UGA partners with the Department of Defense to build resilience in the Southeast

For years, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has been helping coastal communities in low lying areas build resilience into planning efforts. Sitting adjacent to some of these communities are U.S. Department of Defense military installations that are just as vulnerable to coastal hazards.

In 2019, the Department of Defense identified climate challenges facing military installations across the country in its “Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense.” Of the 79 installations included in the report, 53 were experiencing recurring flooding. Flooding and extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, pose the greatest risk to installations in the Southeast coastal region.

To help protect coastal installations and surrounding communities, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant secured funding from the Department of Defense and the National Sea Grant College Program to hire Michelle Covi as the country’s first Coastal Resilience DOD Liaison in 2021.

A woman speaks to a conference room of military personnel with a presentation projected on the wall

Michelle Covi presents on coastal resilience work in military communities at the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability meeting in Beaufort, NC. Photo Credit: Sarah Spiegler

Covi’s role involves assisting military communities in Georgia and across the Southeast in becoming more resilient to coastal hazards by improving collaboration and coordination between the DOD as well as with Sea Grant programs, resilience specialists, local governments and community leaders.

“Climate change, shoreline erosion, extreme weather, flooding—the DOD recognizes that these are significant threats to coastal installations, and flooding doesn’t stop at the fence line,” says Covi. She understands that military resilience projects, which often involve land acquisition and conservation to maintain a buffer between installations and surrounding communities, require a collaborative approach between local, state and federal entities.

For the last year, Covi has created a suite of reports and resources that highlight best practices for working with installations and provide examples of successful resilience projects in military communities. These resources are being used by Sea Grant programs, military installations, and coastal resilience specialists across the region to inform collaborative projects.

UGA is also having a national impact through Covi’s leadership. She is directly supporting Sea Grant colleagues and university partners with applying for DOD funding for climate resilience projects. Her efforts helped bring $6.48 million to Mississippi Alabama Sea Grant Consortium to fund the installation of a living shoreline at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. The project, funded by the National Coastal Resilience Fund, will reduce wave erosion, prevent marsh degradation and improve the base’s resilience to extreme weather events.

Her work on a national level is also enhancing local partnerships. In Georgia, Covi helped connect personnel at Fort Stewart with experts the UGA Institute of Government who are applying for federal grants to support studies looking at transportation infrastructure vulnerabilities, sustainable development, and other resilience issues impacting the installation and surrounding community.

Fort Stewart is the largest army installation east of the Mississippi, spanning six counties in Georgia’s coastal plain. The base can train up to 50,0000 soldiers annually and has an economic impact of $4.99 billion.

Traveling between Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, which are part of the same installation but geographically separated, requires the use of community roads that are at risk from flooding events caused by high tides, intense rain events and rising groundwater levels. These events impact those commuting to and from the base.

a female military officer stands outside and speaks to a large group of civilians

Military personnel at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point speak to attendees of the 2022 Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability meeting. Photo Credit: Sarah Spiegler

“We hope to identify natural infrastructure solutions that improve transportation issues, like introducing rain gardens to manage stormwater runoff or protecting and restoring marshes and wetlands that are threatened by development,” says Scott Pippin, a public service faculty member at the UGA Institute of Government who is managing the unit’s defense community program.

In addition to looking at flooding issues, the team hopes to support compatible land use studies that look at sustainable development around the installation to maintain the Fort’s buffer.

“The idea is to develop in the right place to protect the natural infrastructure, like forests and marshes that help clean the air, mitigate flooding and improve water quality,” says Pippin.

“Through the UGA Institute of Government’s on-the-ground planning and implementation efforts, paired with Covi’s unique role in coordinating regional efforts through the DOD Liaison Program, UGA is becoming a national leader enhancing military community resilience,” says Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

“Sharing lessons learned with other Sea Grant programs, and experts in the region and around the country, UGA is helping create safer military communities that are less prone to disaster as well as a stronger military that is better prepared to respond when needed.”

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

UGA, Coastal Outreach Soccer partner to boost STEM education, environmental stewardship

Middle and high school students in Brunswick are learning about coastal conservation through an afterschool program created by the University of Georgia and Coastal Outreach Soccer.

Sponsored by Honeywell, the Young Professional (Yo Pro) STEM training includes hands-on lessons taught by extension specialists at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant in Brunswick. The students are participants in Coastal Outreach Soccer, an afterschool program coordinated by staff and volunteers that focuses on soccer, academics and mentoring youth ages 4 to 18 years old.

