Three recent college graduates selected for Georgia Sea Grant State Fellowship

Three college graduates will work with state, federal and non-governmental agencies over the next year as part of the Georgia Sea Grant State Fellowship. The fellowship places early career professionals in host offices where they gain hands-on experience in resource management, outreach, planning and policy implementation.

“This is the fourth year of offering this fellowship, and we are already seeing past fellows secure permanent positions with some of our partners,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “It’s great to see a growing network of young professionals who can offer a multidisciplinary approach to solving Georgia’s coastal issues.”

The 2022-2023 fellows will work with the following partners: Georgia Audubon, NOAA Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary and Jekyll Island Authority.

Michael Brennan has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Georgia Southern University. As a master’s student at Georgia Southern, he is studying how land management in the Ocala National Forest is impacting snakes, lizards and tortoises as well as the indirect impacts of land management on lizard endoparasites. Brennan’s fellowship with Jekyll Island Authority will involve tracking and monitoring eastern diamondback rattlesnake populations on the island. Brennan is excited to support Eastern diamondback rattlesnake conservation efforts while gaining new skills in education and outreach.

“I will gain valuable experience working with state agencies and collaborating with NGOs in the Southeast on snake conservation. This fellowship is a great opportunity to diversify my research experience and field technician skills,” Brennan said.

Lauren Bowman Clontz has a bachelor’s degree in wildlife conservation from Virginia Tech and a master’s degree in conservation leadership from Colorado State University, which prepares leaders to address conservation issues at local, regional and national levels. As part of her fellowship with Georgia Audubon, she will help establish and grow programs along the coast that focus on bird collision reduction initiatives, native plants and community science projects. Clontz looks forward to advancing her knowledge in the conservation field in meaningful ways by structuring her career through an interdisciplinary lens.

“The fellowship stood out to me because I am inspired by the emphasis of a collaborative, multi-faceted approach to conservation. I am excited for the opportunity to work closely with conservation professionals and build my professional portfolio,” Clontz said.

Madison Monroe received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in ecology from UGA. Her research focused on spatial and temporal patterns of microplastic concentrations from wastewater treatment plants. As part of her fellowship, she will be working with Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, assisting with ongoing monitoring and science projects at the reef, contributing to reporting efforts that inform the sanctuary’s management plan, and supporting education events at the organization’s new visitor center in downtown Savannah. Monroe looks forward to using this experience to help jump start her career in environmental conservation.

“This fellowship will help bolster my understanding of aquatic sciences as a multidisciplinary field; it will help me engage with coastal scientists to understand the diverse work going on at the coast,” Monroe said.


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.

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

Four graduate students selected for Georgia Sea Grant State Fellowship

Four graduate students will gain hands-on experience in the planning and implementation of coastal and marine policies and programs in Georgia as part of their Georgia Sea Grant State Fellowship. The year-long fellowship offers a unique opportunity for students to work in host offices that include state and federal government agencies as well as non-governmental partners and industries in Georgia.

“We’re excited to be working with a great group of partners to provide these incredible opportunities for students who will gain invaluable insights that shape their future,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “It’s a win-win for everyone as our partners will benefit from having talented students helping them solve critical coastal issues.”

The 2021-2022 fellows will work with the following partners: Georgia Audubon, NOAA Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, the Georgia DNR’s Coastal Management Program, and Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve and Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society.


Victoria Baglin has a bachelor’s in biological sciences from South Georgia State College. She is currently pursuing her master’s in biology at Georgia Southern University. Baglin’s graduate research focuses on assessing the effects of climate change on leaf decomposition rates and the macroinvertebrate communities that support decomposition processes. As a fellow with NOAA Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, Baglin will advance several science, policy and planning projects and programs while gaining the diverse skills and professional experience necessary to succeed in a natural resource management career.

“The Georgia Sea Grant State Fellowship will not only allow me to engage in personal career development planning, but it will also allow me to contribute and participate in solving important environmental problems while addressing real-world issues faced by conservation managers,” Baglin said.


