Two University System of Georgia graduates begin their Knauss Marine Policy Fellowships

Amara Davis, a graduate from Savannah State University, and Maria Mercedes Carruthers Ferrero, a graduate from the University of Georgia officially began their 2021-22 Knauss Marine Policy Fellowships.

The fellowship program is designed for graduate students who have an interest in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources, and in national policies that affect those resources. Davis and Carruthers Ferrero were selected as the two finalists to represent the state of Georgia as fellows working in Washington D.C.

Amara Davis was placed in the National Sea Grant Office where she will serve as a communications specialist. In her role, she will develop a podcast, Stories of Sea Grant, which highlights the accomplishments and impacts of Sea Grant’s education, extension and research initiatives. Davis will also help with social media and other Sea Grant communication efforts.

“I’m most excited about the Stories of Sea Grant program. I think it’s important to tell the stories of how these programs work, of the people behind them and the people that are affected by them,” Davis said. “I’m looking forward to learning how to use a new form of communication and getting to meet all the people who make this program work.”

Maria Mercedes Carruthers Ferrero was placed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), under the Federal Insurance Mitigation Administration (FIMA) Resilience Planning & Safety branch. In her role as the coastal hazards mitigation planning specialist, she will be collaborating on FEMA’s National Mitigation Planning Program’s mitigation assistance, flood hazards mapping and building science programs about policy updates, training and communications. She will also be working to maintain existing partnerships and foster new ones to help the program achieve its goals.

“I am excited to have the opportunity to better understand the inner workings of a federal agency, such as FEMA, and the partnerships these agencies form. I am also looking forward to learning about current hazard mitigation planning policies and how they account for climate change and future conditions,” said Carruthers Ferrero, who will be learning more about the agencies ongoing initiatives in the coming weeks.

Coastal Research and Extension Fellow gains hands-on experience in public service

During his first six months as UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s first Coastal Research and Extension Fellow Isaiah Leach has moderated virtual public programming, cultured algae in the Shellfish Research Lab, assisted with citizen science programs such as Adopt-A-Wetland and the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network, and developed environmental education content for students.

Leach holds a snake at the UGA Aquarium.

“Hopefully, this experience makes it easier for me to get into graduate school, which is one of my major goals now,” Leach said. “This is also a great opportunity to make connections with many important and interesting people.”

A graduate of Georgia Southern University with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a strong interest in marine ecosystems, Leach began his fellowship in September 2020.

“The purpose of the Coastal Research and Extension Fellowship is to give recent graduates exposure to the variety of positions held within UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant,” said Nina Sassano, intern coordinator for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s diverse workforce includes environmental educators, science communicators, and extension specialists who work with communities to address issues related to stormwater management, coastal resilience, water quality and sustainable fisheries.

Leach will continue to work with a variety of faculty and staff throughout his nine-month fellowship, including assisting with the development of a Georgia Seafood Trail, creating marketing and communications materials and helping to organize conferences. He will be exposed to the multidisciplinary work happening across UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s facilities in Athens, Skidaway Island and Brunswick.

“I’m still feeling out what specifically it is I want to do professionally; although it will definitely be within the biological sciences,” said Leach.

The Coastal Research and Extension Fellowship was made possible through support from the Friends of the UGA Aquarium, whose donations help the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s marine education, environmental outreach and coastal research initiatives. If you are interested in becoming a Friend, visit https://gacoast.uga.edu/give/friends-of-the-uga-aquarium/.

After 50 years of on-site experiential education programs, the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium goes virtual

On the deck of the Sea Dawg, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s 43-foot research vessel, Marine Educator Dodie Sanders sets up her computer, webcam and teaching props, which include live fish, corals and a stingray.

She introduces herself through her webcam and asks her first question, “What do we call water that’s in between fresh and salty?”

“Brackish!” responds a chorus of students from the speakers of her computer.

