Tag Archives: aquarium

After 50 years of on-site experiential education programs, the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium goes virtual

by Emily Kenworthy

On the deck of the Sea Dawg, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s 43-foot research vessel, Marine Educator Dodie Sanders sets up her computer, webcam and teaching props, which include live fish, corals and a stingray.

She introduces herself through her webcam and asks her first question, “What do we call water that’s in between fresh and salty?”

“Brackish!” responds a chorus of students from the speakers of her computer.

A few hundred miles away in Rome, Georgia, 25 fifth graders at the Darlington School are watching Sanders’ program on their iPads. Typically, this conversation would happen aboard the Sea Dawg while trawling for live specimens in Wassaw Sound. For the next two days, educators at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Marine Education Center and Aquarium are bringing the on-site, outdoor experiences to the classroom for the first time by way of virtual school trips.

Sanders uses a computer and webcam to virtually teach students.

Sanders describes the importance of Georgia’s brackish water estuaries where so many different species, like red drum, shrimp and blue crabs spend all or part of their lives. She talks about the different animals in her touch tank, explaining the physical and biological characteristics that are unique to each animal.

The educational trawl is just one of 16 different virtual classes now available to K-12 classrooms across the state. Available classes include marine debris, squid dissection, maritime forest hikes and more.

“Shifting from on-site to virtual programs has made us approach everything we do from a very different perspective with the goal of creating meaningful and impactful education programs,” says Sanders, who, along with her marine educator colleagues, spent several months modifying on-site programs for a virtual setting.

“How do you virtually capture searching for invertebrates living on the underside of a floating dock, the smell of salt marsh mud, hiking across an undeveloped barrier island, or touching cool organisms collected in a trawl net?” Sanders asks. “We’re incorporating the same teaching methods, the same tricks of the trade but perhaps on a more complicated and elevated level.”

Through virtual programming, students can experience live animals such as this alligator held by Marine Educator Katie Higgins.

The education team developed program templates, wrote teaching outlines, created new pre- and post-activities and tested new audio-visual equipment to prepare for the virtual school programs.

They keep the students engaged by showing pre-recorded videos of local environments and up-close live shots of animals that are native to the coast.

They also frequently pause instruction for question and answer sessions and encourage opportunities for students to share their own stories.

“Do you ever not want to go trawling and just sit on the boat instead?” asks one student during the virtual trawl.

“What happens if you catch a shark?” asks another.

Julie Fine, a fifth-grade teacher at Darlington School, says students at Darlington have been visiting the education facility on Skidaway Island for 10 years.

“We were really concerned that our kids would be missing out on a lot of the things that make fifth grade special. So much has already changed in their world,” says Fine. “When we reached out to see what you guys might be able to offer, we were really excited to hear about the virtual experience.”

Marine Educator Nina Sassano shows students a hermit crab during a virtual program at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

Fine and fellow fifth grade teacher Bebe Cline chose the classes they would normally have done on-site, like the squid dissection and dolphin excursion, but they also picked new classes, like the trawling trip and coastal reptiles, which ended up being big hits with their students.

“At one point, one of the fish jumped out of the little tray and they loved that. They loved seeing them up close,” Fine says.

Their goal was to make the two days as full and as exciting as possible, without actually being at the coast, Fine says. They also chose topics that aligned with their studies of classification and coastal Georgia as part of the fifth-grade curriculum.

“Our students were definitely focused and learning and really getting the material, much the same that they do while they are actually there,” Fine says.

This positive feedback from Darlington is encouraging for educators at the Marine Education Center and Aquarium, who plan to further enhance virtual school programming and reach more students in the coming year.

In the past, transportation, funding and logistics have often made field trips a challenge for schools who want to come to the Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

With the virtual programs up-and-running, teachers can bring the coast to their students with the click of a mouse and at a fraction of the cost.

“Our new world of teaching virtually affords the opportunity to reach and serve more diverse communities, especially those who may not be able to take part in our on-site programs,” says Sanders. “Virtual programs make us more accessible.”