Kim Savides received a bachelor’s in wildlife science from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. As a master’s student at Utah State University, she is studying the migratory timing and routes of the Lazuli Bunting, a small songbird native to the western U.S. Her fellowship at Georgia Audubon will involve expanding their coastal program with new bird research and monitoring, as well as public education and outreach about bird conservation.

“This fellowship is an exceptionally exciting opportunity that will allow me to build upon my research and monitoring experiences while also allowing me to interact with and engage a variety of resource managers, stakeholders and the public,” Savides said.


Shannon Matzke graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in coastal environmental science. She is currently a master’s student in the Department of Biology at Georgia Southern University. There, she is finishing up her thesis on Tybee Island’s coastal sand dune restoration project. Matzke will be working in the Georgia Coastal Management Program, which is led by Georgia DNR’s Coastal Resources Division. She will assist with updating the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution program. While working on the project, she will experience active coastal management as well as gain key skills in coastal policy, resource management, stakeholder engagement and public interaction.

“This fellowship will introduce me to the policy side of coastal environmental work which will help me to better understand the ins and outs of current and future restoration projects,” Matzke said.


Hannah Morris has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from UGA and a master’s degree in anthropology from Ohio State University. She is currently a Ph.D. student in the Integrative Conservation program at UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resource Management where she is studying land use history and forest change on several barrier islands off the Georgia coast. As a state fellow, Morris will be working with the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society to work on enhancing the resilience of Hogg Hummock, a private community on Sapelo Island widely known as the last “Saltwater Geechee” community on the east coast. In her role, she will draft comprehensive flood mitigation recommendations to address the types of flooding impacting the community.

“This fellowship will allow me to bring my knowledge of that history, along with the skills and training I’ve received in my education, to address some of the most pressing conservation issues our coast faces, including climate change, land use change and socio-environmental justice,” Morris said.


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.

UGA partners on state’s first commercial fishing career pathway, a workforce development program for high school students at the coast

Herbert McIver, better known as Truck, grew up working on the water alongside his father who was a commercial shrimper out of McIntosh County, Georgia.

McIver, now a marine resources specialist at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, spent 40 years in the shrimping industry, working his way up from deck crew to captain of his own boat.

“Shrimping was a family affair,” he said. “I started working when I was 9 or 10 years old, going out with him and heading shrimp on the back of the boat.”

McIver left the business in 2012, which has become a common theme in the industry over the last several decades. There were 1,400 trawling license holders in 1979. Today there are just over 200. Those who remain despite increasing operating costs, cheaper imported shrimp, regulatory changes, and fewer working waterfronts are having trouble finding qualified help to work on the boats.

University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is partnering with McIntosh County Academy and Coastal Pines Technical College on a dual-enrollment program that teaches high school students about safety at sea, basic navigation and seamanship, common commercial fishing practices, and an overview of fisheries science and management.

Man showing a student a small fish

Bryan Fleuch (right) teaches a student how do identify and sort fish sampled during a trawl.

McIver and Bryan Fluech, associate director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, helped develop course materials for the career pathway program and are serving as guest instructors.

So far, they have taught students how to mend and sew nets that are used on shrimp trawlers and led the class on a trip using nets of different lengths and mesh size to demonstrate how to select the right gear. The class also participated in a series of outreach trawls aboard Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s R/V Georgia Bulldog where they learned how to sort and identify fish.

“We’re giving students actual hands-on experience so that they’re not having to be taught as soon as they step on a vessel,” said Robert Todd, the instructor for the four-part course. Todd is a fourth generation commercial fisherman whose family owns Todd Shrimping, Inc. When he is not shrimping with his father, he teaches audio/video technology and commercial fisheries at Mcintosh County Academy.

In addition to working a shrimp boat, Todd hopes to introduce students to related opportunities outside of the industry.
“I have had two students go full time into shrimping, and I have one student that just graduated that is actually looking into becoming a DNR [Department of Natural Resources] law enforcement agent,” he said. “Getting students exposure to careers that surround the industry, whether it’s the Coast Guard, the DNR, the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant office, TowBoatUS, it doesn’t matter, as long as we’re giving these kids career choices.”

Two students use a net in the ocean

Students learn how to use a seine net as part of the fishing careers course.

