Tag Archives: gray’s reef

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.

 

Gray’s Reef teams with GPB to present “Live Exploration”

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, in collaboration with Georgia Public Broadcasting, created a livestream virtual dive event on May 10 from the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium. More than 35,000 viewers from as far away as Romania tuned in from their homes, schools and offices to dive into a 30-minute virtual field trip of Gray’s Reef, located approximately 20 miles off the coast of Georgia’s Sapelo Island. The virtual expedition included underwater surgery on a fish to insert a tagging transmitter and beautiful views of the vibrant and abundant marine life found at Gray’s Reef. Viewers learned how Gray’s Reef was formed, how the seafloor serves as a habitat and how they can help protect the reef from threats.

GPB host Ashley Mengwasser, GRNMS Superintendent Sarah Fangman and UGA research scientist Scott Noakes discuss Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary during the livestream. Photo M. Riley/GRNMS

The sanctuary’s communications coordinator, Michelle Riley, worked with GPB’s Education division in Atlanta to create the event using underwater footage of Gray’s Reef and featuring sanctuary superintendent Sarah Fangman and UGA researcher Scott Noakes as experts. Emily Woodward and her colleagues at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant provided substantial support to the event, and aquarium staff updated the tanks with a colorful new interpretation of Gray’s Reef. UGA’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography provided technical assistance, utilizing the expertise of senior system administrator Wayne Aaron.

Targeted to students, the livestream included a question-and-answer session with Fangman and Noakes, during which viewers submitted more than 1,000 questions. The event was accompanied by supplemental materials tailored to Georgia Department of Education standards for K-12. GPB had hoped for an audience of 3,000 – 5,000, and was pleased that the participation level was substantially higher than originally expected.

To view the archived event, go to http://www.gpb.org/education/explore/grays-reef.

Gray’s Reef hosts MATE ROV competition

By Michelle Riley
Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary hosted its annual Southeast Regional Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) competition on April 22 at the Chatham County Aquatics Center.

Spearheaded by Gray’s Reef’s events and volunteer coordinator Jody Patterson, staff and volunteers from the sanctuary as well as Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation welcomed 16 teams of students who came to compete for first place and a shot to compete in the national MATE competition. The competition is open to young scientists from kindergarten to college, and it challenges them to create innovative solutions to real-world problems faced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other marine industries.

The Wolfpack Robotics Team from North Paulding High School competing, first place winners. Photo Credit: Michelle Riley

This year’s theme was “Port Cities of the Future,” which prompted students to use their underwater robots to perform tasks that could be utilized to clean and maintain the waters of port cities. MATE encourages students to develop their entrepreneurial skills by creating a business plan that supports their innovative marine technology as well as marketing materials that showcase their work. Students choose from four classes of competition in which they can present their marketing materials and demonstrate their robots.

Vying for a spot at the international competition was the eight-time champion team named InnovOcean from Carrollton High School as well as five other teams in the ranger class. Although the competition was fierce all day, in the end, first place fell to the Wolfpack Robotic Team from North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia. Gray’s Reef congratulates all the teams that competed in the Southeast regional competition and will be cheering on the Wolfpack Robotic Team in June as they compete in the international competition in Long Beach, California.

14th Annual Gray’s Reef Film Festival expands to Tybee Island and adds second 3D Night

by Michelle Riley / Gray’s Reef NMS

Moviegoers gave rave reviews to the Gray’s Reef Film Festival’s first-ever “3D Night” last year, spurring Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary to offer two consecutive nights of 3D fun at the Trustees Theater in downtown Savannah for the upcoming festival. The sanctuary also is expanding the event’s reach by adding a daytime slate at the Tybee Post Theater.

“We’re having a lot of fun putting together this year’s festival,” organizer Chris Hines, deputy superintendent of Gray’s Reef, said.  “Our theme this year is ‘Our Community, Our Ocean.’ These beautiful movies highlight the deep bond with nature and the ocean we are so fortunate to experience as a coastal community, and how important a healthy ocean is to preserving our way of life.”