Teachers can learn about and register for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s virtual school programs at https://gacoast.uga.edu/virtual-school-programs/

UGA Aquarium’s Genell Gibson receives award for service

PSO_Gibson_Genell-240x300The administrative assistant and manager of the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium, Genell Gibson, received a Staff Award for Excellence on April 1 at the university’s 28th annual Public Service and Outreach Meeting and Awards Luncheon. Gibson was one of eight faculty and staff members recognized for outstanding service to the state and UGA.

Gibson has been a staple at the aquarium since 1994. She greets incoming visitors, manages fees and admission, maintains the education resource center and directs incoming calls and requests.

Gibson excels at all of her listed duties, but it is her other contributions that set her apart. During her 24 years as a member of Marine Extension and Sea Grant, she has transformed the role beyond its regular office-based duties by serving as a teacher, historian and friend to everyone who visits and works at the facility.

Born and raised in the local community of Pin Point, Gibson picked blue crab for a living as a young adult, a skill she now shares with visitors in the Saturday Explorations at the Aquarium programs.

Gibson also discusses her unique Gullah/Geechee heritage, providing people with a special perspective on the life, work and history of the Georgia coast.

Gibson serves as the face of the UGA Aquarium, where she is often the first person to interact with the more than 20,000 visitors each year. She acts as the intermediary between staff and visitors, exemplifying Marine Extension’s “each one, teach one” principle. Her role is critical to understanding how visitors view the facility and how to improve their experience.

“Genell Gibson is the heart and soul of the Marine Education Center and Aquarium,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Sea Grant. “She teaches us daily what is means to be thoughtful, helpful and courteous humans. She reminds us all how fortunate we are to work and live on Georgia’s coast.

“Genell is our historian,” Risse also said. “She is our link to the human history of Skidaway Island during the Roebling era, our link to the long-retired workers who hail from her community of Pin Point, our link to oyster and crabbing culture, our link to the fine folk who love this coastal area and choose to live and work here.”

Devotion to the Ocean: Savannah YOCS 2017

By: McKenna Lyons
Georgia Sea Grant Intern

The University of Georgia’s third annual Youth Ocean Conservation Summit took place earlier this year at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on Skidaway Island. Thirty students between the ages of 12 and 17 heard from engaging keynote speakers, participated in skill-building workshops and created their own initiatives to tackle current conservation issues.

Marine Extension educator Mare Timmons works with a summit student.

This event had been many months in the making, organized by me and the three other Georgia Sea Grant interns at the Marine Education Center and Aquarium. I can’t say I was surprised by the vast number of logistics that had to be tackled in order to pull off this event. However, several things did catch me off-guard. First and foremost was the task of creating a project that would challenge the students to think critically and enthusiastically about conservation issues that were important to them. In turn, making a worksheet with guided questions challenged us to think about the important components of creating a conservation initiative. There was a good deal of mentally stimulating work to be done, which was a facet of the project that I greatly appreciated. Challenging ourselves to create a thorough program led to a successful event in which students not only learned how to make change, but also took the first steps towards doing so. Their projects addressed issues such as marine debris, deforestation and coral bleaching caused by sunscreen. It was extremely rewarding to see the students tackle what we had prepared for them with such enthusiasm.

Participants respond to a discussion.

A welcome surprise was the overwhelming amount of support we received as we were planning the event. Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant employees, both from Skidaway Island and from Brunswick, were invested in our project and happy to help. They did everything from advertising to presenting on the day of the workshop. Their help was essential to the successful implementation of the summit, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have such dedicated people supporting us. We also received outside support in the form of donations from Stream2Sea, the Tybee Island Marine Science Center and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The donations were given to participants, not only as goodies, but as a way to familiarize and connect them with these other outstanding organizations. The scientific community in Georgia is a close-knit network of people who support one another to advance change and make positive impacts. I’m pleased that we were able to introduce the summit participants to this community.