Chris Simmons, a recent graduate of McIntosh County Academy, completed the course in 2021. “Fishing is a big thing around so here, so I figured I’d look into it,” said Simmons, who was born and raised in McIntosh County. He had little experience working on the water prior to the course.

“The class is fun. You’re not just stuck in a classroom reading textbooks and information off of a screen. You’re actually going out there and doing it,” he said.

Seven students have completed the pathways course so far, and Todd expects to double the number of registered students this fall now that students are back to in-person learning.

McIver looks forward to continuing to share his knowledge with students participating in the program.

“I’m just excited to be able to pass it on to the kids, you know, because somebody taught me,” he said. “It’s fun for me just to see them pull in crab traps and bait them and see their eyes light up. I know they’re doing it because they’re really interested.”

Writer: Emily Kenworthy, ekenworthy@uga.edu, 912-598-2348, ext. 107
Contact: Bryan Fluech, fluech@uga.edu, 912-264-7269

Future teachers and elementary school students learn about wetland ecology

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is working with students at the College of Coastal Georgia to monitor a freshwater wetland adjacent to a local elementary school and develop educational lesson plans on wetland ecology for elementary and middle school students.

Katy Smith assists two students of Oglethorpe Elementary School in monitoring the wetlands on their school's property.

Smith (left) explains how the rain gauge monitors rainfall at the wetland.

“Freshwater wetlands in coastal regions provide important habitat and resources for wildlife as well as ecosystem services that benefit humans, like water filtration and buffering against flooding and storm surge,” said Katy Smith, water quality program coordinator at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “This project will allow us to study this habitat, learn from it and encourage stewardship of these areas for the benefit of wildlife and humans alike.”

As part of the project, which is funded by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division, Smith teamed up with College of Coastal Georgia faculty, James Deemy, lecturer of environmental science, and Amy Sneed, assistant professor, to provide experiential training for undergraduates at the college.

Deemy and Smith are working together to advise students who are pursuing a degree in science to carry out research activities at the site.

Kayla Russo, a rising senior at the College of Coastal Georgia, learned about the wetland project during her hydrology class and decided to assist with weekly monitoring.

“I was taking different water measurements, like conductivity, turbidity, and also running soil moisture transects,” said Russo, who is majoring in environmental science. “I was enjoying the stuff I was doing in-class, which was limited because we didn’t have all of the instruments, so I was able to go more in-depth through the [wetland] program.”

The baseline monitoring data on the wetland is being incorporated into lesson plans developed by senior-level teacher candidates at College of Coastal Georgia, with guidance from Sneed who coordinates middle grade and secondary education.

During the first year of the project, six lesson plans were developed that cover hydrology and soils, water chemistry, plant classification, environmental impact, and wildlife life cycles and habitat.

The lessons are being piloted by students participating in Oglethorpe Point Elementary School’s Marsh Lab program, which is led by Karen Garrett, who teaches at the school. As part of the program, Garrett works with all grade levels to take what they are learning in the classroom and apply it outdoors through interactive experiences.

Katy Smith assists students in monitoring the wetlands by their elementary school.

Garrett shows students how to measure water temperature and document the results as part of an interactive education activity.

“I take their science curriculum and make it come to life,” Garrett said. “Since they can’t do hands-on science experiments in the classroom due to time constraints, they come to me every other week and we do experiments.”

With the new lesson plans, the students are learning about topics like water clarity, amphibians, soils and trees using real data collected by the college students. They are also able to conduct experiments in the wetland using some of the research equipment, like a rain gauge, that was set up by the college students.

According to Garrett, engaging students in the natural world encourages them to use scientific inquiry, investigation and exploration to complement their science curriculum. Having the students work through lessons that are directly connected to this important habitat at their school will help foster a sense of stewardship of this natural resource.

“They’re able to see the wetland and how it can be affected by their actions, so hopefully they can take that and create ideas for future actions or create their own opinions on environmental issues,” says Garrett.