A few hundred miles away in Rome, Georgia, 25 fifth graders at the Darlington School are watching Sanders’ program on their iPads. Typically, this conversation would happen aboard the Sea Dawg while trawling for live specimens in Wassaw Sound. For the next two days, educators at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Marine Education Center and Aquarium are bringing the on-site, outdoor experiences to the classroom for the first time by way of virtual school trips.

Sanders describes the importance of Georgia’s brackish water estuaries where so many different species, like red drum, shrimp and blue crabs spend all or part of their lives. She talks about the different animals in her touch tank, explaining the physical and biological characteristics that are unique to each animal.

Sanders uses a computer and webcam to virtually teach students.

The educational trawl is just one of 16 different virtual classes now available to K-12 classrooms across the state. Available classes include marine debris, squid dissection, maritime forest hikes and more.

“Shifting from on-site to virtual programs has made us approach everything we do from a very different perspective with the goal of creating meaningful and impactful education programs,” says Sanders, who, along with her marine educator colleagues, spent several months modifying on-site programs for a virtual setting.

“How do you virtually capture searching for invertebrates living on the underside of a floating dock, the smell of salt marsh mud, hiking across an undeveloped barrier island, or touching cool organisms collected in a trawl net?” Sanders asks. “We’re incorporating the same teaching methods, the same tricks of the trade but perhaps on a more complicated and elevated level.”

The education team developed program templates, wrote teaching outlines, created new pre- and post-activities and tested new audio-visual equipment to prepare for the virtual school programs.

They keep the students engaged by showing pre-recorded videos of local environments and up-close live shots of animals that are native to the coast.

They also frequently pause instruction for question and answer sessions and encourage opportunities for students to share their own stories.

“Do you ever not want to go trawling and just sit on the boat instead?” asks one student during the virtual trawl.

“What happens if you catch a shark?” asks another.

Julie Fine, a fifth-grade teacher at Darlington School, says students at Darlington have been visiting the education facility on Skidaway Island for 10 years.

“We were really concerned that our kids would be missing out on a lot of the things that make fifth grade special. So much has already changed in their world,” says Fine. “When we reached out to see what you guys might be able to offer, we were really excited to hear about the virtual experience.”

Fine and fellow fifth grade teacher Bebe Cline chose the classes they would normally have done on-site, like the squid dissection and dolphin excursion, but they also picked new classes, like the trawling trip and coastal reptiles, which ended up being big hits with their students.

Through virtual programming, students can experience live animals such as this alligator held by Marine Educator Katie Higgins.

“At one point, one of the fish jumped out of the little tray and they loved that. They loved seeing them up close,” Fine says.

Their goal was to make the two days as full and as exciting as possible, without actually being at the coast, Fine says. They also chose topics that aligned with their studies of classification and coastal Georgia as part of the fifth-grade curriculum.

“Our students were definitely focused and learning and really getting the material, much the same that they do while they are actually there,” Fine says.

This positive feedback from Darlington is encouraging for educators at the Marine Education Center and Aquarium, who plan to further enhance virtual school programming and reach more students in the coming year.

In the past, transportation, funding and logistics have often made field trips a challenge for schools who want to come to the Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

With the virtual programs up-and-running, teachers can bring the coast to their students with the click of a mouse and at a fraction of the cost.

“Our new world of teaching virtually affords the opportunity to reach and serve more diverse communities, especially those who may not be able to take part in our on-site programs,” says Sanders. “Virtual programs make us more accessible.”

Teachers can learn about and register for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s virtual school programs at https://gacoast.uga.edu/virtual-school-programs/

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant welcomes four new Marine Education Fellows

Four recent college graduates will serve as educators for students, teachers and the general public as 2020-21 Marine Education Fellows with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

During the 50-week fellowship, they learn about a variety of marine science topics from UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and then begin teaching field, lab and discussion classes. They gain experience in marine science education, husbandry, program development and volunteer coordination and also have an opportunity to participate in professional development activities.

The fellows began their training in early September to prepare for school groups expected to visit the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium throughout the year.