On tap for the 3D showings at the Trustees Theater Feb. 3-4 are “Galapagos 3D: Nature’s Wonderland,” “The Last Reef 3D,” “Wonders of the Artic 3D” and “Secret Ocean 3D.” “Galapagos 3D” is directed by award winner Martin Williams, who is well known for his documentaries with David Attenborough. “The Last Reef 3D” was shot in five countries and is the production of Academy Award nominees Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, while “Wonders of the Arctic 3D” is a sweeping film by David Lickley, who describes himself as a “wilderness environmental-themed filmmaker. “Secret Ocean 3D” is a beautiful jewel of a movie by Jean-Michel Cousteau.

Galapagos sea lion and lava lizard from "Galapagos 3D"

Galapagos sea lion and lava lizard from “Galapagos 3D”

The Tybee Post Theater offerings on Feb. 5 will include a delightful sampling of films from the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival, the premier venue in North America for ocean-related movies, most of which are largely unavailable to the general public.

“Our partnership with the Tybee Post Theater this summer exceeded our expectations, with more than 1,000 attendees expressing their interest in ocean-themed movies,” said Hines. “We are excited to expand the film festival and deepen our engagement with our beach communities.”

Like last year, Gray’s Reef suggests a donation of $10 per day for adults, $5 per day for children, students and military, to benefit the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. The foundation will host a pre-festival party on Feb. 2, with limited tickets available.

K-12 teachers learn from Rivers to Reefs

by Michelle Riley / Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary

In June, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary hosted the 13th annual Rivers to Reefs Workshop for Educators in association with the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, the Georgia Aquarium and Gordon State College. Cathy Sakas, chair of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, and Kim Morris-Zarneke, manager of education programs at Georgia Aquarium, served as the primary leaders of the workshop, with assistance from Theresa Stanley of Gordon State College.  Michelle Riley from Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary served as communications lead.

Rivers to Reefs is an educational expedition for teachers, focused on Georgia’s Altamaha River watershed. During the six-day trip, 16 Georgia science teachers canoed the Oconee, Ocmulgee and Altamaha rivers into the Sapelo estuary, crawled through salt marshes, traveled to Gray’s Reef and trawled the Wilmington River. They learned and explored the connections between the watershed and the ocean.

Teachers Marilyn Kinney (foreground) and Candace Bridges collect water samples in Flat Shoals Creek. Photo: Michelle Riley

Teachers Marilyn Kinney (foreground) and Candace Bridges collect water samples in Flat Shoals Creek. Photo: Michelle Riley

The week was packed with activities that most teachers never experience, beginning with a behind-the-scenes orientation at Georgia Aquarium, and it included an offshore trip to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary aboard the first working research vessel the educators had ever seen close up, Skidaway Institute’s R/V Savannah. In between, the group explored creeks, waterfalls, rivers and estuaries, and saw an abundance of flora and fauna. They frequently stopped to collect water samples, conduct water quality tests and record environmental factors to determine the overall health of the creeks and streams that flow to the river system. As the week progressed, the teachers developed an understanding of the profound influence the waters flowing through the Altamaha River watershed have on the health of Gray’s Reef and were inspired to teach their students about environmental responsibility and ocean literacy.

Always a highlight of the workshop, the marsh crawl on Sapelo Island was a memorable experience. The group sloshed on their bellies through the thick dark mud to learn why marshes are considered some of the most important and productive habitats on Earth. The estuary that encompasses the salt marsh, where the freshwater from the Altamaha River mixes with the saltwater of the Atlantic, is one of the largest estuary systems on the Atlantic coast.

The teachers on board the Research Vessel Savannah.

The teachers on board the Research Vessel Savannah.

Waters were calm for the voyage out to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary on the R/V Savannah under the command of Capt. John Bichy, marine superintendent at UGA Skidaway Institute. With extensive assistance from the R/V Savannah crew, the teachers conducted water quality tests at three separate points in the ocean. Meanwhile, the ship’s crew pulled a trawl net through the ocean at midwater depth and brought in many interesting fish, a large pile of Georgia shrimp and a handful of sharks, including a hammerhead and a small Atlantic sharpnose shark. During the trip, the teachers were delighted when they were treated to lessons by professor Marc Frischer of Skidaway Institute on black gill in shrimp and on pelagic tunicates called doliolids. While in the sanctuary, the crew deployed an underwater camera to allow the teachers to see the reef and its sea creatures in real time, without getting wet.