The project has also supported summer interns to carry out some of the objectives. During the summer of 2020, Samantha Lance, a rising junior at Washington University in St. Louis, created a series of teaching materials such as middle school lesson plans, educational activities about freshwater wetlands and climate change, an Instagram story and a coloring book featuring wetland plants and animals.

During the summer of 2021, Hunter Molock, a rising senior at Savannah College of Art and Design, will illustrate and design a series of educational signs to enhance the Discovery Trail at Oglethorpe Point Elementary School. The final signs will highlight wildlife, habitats and more, and will be installed during the fall of 2021.

“The overarching goal of this project is to foster appreciation and conservation of coastal freshwater wetlands,” Smith said. “We hope the resources created during the project will provide students with continuing opportunities to learn about, study and protect this important habitat.”

Summer interns join the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant team

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is hosting 19 summer interns who are working with staff and faculty in Brunswick, Athens, and Savannah on a variety of research, education and extension initiatives. This cohort of undergrad and graduate students represent a multidisciplinary pool of talented students who will gain experience in everything from preparing communities to be more resilient to coastal hazards to studying estuarine food web dynamics along the Georgia coast.

Summer internships with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are critical to enhancing environmental literacy and workforce development in the coastal region. Seven of the internships were made possible thanks to support from Friends of the UGA Aquarium, and two of the interns are supported through Sea Grant’s Community Engaged Internship program.


Jeff Beauvais

Jeff Beauvais is from Savannah, Ga. He is a fifth year Ph.D. student in the integrative conservation and ecology program at the University of Georgia. His work focuses on environmental justice, access to marshes and tourism along the South Carolina coast. Beauvais is completing an internship with the Georgia Climate Project focused on communicating climate change impacts to general audiences. When not working in ArcMap or writing, you can catch him kayaking or biking throughout Savannah.


Yazmine Callan

Yazmine Callan grew up in coastal Georgia. She is a rising senior at the University of Georgia where she is studying environmental economics and management. Callan is participating in the Community Engaged Internship program and will be working on resilience-related projects, including the Georgia Climate Project and Glynn County Superfund project.


Chandler Calmer

Chandler Calmer is originally from Michigan and currently lives on Saint Simons Island, Ga. He attends the College of Coastal Georgia where he is majoring in biology and minoring in environmental science. Calmer hopes to become a fisheries biologist in the future. This summer, he is interning as one of two juvenile fish monitoring interns.


Michaela Digiovanni

Michaela DiGiovanni is a student at the University of Georgia where she is majoring in fisheries and wildlife. Originally from Savannah, Ga., this summer DiGiovanni will serve as a resilience intern, working on projects that help communities build environmental, economic and social resilience to weather and climate hazards.


Sarah Gregory

Sarah Gregory is from Griffin, Ga. She is a rising senior at the University of Georgia where she is majoring in biology with an emphasis in marine science. As a UGA Aquarium science intern this summer, Gregory will work with husbandry staff to maintain, feed, and care for all of the animals at the aquarium.


Britney Hall

Britney Hall, from Gainesville, Ga., is a rising senior at the College of Coastal Georgia. She is majoring in Environmental Science with minors in biology and geology. This summer she is one of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s juvenile fish monitoring interns. She will help with conducting monthly fish sampling at three different sites along the Georgia coast. Britney likes to spend her free time fishing and exploring the outdoors.


Olivia Hughes

Olivia Hughes is from Summerville, S.C. She is a rising junior at Wofford College where she plays soccer and is majoring in biology. Hughes hopes to become a fisheries biologist. This summer, she is participating in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at Savannah State University, which provides three weeks of classroom, field and lab work to build technical, scientific and communications skills. As part of the program, she is interning at the UGA Shellfish Research Lab where she will be spending most of her time in the hatchery evaluating oyster growth and survival in a bottle upweller based on different flow rates.


Hayley Hunter

Hayley Hunter, from Ball Ground, Ga., is a rising senior at the University of Georgia where she is majoring in international affairs and earning certificates in global studies and sustainability. She is working as a communications intern this summer and assisting with the promotion of projects led by faculty and staff at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant through the program’s website and social media channels.