All of our planning and preparation culminated in a successful summit, ripe with creativity, dedication and inspiration. Keynote speakers included Clayton Ferrara, the executive director of IDEAS For Us, and Olivia and Carter Ries , the founders of One More Generation. Our colleagues, along with speakers from One Hundred Miles, Leadership Savannah and Savannah State University led science workshops and skill-building activities. The day ended on a spectacular note, with groups of students presenting well-developed and creative plans to undertake conservation initiatives of their own design. I speak for all of the Georgia Sea Grant marine education interns when I say that we couldn’t have hoped for a better event. Everyone that participated in this summit was inspiring, and the involvement of so many young people was a testament to the fact that anyone, at any age, can make a difference.

 

Rider helped educate UGA Aquarium visitors, now back in his natural habitat

by Emily Woodward

Rider, a loggerhead sea turtle which spent the last three years at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium, was returned to his natural home in the ocean.

Lisa Olenderski gives Rider a little encouragement to walk to the ocean.

“It went well,” said Devin Dumont, head curator at the aquarium. “Rider seemed a little unsure at first, but after we placed him in the water, his instincts kicked in and he went on his way.”

Prior to the release, Rider was tagged by Joe Pfaller, research director of the Caretta Research Project, so that he can be identified if encountered again. After receiving the tags, the 50-pound sea turtle was loaded onto a skiff and transported to Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Once at the beach, Dumont and Lisa Olenderski, assistant curator at the aquarium, lifted him from his tub and placed him on the sand. Rider crawled forward a few inches before stopping, as if not quite sure what to do next. With a little help from Dumont and Olenderksi, Rider eventually made it to the surf where he swam in circles a few times, orienting himself to his new surroundings, before disappearing into the waves.

Lisa Olenderski and Devin Dumont help Rider into the surf.

Rider arrived at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium as a straggler discovered during a nest excavation by members of Caretta Research Project who monitor the sea turtle nests on Wassaw Island. Stragglers that don’t make it out of the nest with the rest of the hatchlings typically have a much lower chance of survival. By giving them a temporary home at the aquarium, it increases the likelihood that they’ll make it in the wild.

Rider played an important role educating visitors to the UGA Aquarium. As an ambassador sea turtle, he was featured in multiple marine education classes and outreach programs for all age groups, from pre-K to adult.

“We estimate that Rider saw about 70,000 visitors,” said Olenderski. “If each of those people left knowing just one new fact about sea turtles or gained a new appreciation for them, it’s all worth it.”

In preparation for the release, Rider was fed live food, such as blue crabs and mussels, to practice active foraging and hunting skills. Prior to the release, the aquarium staff also received approval from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Terry Norton, a veterinarian, and director and founder of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island.

“We’re always appreciative of the opportunity to work with multiple partners on the coast through our ambassador sea turtle program,” said Dumont. “Because of this collaborative effort, Rider has a much stronger chance of making it to adulthood.”

Intern Sean Russell receives Brower Youth Award

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGeorgia Sea Grant Intern, Sean Russell, has been selected as a recipient of one of six prestigious Brower Youth Awards, a national prize awarded to exceptional environmental leaders, ages 13-22, in North America.

Sean is received this award for his work on the Stow It-Don’t Throw It Project, a youth-driven fishing line recycling and marine debris prevention initiative he launched in high school. Since then, the project has grown into an international program. He was also credited for his work directing the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit, an annual event designed to train students from across the country how to launch their own ocean conservation projects.

Russell is an intern at UGA Marine Extension’s Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island. Both UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are units of the UGA Office of Public Service and Outreach.

For more information on the 2014 Brower Youth Awards, visit: http://www.broweryouthawards.org/awardees/

Campus open house attracts more than 2,000

Close to 2,000 visitors enjoyed a beautiful day visiting Skidaway Marine Science Day on Saturday, October 25.

The campus-wide open house featured exhibits, programs and activities sponsored by the campus partners, including the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service Aquarium, the Marine Extension Service Shellfish Laboratory and the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

As in past years, the open house event also featured a number of outside environmental organizations.

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