On the final day of Rivers to Reefs, the teachers boarded UGA’s R/V Sea Dawg, a smaller vessel used by the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium, a unit of the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Capt. John “Crawfish” Crawford and Anne Lindsay, associate director for marine education, conducted a field class during the two-hour trawling voyage in the Wilmington River. The teachers recorded the catch for research purposes and ended their trip with a wrap-up by Frischer and the expedition leaders, before scattering across Georgia with great memories and a treasure trove of experiences to pass on to their students this fall.

Underwater robot competition offers impressive display of technical and design skills

by Michelle Riley

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary

Sixteen student teams from middle, junior and high schools competed in the 2016 Gray’s Reef Southeast Regional MATE ROV Competition at the Chatham County Aquatic Center on April 30. After a full day of competition, seven-time regional champion Carrollton High School won the right to advance to the international round, held in June at the NASA Johnson Space Center Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston.

Carrollton High School, located west of Atlanta, has fielded strong teams that have placed as high as ninth in the global competition. Its team InnovOcean holds high hopes of taking home the top prize this year and will compete against students from various locations including Canada, Russia, Hong Kong and Scotland.

Beginning in 2004, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary partnered with the Marine Advanced Technology Education, or MATE, Center to offer underwater robotics as a vehicle to teach science, technology, engineering and math.

Two Atlanta area schools competing. Photo credit: Brian Greer

Two Atlanta area schools competing. Photo credit: Brian Greer

The ROV competition requires students to build tethered underwater robots — called remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs — from scratch, and then challenges them to perform tasks simulating real-world operations conducted by exploration organizations like NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries, NASA and other marine agencies worldwide. Teams are able to choose from four different classes of competition defined by skill level, instead of age, which further illustrates real-world circumstances. Only two classes — the Explorer and Ranger levels — are eligible to compete at the international competition.

In order to win, teams must not only build and successfully pilot an underwater robot, they have to create a company to market and sell their ROV. Students prepare posters, product spec sheets, safety procedures, design abstracts, business cards and presentations to working professionals who serve as contest judges.

Led by Jody Patterson, events coordinator at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, staff and sanctuary volunteers organize the regional competition and create simulated workplace scenarios for the ROV pilots. This year’s regionals focused on “innerspace” ROV tasks, including recovering equipment, conducting forensic fingerprinting of oil spills, analyzing deep water studies of corals and capping wellheads of oil rigs.

The sanctuary’s Team Ocean volunteer divers worked all day with NOAA divers to continually set up the underwater task components. Other volunteers served as judges and safety inspectors.

“It is a privilege to host the Southeast Regional ROV competition each year,” said Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Sarah Fangman. “To properly protect marine life and special areas like Gray’s Reef, we need tools to help us explore and understand the mysteries of the ocean. These students — future engineers and scientists — will create the next generation of instruments used at NOAA, NASA and the maritime industries.”

Gray’s Reef sponsors ‘A Fishy Affair’ to combat lionfish

The Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation hosted its first major fundraiser on Sept. 24 – “A Fishy Affair: Malicious but Delicious.” Four of Savannah’s prominent chefs cooked up their best lionfish dishes in an effort to encourage restaurants to put lionfish on their menus because they are invasive — but tasty – creatures. The event was sold out, and almost 250 people enjoyed the evening.

A Fishy Affair board member Kathryn Levitt.

A Fishy Affair board member Kathryn Levitt.

The lionfish is native to the tropical waters of the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are popular in home aquariums but are now invading ecosystems throughout the Atlantic coast and Caribbean. Lionfish damage the ocean by eating up to 20 small fish per day. With a very quick reproduction rate and no natural predators in Atlantic waters, they have multiplied quickly and threaten the natural biodiversity that provides economic and recreational opportunities. While completely removing lionfish from Atlantic and Caribbean waters is unlikely, reducing their numbers is critical to the ocean and for Gray’s Reef.

A Fishy Affair featured a full dinner, a short award-winning lionfish film, “Ocean Invaders,” by Mandee Malonee, a live Lionfish for viewing and a small live auction.  All proceeds benefit Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.