This year’s fellows are:

UGA partners with Okefenokee swamp to conserve and protect native alligators

A partnership between University of Georgia researchers and the Okefenokee Swamp Park focuses on conservation and education efforts needed to maintain the swamp’s native alligator population, which is vital to the economic vitality of the region.

On Aug. 27, UGA’s Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and the Okefenokee Swamp Park (OSP) signed a commitment to continue its Alligator Education and Research Project, work that informs the OSP on conservation and management of the swamp, provides a better understanding of alligators, and enhances wildlife education.

“Applied research like this project in south Georgia is helping communities throughout the state address critical, local challenges,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for UGA Public Service and Outreach. “This is a great example of how UGA is fulfilling its mission as Georgia’s land-grant and sea-grant institution.”

The OSP first began funding the project in 2017 and since then UGA scientists have conducted field research in the swamp, located on the Georgia-Florida border, to inventory the current alligator population by sex, age and size.

“The American alligator remains a conservation concern for a number of reasons, including human persecution and loss of native habitat,” said ecologist Kimberly Andrews, a faculty member with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “It is important for us to understand how these reptiles are adapting to survive in a human-dominated environment.”

Graduate student Kristen Zemaitis radio-tracking an alligator at Okefenokee Swamp Park.

Graduate student Kristen Zemaitis radio-tracking an alligator at Okefenokee Swamp Park.

Using satellite tags and cameras Andrews and her team at UGA have tracked seven adult alligators in the swamp, observing interactions between the sexes and age classes, courtship between males and females, maternal care and interaction with other species, such as bears or otters.

They regularly survey areas of the swamp to get approximate counts of the alligators there and their activity levels during day and night, from season to season and under changing environmental conditions.

So far, their research has shown that adult females and their guarded young, ages one to three years, are typically the most visible while the males are on the move and the mid-size subadults are more covert. Alligator activity and their visibility in the swamp is influenced by social structure and the presence of dominant individuals and changes in environmental conditions, such as temperature and rainfall.

The UGA researchers have collected tissues samples from every animal they have caught at the Okefenokee Swamp Park in Waycross. These samples will reveal more of the story about the swamp alligator’s diet and family tree.

“We are excited to renew our partnership with Dr. Andrews and UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant,” said Dr. William Clark, an ophthalmologist in Waycross and chair of the OSP Board of Trustees. “So far, the results of the alligator research have already changed the way many people view this apex predator and we look forward to increasing our collaboration for years to come.”

Hatchling alligators form “pods” that are guarded by the mother. Photo: Michael Lavery

Alligators are a conservation success story: they were the first species to be listed federally as an endangered species. Alligator farming replaced the overharvesting from the wild that caused their decline and alligator populations began to rebound.

Alligators are apex predators, consuming a diversity of food sources and regulating prey populations. At the swamp, researchers have seen that a single adult alligator may eat prey that range in size from a moth to a deer. When alligators are lost from a system, this balance is lost and the ecosystem instability impacts many other species, including people who rely on predators to manage prey populations, such as deer, that pose risk to our safety when overabundant.

Alligators are the engineers of their economy, creating habitat that is used by other smaller animals. During drought, alligators create “wallows” or use den sites that retain water after it becomes scarce in other areas. These wallows can be critical for breeding habitat for frogs. The loss of alligators in some ecosystems has contributed to subsequent declines in amphibian populations in many of their habitats where they have been removed.

The Okefenokee is the largest blackwater swamp in North America, serving as the headwaters of the St. Mary’s and Suwanee rivers. Most of the swamp is located in Southeastern Georgia and is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the state. Protected largely by the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and the Okefenokee Wilderness, the swamp has an array of habitats including cypress swamps, peat bogs, marshes, open lakes and wooded hammocks. The diversity of ecosystems encompasses an assortment of over 620 plant species (including four carnivorous plant species), 39 fish, 37 amphibian, 64 reptile, 234 bird and 50 mammal species.