Jenna Hunter

Jenna Hunter is from Fort Smith, Ark. She is majoring in marine science at the University of South Carolina. After she graduates in December of 2021, she plans to attend veterinary school and pursue a career in zoological medicine. Hunter will intern in the Shellfish Research Lab this summer, working alongside the researchers in the hatchery and assisting with field experiments focused on oyster aquaculture and restoration.


Charlotte James

Charlotte James is a rising sophomore at Davidson College in N.C. where she is majoring in biology and minoring in environmental studies. As a resilience intern this summer, James will be assisting Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Coastal Resilience Specialist on projects examining and promoting the resilience of coastal communities in Georgia. James is from Pittsburgh, Penn.


Lily Kostka

Lily Kostka, from Decatur, Ga., is a sophomore at Kennesaw State University where she is majoring in psychology and minoring in German. Kostka loves to be outside and work with kids, as she has done throughout high school and college. She is interested in a degree in child psychology. This summer, she will be a summer camp intern at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium.


Rebecca Malkewicz

Rebecca Malkewicz is from Bluffton, S.C. She recently graduated from the University of South Carolina in Beaufort and is excited to start a career focused on marine conservation. This summer, Malkewicz will be interning at the UGA aquarium, learning how to care for ambassador animals and engage with visitors at the facility.


Rashawn Merchant

Rashawn Merchant is from Kennesaw, Ga. He is a rising senior majoring in environmental economics and management at the University of Georgia. Merchant is interning with the stormwater program where he will be developing a green infrastructure plan to better improve stormwater management in the City of Brunswick.


Hunter Molock

Hunter Molock is a rising senior from Dallas, Texas, and is currently attending Savannah College of Art and Design where she is studying for her B.F.A in Animation and Publication Design for Illustration. She is passionate about children’s education and conservation and hopes to go into children’s book publishing. This summer, she is a communications intern and is primarily working on a series of signs and kiosks for a wetland conservation trail at an elementary school on St. Simons island, Ga.


Hannah Mone

Hannah Mone is originally from North Carolina, but grew up in Marietta, Ga. She is majoring in ecology and biology with a marine emphasis at UGA. After graduation, Mone hopes to work at the intersection of environmental sciences and policy making to influence change. This summer, she will be working on a National Science Foundation project with Marine Extension and Sea Grant to create a web display of coastal, ocean and marine career paths to highlight the diversity of these career opportunities.


Lora Nedza

Lora Nedza is from Watkinsville, Ga. She is a fourth-year student at the University of Georgia where she is majoring in political science and pursuing her Master of Public Administration. After graduation, she is looking forward to combining her passions for policy analysis, social justice and environmental protection. Over the past semester, she has worked with the communications team as a Public Service and Outreach Scholar and is looking forward to continuing her public relations projects this summer.


Ellen Otterbach

Ellen Otterbach is from Atlanta. She is attending the University of Miami where she is majoring in marine affairs and minoring in entrepreneurship, sustainable business and French. Otterbach plans to graduate in 2024. This summer she will be working as a microplastics intern, conducting research to identify various types of microplastic content in Georgia’s coastal waterways.


Arlyn Santiago

Arlyn Santiago is from Columbus, Ga. She is a second-year environmental health science major at the University of Georgia. Santiago is a Community Engaged Intern. This program aims to broaden participation of underrepresented individuals and communities in ocean, coastal and marine sciences. She will be working with UGA researchers Jeb Byers and Marc Frischer on a project looking at the impacts of black gill disease on Georgia shrimp.


Madison White

Madison White is from Temple, Ga. She is a junior at the University of Georgia where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in ecology with certificates in environmental education and sustainability. She will be working as a summer camp intern, teaching students ages 6-14 about coastal Georgia through hands-on experiences during Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s week-long summer camps at the UGA Aquarium.


UGA students develop plan to improve infrastructure at Fort Pulaski so that the site can remain open to tourists

A trio of UGA engineering students have found a way to maintain the Fort Pulaski National Monument site as a viable destination for park visitors for the foreseeable future.

Sea level rise, severe storms and more frequent flooding have made it difficult for the wastewater in the park’s septic drain fields to filter out through the soil.