The goal of the program is to introduce students to a range of future career opportunities in Brunswick and the surrounding areas and encourage the students to be good environmental stewards.

“The Yo Pro program is giving student athletes the exposure and hands-on experiences they need to identify their passion,” says Shawn Williams, executive director of Coastal Outreach Soccer. “It is great to see this level of engagement between UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant staff and our students. We believe this program will lead some of them to choose a career in environmental conservation.”

The program’s interactive lessons complement the State of Georgia’s standards for science education, and include tracking animal movements, studying the environmental impacts of stormwater runoff, learning about the importance of water quality and catching blue crabs. The in-person sessions are limited to small groups and face masks and social distancing are required.

Program coordinator Kimberly Andrews says she expects about 30 students, ages 11-17, to participate during the spring and fall of 2021.

Contact: Shawn Williams, cos-admin@hotmail.com

2020 Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant Annual Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New sustainable ecotourism certificate aims to protect shorebirds while supporting tourism

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

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

A sandpiper bird stands among shells on the sandy beach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UGA Brunswick Station Open House scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 26

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is hosting its second open house at the Brunswick Station on Sept. 26 from 4-7 p.m.

Visitors of all ages are invited to tour the facility, engage with coastal experts, and learn about Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s research, education and extension efforts on the coast.

“The whole idea is to connect people in the community to the resources that we have here at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant,” said Bryan Fluech, associate marine extension director. “From helping residents prepare for hurricanes to installing a rain garden, we have in-house experts ready and willing to serve people on the coast.”

Staff will have stations set up throughout the facility that feature live marine animals and reptiles, hands-on marine debris activities and information about Georgia’s shellfish industry.

A new virtual reality demonstration station will allow visitors to experience what it’s like when an 8-foot storm surge impacts a home on the coast. The program, which was developed in collaboration with the Games and Virtual Environments Lab in the UGA Grady College and Mass Communication, takes users through a hurricane event with storm surge and then allows them to elevate their house and obtain flood insurance to protect their family and property against future flood risks.

The R/V Georgia Bulldog, a 72-foot shrimp trawler that has been converted into a multipurpose research vessel, will be open to visitors. The Bulldog has been providing logistical support for research projects that involve fishery development, bottom mapping and sea turtle conservation since the 1980s.

Visitors are also invited to explore the station’s half-acre native plant demonstration garden with more than 115 types of native plants.

Staff at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Brunswick Station have been serving coastal Georgia communities for over 40 years, conducting important water quality research, ensuring safe seafood, preparing communities for coastal hazards and educating Georgians about stormwater management.

Additional details about the event can be found here: https://gacoast.uga.edu/event/brunswick-station-open-house/

Learn more about Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant at https://gacoast.uga.edu/.

Contact: Emily Kenworthy, 912-598-2340 ext. 107, ekenworthy@uga.edu

Georgia Sea Grant assists in recovery and response to Hurricane Irma

In partnership with the University of Georgia Office of Research, Georgia Sea Grant has invested nearly $50,000 in rapid response funding to support six research projects that address challenges related to recovery and response to Hurricane Irma. Rapid response funding allows Georgia Sea Grant to make quick investments in research related to urgent and unanticipated events. The projects funded through this collaboration aim to improve understanding of the hurricane impacts on coastal ecosystems and communities using innovative research methods.

“Collaboration with Georgia Sea Grant has enabled timely investments in research projects that will expand our knowledge and lead to practical insights that guide response and recovery to hurricanes,” says UGA Vice President for Research David Lee.

The South Atlantic coast experienced some of the most severe impacts of Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in September 2017. High winds and downed trees caused 1.5 million customers in Georgia to lose power. Wastewater and stormwater systems were inundated with seawater – a situation exacerbated by the loss of electricity to water treatment facilities, pumps and lift stations. The hurricane unveiled weaknesses in manmade and natural infrastructure in Georgia that challenge the resilience of coastal communities.

The selected projects will study these challenges and findings will help inform management decisions made before, during and after a hurricane.