Learn more about the project at https://gacoast.uga.edu/research/major-projects/alligator-research/

Learn more about the Okefenokee Swamp at https://okeswamp.com

Three students selected to participate in the Georgia Sea Grant State Fellowship

Three graduate students will be serving the Georgia coast and community as Georgia Sea Grant State Fellows. The Georgia Sea Grant State Fellowship Program provides recent graduates the unique opportunity to acquire hands-on experience in the planning and implementation of coastal and marine policies in Georgia.

By coming alongside select host local, state and federal agencies, this fellowship increases the partner’s capacity, promotes integration of diverse perspectives into problem-solving for Georgia to provide richer and more inclusive solutions while training and developing the next generation of coastal and marine leaders.

“Our State Fellowship program continues to draw an incredibly well-rounded and diverse talent pool. We are excited to expand our State Fellowship program to include three host offices this year. In collaboration with our partners, we look forward to nurturing the professional growth and development of the next generation of marine science leaders,” said director Mark Risse.

The three positions available to the applicants were made possible by partnerships with Georgia Audubon in collaboration with Jekyll Island, Gray’s Reef Marine Sanctuary and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division.

Meet the 2020-21 Georgia Sea Grant State Fellows:

Sergio Sabat-Bonilla

Sergio Sabat-Bonilla

Sergio Sabat-Bonilla graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma with a degree in biology. Now as a master’s student at Georgia Southern University, he is studying how aquatic macroinvertebrate communities will respond to the hydrological variations in wetlands of the coastal plain. As the State Fellow working with Georgia Aubudon and Jekyll Island, he will be tasked with getting the diverse communities in the southern region of Georgia engaged in the enjoyment and conservation of birds. He’ll also be focusing in part on expanding shorebird monitoring efforts on Jekyll Island with ongoing support from the Jekyll Island Foundation. He is most interested in helping make the Georgia coastline more engaging and inclusive, so that any individual can enjoy the diverse ecosystems that shape the Georgia landscape while learning the effect humans’ lives have on the system and what they can do to conserve it.

“With my career goal of becoming a researcher and science communicator, this fellowship is the ideal opportunity to help me develop my science communication skills while pursuing a personal goal of aiding in the efforts to provide minorities and communities of color with the knowledge and resources to enjoy and explore the environments that surround them.”


Cristin Archer

Cristin Archer

Cristin Archer graduated from Allegheny College with degrees in biology and environmental science and a minor in psychology. As a marine science master’s student at Savannah State University, she is analyzing the factors influencing the human-interaction behaviors of common bottlenose dolphins. Archer will be serving as the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary’s Sanctuary Program Specialist. In this position, she will responsible for advancing several science, policy and planning projects and programs while gaining the diverse skills and professional experience that are needed to pursue a career in natural resource management. She is most looking forward to developing a scientific plan to help manage marine and conservation as well as building upon her scientific diving experience.

“Understanding policy is an important skill for any job or career, but it will be especially beneficial as I hope to work in marine sanctuaries and help with education and conservation in the future. Not everyone gets to grow up next to the ocean, but we should all understand our connection to it; how it impacts us and plays a part in controlling how we impact it.”


Meghan Angelina

Meghan Angelina

Meghan Angelina, a graduate from the University of Tampa with a degree in marine science-biology and minors in chemistry and environmental science, graduated from Clemson University with a master’s in August where she studied the environmental drivers of southern flounder growth, condition and juvenile recruitment in an estuary along the Gulf of Mexico. Angelina is working with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division in their Georgia Coastal Management Program (GCMP). In this role, she will be tasked with conducting flood literacy research, developing flood literacy materials, conducting outreach and displaying and disseminating results. She is looking forward to working alongside diverse stakeholders and gaining first-hand experience in policy and management.

“My career goals are to work for an agency that actively pursues advancements in marine policy that contribute to various ecosystems, and the humans that live nearby. I want to work for an agency where I can inspire the community and promote the value of marine and coastal resources. The Georgia Sea Grant State Fellowship will give me the experience I need to advance to these next steps in my career.”

