The floor is littered with markers, paper plates and half eaten pizza. For the past two hours, marine education interns have been creating paper plate awards for campers participating in Summer Marine Science Camps at the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on Skidaway Island.

On the plates are drawings depicting awards like enthusiastic ecologist, coastal naturalist, and blue crab queen. Each award is unique and designed to showcase a camper’s individual personality or interests.

The plates are presented to the campers on the last day of camp during a ceremony attended by parents and staff.

“The paper plate creations are a great example of the commitment our summer camp team has to making Friday awards a special and memorable for each camper,” says Anne Lindsay, associate director of marine education at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “In many ways, the paper plate awards ceremony is the heart of the summer camp experience.”

This particular awards ceremony will wrap up the 25th year of summer camps. Since 1993, about 5,500 children have explored the coast, learning about the importance of marine ecosystems through hands-on activities.

Each camp session is geared towards a different age group. Activities range from salt marsh explorations to squid studies in the lab and trawling aboard the R/V Sea Dawg for older campers. Guest researchers are often invited to lead experiential learning activities that not only teach campers how the scientific method can be applied to projects, but also expose campers to the multidisciplinary world of marine science.

This year, the Women in Marine Science Camp, for girls 12 to 14, featured four female researchers who work in different fields of marine science at the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. During activities led by the researchers, campers learned how to identify phytoplankton, which are tiny microscopic organisms living in coastal waters, and built their own autonomous underwater vehicles.

“It is especially valuable for young girls to witness female professionals because it fosters a sense of inclusion,” says Julia Diaz, assistant professor of marine sciences. Diaz led an activity that involved measuring levels of phosphate in water samples collected near Skidaway Island.

“It was rewarding to see the girls enjoying the activity and discussing the topic amongst themselves,” said Diaz. “It showed that they were interested and engaged in the experience.”

Kennedy Johnson (far right) learns how to measure salinity during an activity with researcher Tina Walters (center).

The activity made an impression on Atlanta resident Kennedy Johnson, 12, who participated in the Women in Marine Science Camp.

“I learned much more than I already knew and after I came home, my passion grew for wanting to be a marine biologist,” Kennedy said.

At the core of Summer Marine Science Camp is providing opportunities that connect campers to the natural world and encourage them to be good stewards of the coastal environment through outdoor exploration.

“While they are here, I want campers to gain confidence to ask questions and inquire scientifically,” says Lindsay. “My hope is that they leave with positive feelings about themselves and their ability to explore.”