Hurricane Irma Awards:

  • Keeping the Lights on after a Hurricane: The Economics of Grid Resilience Infrastructure in Georgia’s Coastal Communities.
    Jessica Alcorn, University of Georgia
  • Using Novel Drone and Time-Lapse Photography Techniques to Monitor Coastal Infrastructure Impacts from Hurricanes and Tidal Surges.
    Kimberly Andrews, University of Georgia
  • Persistent Hydrological Consequences of Hurricane Interactions with the Georgia Coastline.
    Paul Miller, University of Georgia
  • Response of stressed marsh to Hurricane Irma.
    Chris Hladik, Georgia Southern University
  • Supporting Coastal Resiliency by Investigating Tidal Reach, Storm Surge, and Interconnected Factors in Coastal Georgia.
    Chris Hintz, Savannah State University
  • Protecting Georgia’s Coastline: Optimize Material Development for use in Oyster Restoration Projects
    Thomas Manning, Valdosta State University  

The Georgia Sea Grant College Program is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Georgia Sea Grant unites the resources of the federal government, the state of Georgia and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Georgia.

Audubon International certifies first Sustainable Community in Georgia

With help from UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, The Landings community on Skidaway Island was recently designated by Audubon International as the first Certified Sustainable Community in Georgia.

The decision to pursue certification was made in 2013 by members of Skidaway Audubon who established a Sustainable Skidaway steering committee made up of residents and staff in The Landings, as well as representatives from other entities on the island, including Skidaway Island State Park and UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. For the last five years, the committee has led the effort to become a Certified Sustainable Community.

Anne Lindsay, associate director of marine education at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island serves on the committee and has been involved in a number of education and outreach projects that helped move the community forward in its designation.

“I joined the committee to establish a stronger connection with a team of like-minded and interesting folks who want to provide new opportunities for this island community,” says Lindsay. “The designation achieved by The Landings is a real inspiration to me, personally, and serves as a model for the greater Savannah area and broader coastal community.”

As a member of the committee, Lindsay helped create interpretive signs about historic and natural sites on Skidaway Island that have been installed in public areas in the community. These signs are designed to give residents a deeper understanding of where they live.

“Numerous people from UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant have contributed time and expertise throughout the certification process,” says Meredith Welch, a Landings resident who serves as the program coordinator. “It was Anne who named us “Sustainable Skidaway,” which so aptly and appropriately includes our UGA neighbors on this island.”

The long-term sustainability plan approved by Audubon International has over 15 focus areas, including economic development, housing, environment, resource use, agriculture, education and open space, among many others. In order to receive certification, communities must implement projects in each of these areas that benefit community residents and visitors as well as the natural environment.

One of the long-term projects that earned The Landings points in the environment category is the Skidaway Island Diamondback Terrapin Hatchery Project, which is overseen by Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant Naturalist John “Crawfish” Crawford. Crawford holds a Department of Natural Resources Scientific Collection Permit, which allows volunteers in the community to retrieve terrapin nests from golf courses so they aren’t destroyed by predators or machinery. The eggs are transferred to nesting boxes that are located near the marsh, allowing hatchlings to be released into their natural habitat.

“John and I started this program 15 years ago, myself as a concerned spectator watching the terrapin nests being destroyed by the crows and raccoons, and John, who supported and guided my efforts to retrieve the terrapin eggs and release the newborn hatchlings,” says Carolyn McInerney, founder of the Diamondback Terrapin Hatchery Project. “In 2017, seven volunteers gathered over 2,400 eggs and released over 2,000 hatchlings. John’s expertise and guidance has been invaluable to the expansion and success of this program.”

Science and education inspire during microplastics panel

Over 80 participants gathered for an Evening @ Skidaway program on Nov. 16 to hear about the emerging issue of microplastics.

Jay Brandes, a chemical oceanographer with Skidaway Institute of Oceanography talked about his Georgia Sea Grant-funded study on the prevalence of microplastics in Georgia waters, a vital step in addressing the issue and understanding its impact on coastal ecosystems. Brandes is working with Dodie Sanders, a marine educator at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, to translate the research into educational materials for K-12 teachers and create techniques for studying microplastics in the classroom.

Maia McGuire, extension agent with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida Sea Grant, discussed the Florida Microplastics Awareness Project that has mobilized coastal communities to monitor microplastics and minimize the amount of plastics they add to the environment.

The presentations sparked questions and conversations among the audience. The community outreach event is one of many important steps in fostering a more informed and engaged public that’s dedicated to maintaining a healthy coastal environment.

An “Evening @ Skidaway” is sponsored by the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and the Associates of Skidaway Institute.

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