While cruising down the Skidaway River, 22 teenagers keep their eyes peeled for any movement on the surface of the water. It’s a beautiful day on the coast, though activity on the boat contrasts significantly with the serenity of the surroundings. The campers, ages 12 to 15, are convinced that singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” at the top of their lungs will attract dolphins, allowing the group to catch a glimpse of these creatures in their natural habitat. Turns out, they might be right. As the group begins their second rendition of the song, two dorsal fins appear about 15 feet away from the vessel, followed by a collective gasp from those on board.

These young women are participating in the Women in Marine Science (WIMS) camp, offered by UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. The week-long camp, which takes place at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island, is designed for female students with an interest in marine science. During the adventure-filled week, the campers enjoy a variety of activities, including dolphin watching, barrier island exploration, squid dissection, and more. They also learn about prominent women researchers and their contributions to science.

Marine educators Mare Timmons and Mary Sweeney-Reeves, both lead the WIMS camp each year. These inspirational educators have served UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant for a combined total of 40 years. Their field experience and institutional knowledge of marine environments allow them to provide a wealth of hands-on activities focused on data collection that takes place in the field and in a lab setting.

This year, they decided to mix it up a little bit by bringing in colleagues from UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Brunswick Station to lead some of the activities. Maddy Russell, who does local government outreach, led an activity focused on the importance of dune systems and salt marsh in protecting coastal communities from hazards like storms and flooding. Katy Smith, water quality program coordinator, discussed the impacts of marine debris during a presentation for the campers, and Jessica Brown, stormwater specialist, introduced the campers to green infrastructure by leading an interactive activity that focused on best management practices for controlling stormwater runoff. Additionally, Sarah Fangman, superintendent for Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, talked with campers about different types of careers in marine science.

Women in Marine Science campers looks for shells and marine life at Wassaw Island.

Women in Marine Science campers looks for shells and marine life at Wassaw Island.

When Zuri Murph, a seventh grade student, was asked about her experience at camp, she recalled some of her favorite activities. “I really enjoyed the fish and squid dissections,” Zuri says. “I’m a visual learner so that was a good way for me to understand how their anatomy works.”

Zuri, who’s from Atlanta, participated in the Fishing for Fun summer camp last year and enjoyed it so much that she and her mom looked into other camps offered at the Marine Education Center and Aquarium. “We decided the WIMS camp would probably be more interesting and it’s a little more advanced than some of the other summer camps we found.”

Turns out the WIMS camp was the perfect fit for Zuri, who wants to be a marine biologist when she grows up. “I’m really interested in how animals interact with their environment and with each other.”

For staff at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Great, this type of feedback is incredibly rewarding. Inspiring campers like Zuri to appreciate coastal marine ecosystems through hands-on experiences is the ultimate goal.