential future flooding issues for Athens-Clarke County. The county and UGA’s Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems will work together to develop flood inundation maps, visualizations and a modeling framework for rapidly assessing flooding pressure points at the municipal scale. These products will create an improved understanding of future flood hazards and inform long-term planning and infrastructure investment priorities.

UGA is one of five southeastern institutions selected for AT&T’s Climate Resiliency Community Challenge, a project designed to help communities in the United State build a resistance to climate change. The teams will use data commissioned by AT&T from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and funding from AT&T to conduct innovative research on climate impacts and community responses in the southeastern United States.

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.

Nina Sassano joins Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant team

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marine resource specialist Marty Higgins retires after more than three decades in public service

For 33 years, Marine Resource Specialist Marty Higgins has assisted in the research and development of fisheries gear and advised conservation research while serving as the first mate of the R/V Georgia Bulldog. His work has helped conserve coastal resources while keeping fishermen in business.

Bryan Fluech, associate director of Marine Extension, says, “Captain Higgins’ dedication and commitment to assisting Georgia’s fishing industry has been nothing short of spectacular. I have never met an individual who is as respected by the fishing industry as Marty. Dozens of fishing families would not be in business anymore if it were not for his hard work and service.”

Born and raised in Brunswick, Higgins developed a deep, trusting relationship with Georgia’s coastal fishing community. When UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant was at the forefront of assisting in the development and certification of turtle excluder devices, or TEDs, which prevent sea turtles from being caught in shrimp nets, Higgins provided countless hours of technical assistance and consultation to ensure the devices not only met conservation standards but also minimized economic loss to fishermen.

Higgins has spent most of his career on the water, advising hundreds of research projects and making sure field gear meets state and federal standards for safety and performance. He has maintained the 40-year-old R/V Georgia Bulldog, allowing the crew to continue to support fisheries and conservation research on Georgia’s most valuable coastal resources, including loggerhead sea turtles and the North Atlantic right whale.

He also operated the Brunswick station’s smaller research vessels for both water quality and fishery needs and provided maintenance and support for the entire Brunswick facility so that faculty and staff work safely and efficiently as they carry out the service mission of the university.

Higgins provided welding and mechanical services to visiting scientists and local fishermen. His ability to repair, rebuild and maintain fishing and research gear has saved fishermen thousands of dollars on boat repairs and kept them on the water. Higgins’ commitment to public service has established the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant program as one that is nationally recognized for being responsive to the public.

“If we had more people like Marty in this world, [the fishing industry] would have a lot less problems,” said Bruce Collins, the packing house manager with City Market Seafood in Brunswick. “He’s kept us educated about new fishing equipment and ways the university is supporting the industry. He’s probably helped every fisherman on the waterfront.”

Mare Timmons retires after 23 years at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant

Mare Timmons, a long-time educator at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium, retired at the end of August after 23 years of service to UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

During her years as a marine educator, she provided marine science programming to thousands of Pre-K-college students, visitors and teachers. Her energetic approach to teaching others about the marine world has left lasting impressions on those who benefited from her institutional knowledge and expertise in marine science.

“Mare’s impact on marine education in the state and on a national level is immense,” says Anne Lindsay, associate director of marine education at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “Her fearless, all-in teaching style, and laughter served as the heart of our work here for so many years. We are grateful for her investment in the Georgia coast and the world’s oceans.”

Timmons is best known for overseeing the Georgia Sea Grant marine education internship, a nationally recognized program designed for recent college graduates who spend a year on Skidaway Island gaining teaching experience in marine science and coastal ecology. Since 1999, more than 100 interns have participated in the program and many have gone on to professional careers in natural resource management, marine policy, classroom and environmental education, marine research, and animal husbandry.

“Mare was such a source of inspiration for me as a budding marine science educator. She always encouraged me to stretch the limits and reach my full potential while maintaining my professionalism and adventurous side,” says Jaclyn Miller, a 2011-12 intern, who is now a middle school science teacher in Williamsburg, Virginia.

In 2003, Timmons helped designate Skidaway Island as one of the sites in the NOAA Phytoplankton Monitoring Network. As part of this citizen science initiative, participants collect water samples from the Skidaway River every Thursday and analyze them for the presence of harmful algae that may create water quality issues for fish and other aquatic organisms. For 15 years, Timmons served as site supervisor, coordinating the volunteers who participate in the program.

Timmons focused on reaching new audiences through programming targeted towards underserved demographic groups in marine science. She launched the Women in Marine Science summer camp for girls 12 to 14. She also provided specialized programming for deaf and hard of hearing students at Hesse Elementary in Savannah for several years. She has been instrumental in bringing the work of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to the forefront of the national and international marine education community by sharing programmatic accomplishments and seeking out new collaborative opportunities at state, regional and national conferences.

Prior to her role at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, Timmons spent the early parts of her career on the west coast in California, serving as a teaching assistant and research instructor at California State University Long Beach. She also worked as a marine biologist instructor at the San Pedro Science Center in California.

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant welcomes Katie Higgins

Katie Higgins is UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s new marine educator and volunteer coordinator. In her dual role, she will provide hands-on experiential learning programs for students and grow Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s volunteer program. Higgins will be based on Skidaway Island at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

“I enjoy teaching and interacting with people who are motivated and engaged with Georgia’s coastal ecosystem and the organisms that rely on them,” said Higgins. “Everyone at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant whether staff, faculty or volunteer, is energetic and knowledgeable. My natural inclination towards wonder and discovery help me feel right at home here.”

Higgins serves on the board for the Georgia Association of Marine Educators and is a certified facilitator for the nationally recognized environmental education curricula Projects Wet, Wild and Learning Tree. As a marine educator, she will introduce students to Georgia’s diverse coastal ecosystems through outdoor exploration and lab studies.

When she’s not teaching, Higgins will work with volunteers that participate in programs like the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network, which involves monitoring local waters once a week for marine phytoplankton and harmful algal blooms. She will also develop a streamlined process for recruiting and training volunteers to help out with activities at the aquarium.

“I hope to grow the program in numbers, opportunities, and demographic diversity. I also hope to partner with other like-minded facilities, like UGA’s Coastal Botanical Garden, Telfair Museums and Oatland Island Wildlife Center, to understand how volunteers assist with their programming and find ways of creating unique and lasting collaborations,” said Higgins.

Before settling in Georgia, Higgins spent time overseas in Spain, teaching English as a second language as well as serving as an environmental education board member for a local chapter of BirdLife International. Prior to joining the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant team, Higgins served as the education coordinator for the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island. Higgins has an undergraduate degree in biology with an emphasis in vertebrate zoology from Portland State University and a master’s degree in zoology from Miami University of Ohio.

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