As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more appreciative of the values and experiences my parents instilled in me at a young age. I find myself often reminiscing on all the camping, beach-going, and fishing trips we would spend together, and the realization that I was slowly cultivating my passion and life goals during those times is comforting. Being selected for the marine education fellowship through UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has felt like a dream come true as I literally get to do what I love and gain professional experience while doing so. Through this fellowship, I’ve attended a series of professional development workshops that gave early career professionals like myself insight on strategies and skills we could hone in on to better ourselves. One of the speakers, Mona Behl, the associate director of Georgia Sea Grant, inspired me to figure out my “why” statement as I pursue my career. Mona elaborated by saying that her “why” has kept her motivated and inspired to keep moving forward no matter what. I’m still trying to perfect my “why” statement, but I know what I’m passionate about –nature and people. This simple revelation has helped get me to where I am as I pursue my career in environmental education.  

Being an environmentalist, I enjoy doing what I can to combat environmental issues and educating others. Working at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium has allowed me to get in-depth experience and knowledge on what issues the Georgia coast faces. As a fellow, we are given the opportunity to complete an individual project during our time here. I wanted my project to focus on a human-induced environmental issue while bringing together people in the local community. UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has inspired me with the strides the organization has made when it comes to marine debris research, education and community science. What better way to accomplish my project goal than to organize a Tybee Island beach cleanup?  

A young woman stands in front of television monitor as she speaks

Navarro shares a presentation on marine debris with volunteers.

I knew I wanted to make my cleanup event different from a usual trip to the beach to collect trash, so I decided to begin the volunteer cleanup event with a talk about marine debris to give participants further insight on how marine debris is defined, its origins, and how vast of an issue it has become. With the help of the Tybee Island Marine Science Center and Tybee Clean Beach Volunteers, I was able to have participants meet in a central place to experience an interactive intro to marine debris session before embarking on our marine debris cleanup.   

The event was a success. The volunteers left with greater knowledge of marine debris statistics, and others felt moved to participate in more cleanup events on Tybee Island. The group filled 8 five-gallon buckets with trash from the beach. I left the event feeling grateful and fulfilled at what had been accomplished. I also felt overwhelmed with joy at the realization that I was following my passion and realizing my “why.” As a kid, I always wanted to be the girl who explored and improved the natural world alongside others, and my time at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has allowed me to achieve that dream. This fellowship will open doors to new experiences that allow me to continue fulfilling my passion.  

three people pick up marine debris with grabber sticks on a beach with a lighthouse in the background

Volunteers clean up marine debris at North Beach on Tybee Island.