Georgia Sea Grant Research Trainees study issues impacting the coast

Five students from universities across Georgia have been selected to participate in Georgia Sea Grant’s Research Trainee program. During their year-long traineeship, these students will conduct high-quality research and gain critical professional skills while working with faculty and professional mentors.

Their research will 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.

“Our Research Trainee Program allows us to support students who are studying real-world issues,” says Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “The results of their research projects will help Georgia’s coastal communities and economies and these students will benefit from working with our coastal partners.”

The trainees will design and execute research projects that inform their dissertation or thesis while working closely with extension and education specialists at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant who will mentor these students and help share their work with coastal communities.


Peter Chiarelli

Peter Chiarelli

Peter Chiarelli is a food science and technology master’s candidate at the University of Georgia whose research focuses on developing a safe, high-quality crosslinked jellyfish gelatin that can help diversify Georgia’s jellyfish industry while maximizing profits.

This research will develop the gelatin powders by combining the sustainable supply of Georgia-caught cannonball jellyfish and Georgia-grown fruits. The powders, which have great potential in the marketplace as a low-calorie food thickener, can be used to microencapsulate probiotic, or health-promoting, bacteria.

“My academic and professional goals entail being able to take an idea from just a concept to learning about that idea enough to be able to share it with others in a way that they too become excited in your idea. Then, I desire to take it one step further to successfully achieve that idea to produce a tangible product.”


Lauren Carroll

Lauren Carroll

Lauren Carroll is studying fisheries and aquatic systems at the University of Georgia as part of her master’s program. She is researching trends in juvenile fish and crustacean abundance and diversity related to short-term and long-term environmental change.

Her research will help to establish monitoring protocol for juvenile fish and crustaceans and create spatially explicit models to forecast impacts of long-term and short-term environmental change on coastal Georgia fisheries.

“The Georgia Sea Grant Research Traineeship will provide the resources needed for my modeling project, while connecting me with outreach professionals so I may learn to effectively communicate my findings and mentor the next generation of scientists.”


Raven Hurt

Raven Hurt

Raven Hurt is a master’s student at Georgia Southern University studying biology. She will be researching the feasibility of using environmental DNA (eDNA) as a cost-effective tool to quantify the abundance and biomass of economically important white shrimp.

Currently, eDNA is an emerging methodology that involves collecting water samples and extracting DNA from those samples to detect the presence of aquatic species. Hurt will study samples collected along the coast looking for the abundance of white shrimp DNA. With her research, Hurt aims to remedy some of the eDNA limitations, so it can replace more traditional monitoring methodologies that may not be as efficient or economic.

“The overall research trainee experience will help make my future as a research scientist more achievable and attainable since it will allow me to build new skills while demonstrating my ability to acquire funding and carry out research.”


Shannon Matzke

Shannon Matzke

Shannon Matzke, a master’s student studying biology at Georgia Southern University, is conducting research on the effectiveness of four different planting restoration treatments on sand dunes to find the best methods for sand accumulation and shoreline stability.

This research will help determine the effectiveness of Tybee Island’s large-scale dune reconstruction project at restoring degraded coastal areas to proper ecological function.
The project will also incorporate the use of LiDAR to assess change in dune morphology. Overall, the project will provide insight into to which planting technique sustains optimal plant growth and maximum sand binding capacity.

“This traineeship will allow me to learn more about challenges facing coastal Georgia and the organizations that are working to tackle these challenges. This knowledge will help me to understand more about the ecosystems that I want to restore and conserve and will connect me to the people who know the specific needs of these habitats and the people who rely on them.”


Minjae Kim

Minjae Kim

Minjae Kim is a doctoral student studying civil and environmental engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research focuses on developing an integrated urban-hydrology-hydraulics-coastal model to analyze and forecast coastal flooding in cities on the coast, like Savannah, Georgia.

