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

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.