The University of Georgia Marine Extension and the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources have selected recent doctoral graduate Brian Crawford to receive the 2016 E.L. Cheatum Award. According to Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, “Crawford’s selection is due to his innovative work focusing on diamondback terrapin conservation throughout the Georgia barrier islands.”
Crawford has focused his research endeavors on the diamondback terrapin, a marsh-dwelling turtle species now threatened by habitat destruction and sea level rise. Using Jekyll Island as a model, Crawford worked with multiple stakeholder groups to identify best solutions to a pervasive problem in Georgia: mortality of terrapins on busy highways each summer. He persuaded local and state government agencies to pilot a “smart” warning system, similar to the flashing warning signs in school zones, that alerts drivers when and where turtles are most likely to be on the road.
“To me, our research is an example of how we can achieve better conservation outcomes by making people part of the solution, instead of just thinking about us as the problem,” Crawford said. “Through the active participation of the Jekyll Island community, we’ve developed creative solutions and found consensus for road management strategies that will best meet the needs of people while sustaining terrapin populations.”
The E.L. Cheatum award is given to a current wildlife graduate student, or a student who has completed a graduate degree within 12 months of the selection period, who most exemplifies the qualities of the late E.L. Cheatum: integrity, objectivity, vision and a commitment to natural resource conservation. Funds for the award, which includes a $1,000 check and a plaque, are provided annually from the income generated by the Marine Sciences Program Trust Fund.
John Maerz, professor of vertebrate ecology, and Clint Moore, assistant unit leader of the Georgia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit and adjunct assistant professor of wildlife ecology and management, nominated Crawford for the award in March 2016. In their letter to the selection committee, Maerz and Moore described the importance of Crawford’s research and use of social campaigns to drive local behavior change for conservation.
Students nominated for the award must be selected with the approval of UGA Marine Extension, in which the Marine Sciences Program Trust Fund is endowed. Established in 1988 under the leadership of Ed Chin, founding father of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, the award honors the memory of the late E.L. Cheatum. A former coordinator of coastal resource development for the University System of Georgia, Cheatum also served as professor of forest resources and director of the Institute of Natural Resources for the University of Georgia. His most notable trait, and one that Crawford’s work embodies, was the ability to create a collaborative environment between representatives of academia and government.
As most of Georgia’s population lives inland, the establishment of marine science programs such as UGA Marine Extension is integral to education and outreach efforts that address issues surrounding coastal communities. These programs work together to bring university-based knowledge and research, like Crawford’s, to the forefront of real world application.