This research will help urban areas near oceans better prepare for potential flooding by providing a forecasting model which would account for incoming climate changes and degree of urbanization of the area. The data collected through this research will help cities create customized mitigation plans and develop preventative measures.

“The program can provide connections between researchers and specialists who are working on application of theory and research. It can empower my research which can lack adequacy without connections to stakeholders, field specialists and more advanced researchers.”

Two graduate students from Georgia selected as Knauss finalists

Graduate students from University of Georgia and Savannah State University have been selected as finalists for the 2021 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, sponsored by the National Sea Grant College Program. The program is designed for graduate students who have an interest in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources, and in national policies that affect those resources.

The finalists will spend one year in Washington, D.C. in marine policy-related positions in legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

The finalists from Georgia are:

Maria Mercedes Carruthers Ferrero, Knauss Finalist

Maria Mercedes Carruthers Ferrero, Knauss Finalist

Maria Mercedes Carruthers Ferrero, who recently graduated with a degree from the University of Georgia School of Law. While in law school, Carruthers Ferrero worked as a research clerk and Georgia Sea Grant Legal Fellow at  the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government. As part of her fellowship, she helped Athens-Clarke County compose a long-term sustainability plan. Carruthers Ferrero earned her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary sciences at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus.



Amara Jones, Knauss Finalist

Amara Jones, Knauss Finalist

Amara Jones is pursuing her master’s degree in marine sciences from Savannah State University. Jones’ master’s thesis is focused on how temperatures affect the viral load of Panulirus argus virus 1 (PaV1) in Caribbean spiny lobsters. She is also comparing fishers’ opinions on the status of the spiny lobster fisheries in Florida and the Bahamas. Jones earned her bachelor’s degree in marine sciences from Savannah State University in 2012.



The two finalists from Georgia will join a cohort of 74 finalists in the 2021 class representing 27 of the 34 programs in the coastal and Great Lakes states and territories.

Placement of 2021 Knauss finalists as fellows is contingent on adequate funding in Fiscal Year 2021. For more information and a full list of finalists, visit the Knauss page on NOAA’s website.

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 hydrophones will let UGA Aquarium visitors experience the fascinating world of underwater sounds

Imagine hearing the sounds the dolphins make as they glide through the water, or the mating call of the oyster toadfish.

Visitors to the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island will be able to experience the underwater sounds of coastal habitats with the help of three hydrophones, purchased with donations from Friends of the UGA Aquarium.

An image of the hydrophone equipment

A close up image of the hydrophone equipment.

“We will be able to build upon existing teaching experiences by incorporating soundscapes into lecture, laboratory and field-based programs,” says Dodie Sanders, an educator at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, which runs the aquarium. “We envision capturing underwater sounds of fish, other organisms and anthropogenic noises from deep water habitats, to oyster reef communities, to tidal rivers and sounds to create learning experiences for teachers, students and the public.”

Soundscape ecology is the study of how sound impacts the behaviors of living organisms in a particular environment. The underwater recordings will allow educators to teach students how to identify different fish sounds, learn about fish behavior and why they might hear more marine life in some areas, like oyster reefs, which provide important habitat for fish and crustaceans.

“We will incorporate use of the hydrophones in existing Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant programs, like our invertebrate lab where students can listen to underwater sounds on the dock as they collect invertebrate samples for lab studies,” Sanders says. “We will also be able to use the instruments during our dolphin tours, fish labs, trawls and public programs like Skidaway Marine Science Day.”

Sanders and Todd Recicar, marine operations supervisor at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, tested the equipment and gathered preliminary recordings in Wassaw Sound. In one of their recordings, you can hear snapping shrimp and to the mating calls of oyster toadfish, both native species to the Georgia coast. Listen here.

The recordings of underwater sounds will be instrumental in developing new onsite and online programming at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Educators hope to eventually develop an exhibit at the UGA Aquarium using the hydrophones which would allow visitors to listen to real time sounds of fish, dolphins and invertebrates from the Skidaway River.

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