UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant hosted Georgia’s second annual Youth Ocean Conservation Summit (YOCS) on January 30 on Skidaway Island with over 35 middle and high school students from around the state of Georgia and several other southeastern states. This summit, one of several taking place across the country, empowers students with the knowledge, skills and resources necessary to successfully implement ocean conservation projects in their local communities.

The event included skill-building workshops, brainstorming sessions, citizen science presentations and panels featuring professionals working on coastal issues in Georgia. The event was organized by the 2015-2016 Georgia Sea Grant Marine Education Interns Kayla Clark, Yesenia Feliciano, Jess Hernandez and Caitlin Shea-Vantine.

“This summit was important to me for several reasons,” said Shea-Vantine. “I wanted to provide students an opportunity to brainstorm ocean conservation issues and connect them with professionals. One person or activity can spark lifelong interest in an issue and I was thrilled to be a part of that process. “

Clark Alexander, professor at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, served as the first keynote speaker and he gave an overview of issues affecting the Georgia coast.

“YOCS provides a formative venue for tomorrow’s conservation leaders to learn about both the physical and biological aspects of Georgia’s coastal and marine environment,” said Alexander. “The youth of today will be the decision makers of tomorrow; they must be well-informed so that they can make rational decisions when tackling coastal and marine issues that affect the citizens of Georgia and the nation.”

A conservation panel with representatives from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Skidaway Island State Park, UGA Marine Extension and the Shellfish Research Laboratory allowed students to learn about new conservation methods for microplastics, sustainable fishing, oysters and Georgia State Parks from professionals in the field.

A Youth Ocean Conservation Summit participant works on creating artwork highlighting marine debris and the animals affected by plastics.

A Youth Ocean Conservation Summit participant works on creating artwork highlighting marine debris and the animals affected by plastics.

“I was extremely excited about the quality of students that attended the YOCS,” said Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, who spoke at the summit. “These young men and woman took their Saturday to learn about coastal issues and leadership, and left with plans to go back and empower others in their local communities to act.”

He added, “The passion and dedication they displayed made me very optimistic about the future of coastal Georgia.”

Other activities included a walk through the nature trails of Skidaway Island and a presentation on citizen science opportunities to monitor populations of horseshoe crabs and lionfish. Students wrapped up the day by working in groups to brainstorm, develop and present ideas for conservation efforts that they could implement in their local communities.