“That could mean contaminated water is rising up onto the ground, and that’s not safe for humans or the environment in general,” said Sarah Pierce, a recently graduated senior who worked on the project.

Without a way to safely remove the waste, the park would not be able to continue welcoming the more than 350,000 guests who visit the National Park Service’s Civil War battle site each year. Currently, there are only six functioning toilets and two functioning urinals on the property.

Fort Pulaski National Monument

Fort Pulaski National Monument, located on Cockspur Island. The Civil War battle site welcomes more than 350,000 guests per year.

Pierce and fellow College of Engineering seniors Emily Mitchell and Sawyer Soucie spent the past year working with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on a senior capstone project to develop a sustainable solution that would be resilient to changing water levels and not harm the protected marshlands that make up the majority of the park.

The team studied the infrastructure on Cockspur Island, where the park and a U.S. Coast Guard station are located, looking at sea level rise projections, soil composition and wastewater volume. They ultimately proposed three different ideas: building an improved, mounded septic system; developing a mini wastewater treatment plant on Cockspur Island; and installing a network of pipes to transport the wastewater to the municipal wastewater treatment facility on neighboring Tybee Island.

The piping option was the clear choice. While all three proposals would solve the park’s issues in the short term, piping the wastewater off the island was the only solution that could permanently eliminate the need for the 13 septic systems on the island, including those used by the Coast Guard.

“Environmentally it’s safest for the long-term,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and a mentor to the engineering students on the project. “On a barrier island with sandy soil and increasingly high-water tables, [septic systems] are just less and less effective and more and more likely to cause environmental degradation.”

The big question was whether the City of Tybee Island, which is facing some of the same challenges with rising sea levels, would be willing to take on the additional waste from the fort. But city officials recognized that protecting the national monument would benefit the entire region, which relies heavily on tourism as a local revenue source. The students’ designs for the pipeline included the possibility of tying in waste from restaurants and retail shops on the outskirts of Tybee Island, which could soon face the same issues with their septic service.

“We were really being baptized by fire,” Soucie said of the project. “It’s more than just designing a septic system or a wastewater system. It’s about all these moving parts and trying to get them moving in the right direction. It’s been a lot of learning, which is exciting.”

The students virtually showcased their final presentation to Fort Pulaski administrators, Tybee Island officials and representatives from both the U.S. National Park Service and Coast Guard at the end of the spring semester.

Fort Pulaski superintendent Melissa Memory, herself a 1989 graduate from the Department of Anthropology at UGA, was thrilled by the quality of the students’ work.

“They’ve blown it out of the water metaphorically and literally with how far they’ve taken this project,” said Memory. “A lot of student projects are good at concepts, but it’s rare that they get it this far and give us a clear direction on path forward…They far exceeded our expectations for what they’d be able to do for us.”

Consultants are already working on pipeline designs and concepts based on the students’ presentation, which represents significant savings for the fort. Memory and US Park Service officials are exploring ways to finance the project.

A graph of the current and proposed sewer lines.

The sewer line proposed by the UGA engineering students would replace Fort Pulaski’s current septic system, which has been failing due to rising sea levels.

For the students, the project provided an opportunity to put their academic education to the test in the real world.

“This is a huge passion of mine,” Mitchell said. “Water quality engineering specifically. I’ll be pursuing this in the future, and this is a major steppingstone in my career. I’m just extremely grateful to be on such an incredible project like this, especially with so many stakeholders and importance of everyone involved.”

The demand for coastal engineering will only increase in the years to come. The students’ efforts — both in engineering and politics — is a showcase for how communities need to work together to combat the growing effects of sea level rise, said Brian Bledsoe, director of the College of Engineering’s Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems who mentored the students on the Fort Pulaski project.

“Fort Pulaski is not the only park or monument that’s grappling with having to adapt to climate change and sea level rise and a rapidly changing world,” Bledsoe said. “I think this could be a good example of how partnerships with adjacent communities can work. When we share infrastructure, we can keep our options open and maybe find more long-term and cost-effective solutions. Hopefully this is something that the park service can hold up as an example of what other entities can do.”

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