My name is Isaiah Leach, and I am the Coastal Research and Extension Fellow at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. The purpose of this fellowship is to give recent graduates, like myself, exposure to the variety of positions held within UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. During my time in this position, I have focused on a multitude of different skills that make up the wide yet tightly interlocked nexus that is marine sciences.

Working in this position has been very different from what I initially presumed due to having to adapt to the pandemic, though this led to more opportunities for learning. I’ve been able to learn about a wide range of subjects. I’ve identified dangerous algae that live in our coastal waters and affect marine organisms, and I worked alongside researchers at the UGA Shellfish Research Lab, studying the intricacies of shellfish aquaculture. While working with the Adopt-A-Wetland program, I practiced the application of water quality testing and saw how minute changes in the environment can drastically change the components and ratios of our ecosystem’s water. I even helped with public programs that teach the general public about the environment and how it affects them. This is only the tip of the iceberg of the many experiences that I have come across within this position. This truly is a diverse fellowship, and I think that it is an excellent avenue for increasing my capacity to excel in both the biological fields and other areas like environmental education and extension.

Leach holds a ray during a trawl.

One major component of this job is interacting with audiences who benefit from our extension programs. In once instance, I was able to tag along with a colleague to learn about the commercial fishing industry and how it is affected by climate change. The day involved waking up early in the morning to get to the docks at our Brunswick office and go out on a fishing boat with commercial fishermen. We did a few trawls for shrimp throughout the day, and this was my first time being on a large boat in open waters for an extended amount of time. That definitely caused a plethora of challenges. From learning to get my “sea legs” to combating the rolling sea’s effects on my nausea, it ended up being an exciting experience for me. It was no simple, leisurely cruise; the day was an exhilarating hands-on experience where I divvied up the catch in the trawls, quickly identified species and cleaned the deck after each successful trawl attempt. It was an eye-opening experience that showed me how important the work done within UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is when it comes to understanding and working to solve the problems that local coastal communities face. This experience gave me insight into the perils and stresses facing the commercial fishing industry and how these stresses are impacting its future.

As my fellowship draws to a close, I’ve been able to take time to reflect on my experiences. I have learned so much in this role, and the exposure to multiple disciplines helped me grow, both in my confidence in my skills and knowledge about the coast. I look forward to applying these new skills and experiences in my future professional career.