Tag Archives: marine extension and georgia sea grant

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/

Connecting Georgia seafood producers to consumers during the coronavirus pandemic

by Emily Kenworthy

As farmers and food distributors struggle to get their products into the hands of consumers, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has teamed up with UGA Cooperative Extension and the Georgia Department of Agriculture to generate business for the seafood industry.

Clams are cleaned before being sorted by size.

Photo credit: Pete Frey

The Ag Products Connection, a partnership between UGA Extension and the state agriculture department’s Georgia Grown program, is designed to connect farmers and seafood producers with customers around the state looking to source local food products. Businesses can sign up to have their companies promoted through the online platform, which lists local businesses by county.

MAREX Seafood 3

Photo Credit: Peter Frey

“The resource was developed for producers who had a glut of product. Some were selling to school systems or restaurants, but now they don’t have those avenues of customers,” said Tori Stivers, seafood and marketing specialist for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “With this program, they can market directly to consumers who can serve as new source of revenue for them.”

Stivers is working with fisheries specialists in UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to promote the resource to seafood professionals, many based on the coast, who are dealing with a surplus of product during the pandemic. She recently shared the resource with a list of more than 150 seafood wholesalers in Georgia, encouraging them to sign up.

“My hope is that it provides some income to those who have seen their business drop during this time so they can keep as many employees on the payroll as possible,” Stivers said. “If they can supplement their business by going directly to consumers, it might help them stay open.”

Some seafood businesses, like Southside Shellfish in Savannah, have already signed up for the program.

“We’ve seen a decline in clientele, but we’re still here and we’re still operating,” said Hope Meeks, owner of Southside Shellfish. “That’s why I think this resource will be so good because people keep calling and asking if we’re open, which we are.”

Meeks’ business has been involved in commercial crabbing since 1991. The retail business began in 2007, with the opening of a market in south Savannah. In addition to local blue crabs, they sell black sea bass, snapper, flounder and other seafood native to the east coast.

MAREX Seafood 2

Photo Credit: Peter Frey

“I’m hoping that this will bring in our regular customers as maybe new customers that don’t already know we’re here,” she said. “We have raw and cooked seafood, so for those who are skeptical about eating out, this is great way for people to source shellfish and fish products you can catch in our area.”

Georgia’s seafood producers and wholesalers who are keeping regular hours, providing curbside pickup, home delivery or e-commerce sales during the COVID-19 crisis can join the program by visiting the Georgia Grown Ag-Products Industry Promotion  or Georgia Grown E-Commerce Promotion pages and filling out forms that will add their information to the statewide database of producers that is being shared with consumers and buyers.

Consumers can find seafood resources listed by county HERE.

Georgia Grown — a state membership program designed to help agribusinesses thrive by bringing producers, processors, suppliers, distributors, retailers, agritourism and consumers together — is waiving all membership fees for the service until July to help producers affected by the crisis.

UGA Skidaway campus reacts to COVID-19 crisis

Like everyone else in the country, the organizations on the UGA Skidaway Marine Science Campus have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In mid-March, UGA Skidaway Institute cut back on all on-campus activities. Most active research was put on hold and faculty and staff were directed to telecommute as possible. Scheduled research and educational cruises on board the R/V Savannah were postponed. A small team of staff members continue to work on campus to maintain facilities and systems. Monthly Evening @ Skidaway public programs are cancelled, at least through the summer.

clark alexander 10 650p

Alexander

“Although we are currently pausing our research and educational efforts, we are eager to restart those programs as soon as it is safe to do so,” Director Clark Alexander said.

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant shut down operations about the same time. The UGA Aquarium closed, and all educational field trips were cancelled for the remainder of the school year.

photoRisse

Risse

“Our biggest priorities in our response has been the health and safety of our staff and the public that we interact with regularly,” Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant said. “For this reason, we made the hard decision to cancel many of our public programs and conferences this spring, as well as our summer marine science camps scheduled in June and July.”

Educators at the UGA Aquarium have transitioned several in-person public programs to virtual platforms. Registration is currently open for a series of engaging online events scheduled for June and July that focus on marine animals and coastal habitats. Learn more at gacoast.uga.edu/events.

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Shellfish Research Lab is supporting the aquaculture industry by providing technical assistance to shellfish growers and sharing information about COVID-related resources. A handful of extension specialists at the lab continue to keep the oyster hatchery running and are producing oyster seed for shellfish farmers on the coast.

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary remains open while its headquarters facilities on the UGA Skidaway Marine Science Campus are closed and staff is working from home. Most non-essential operations and research activities have been postponed, including the annual NOAA Ship Nancy Foster expedition, typically hosted in mid-July. The Gray’s Reef Expo on River Street has been tentatively rescheduled for November 21-22. Outreach from Gray’s Reef is focusing on digital and virtual events. Updates and additional news from the sanctuary be found at Gray’s Reef’s social media pages. This includes facebook.com/GraysReefSanctuaryor twitter.com/GraysReefNMS.

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.

Hundreds turn out to raise money for oyster hatchery

An oyster roast on the banks of the Skidaway River drew more than 200 people on a perfect fall night to celebrate and raise money for Georgia’s first oyster hatchery.

Guests used their commemorative Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant shuckers to crack open the wild oysters, served roasted and raw. Local chefs Matthew Roher of Sea Pines Resort and Dusty Grove from Pacci Italian Kitchen roasted Springer Mountain Farms chicken and vegetables.

John "Crawfish" Crawford cooks a  batch of oysters.

John “Crawfish” Crawford cooks a batch of oysters.

SweetWater beer and music by the Accomplices rounded out the evening.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, whose district includes Skidaway Island and Savannah, stopped by to enjoy the food and learn more about the hatchery.

“This is a terrific turnout and I’m encouraged by the support we are getting for the hatchery,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.  “A lot of people don’t know it, but Georgia led the nation in oyster production in the early 1900s. We hope to be back at the forefront in the oyster industry in a few years, which would help the local economy by providing more aquaculture-related jobs.”

Supporters enjoy the oyster feast.

Supporters enjoy the oyster feast.

UGA launched the oyster hatchery on its Skidaway Marine Science Campus last year. There they create baby oysters, or spat, which are given to local aquaculturists with state permits to farm along the Georgia coast. So far, the hatchery has produced 700,000 spat, which have been given to 10 growers. The potential harvest value of those will be between $140,000 and $245,000.

By 2018, the hatchery is expected to produce between 5 million and 7 million spat per year, with an annual estimated value between $1 million and $2 million.

The goal is to attract a commercial hatchery and businesses related to oyster production to the area, which would provide jobs and greater economic development opportunities on the coast.