The researchers and staff at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center see the impacts of marine debris on a near daily basis. Plastic bags, fishing gear and other pieces of trash tossed into the ocean cause major problems for marine wildlife, and all too often, patients at the Center are victims of this littering.
“Balloons, fishing hooks, plastic grocery bags, all these things end up in our waterways and then ends up harming the animals that call these waters home,” said Katie Higgins, Education Coordinator for the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. “We work continually to make the general public more aware of their impacts on marine animals.”
One method of the educational campaign is through a partnership between the Center and University of Georgia, using the Marine Debris Tracker. An app for cell phones, the Marine Debris Tracker is a social media tool that allows individuals to track litter both near waterways and on dry land. Once debris is tracked, it is then analyzed to help research gather data and understand what litter is most popular where. Groups that collect debris through the app can likewise earn points, which push the group to a higher ranking.
The app and larger NOAA grant funded, Georgia Sea Turtle Center-Marine Debris Initiative was launched as a partnership between the University of Georgia, NOAA and Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative. Jeannie Miller Martin, the AmeriCorps and Volunteer Coordinator at the Sea Turtle Center, got the center involved in the initiative last year.
“The first year of the program was an enormous success, with volunteers and guests donating more than 460 hours to cleaning Jekyll beaches, resulting in the removal and logging of some 6,500 pieces of litter,” Miller Martin said. “Additionally, the classroom portion of the grant, provided no cost marine debris programming to over 900 Glynn County students at seven different elementary schools.”
Now, the Center is taking their involvement with the Initiative one step further, by introducing the idea to teachers through the Atlantic Armstrong State University, in Savannah. Dr. Pat Norris-Parsons, a Jekyll Island resident and professor at the University, is working with the staff at the Center through a sea turtle special topics course, and they have included participation in the Marine Debris Initiative. During the course, teachers are offered the opportunity to learn more about and download the tracker app during a volunteer beach clean-up, and can then take the tracker back to their classrooms to introduce the topic to their students. A goal of the program is for participants to be able to write grants enabling them to bring their students to the GSTC.
When the course completes its second session this month, it will have been attended by about 40 teachers from across five counties in Southeast Georgia.
“The purpose is to teach students and teachers how they impact the environment. This course opens up a whole new dialogue, where people can not only learn about the ocean world, but also develop a new outlook on conservation,” said Higgins. “When teachers go through this course, the message gets passed along to their classroom to reinforce these lessons. It’s amazing how this hands-on activity of the app changes perspectives.”
About the Georgia Sea Turtle Center: Established in 2007 on Jekyll Island and operated by the Jekyll Island Authority, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center was developed as an institution devoted to the rehabilitation of injured sea turtles and preservation of the delicate balance of the oceanic ecosystem. Through sea turtle rehabilitation, research and educational programs, Georgia Sea Turtle Center staff work to increase awareness of habitat and wildlife conservation challenges, promote responsibility for ecosystem health and empower individuals to act locally, regionally, and globally to protect the environment. For information, visit www.georgiaseaturtlecenter.org.
About the Marine Debris Tracker: The Marine Debris Tracker app is a joint partnership of the NOAA Marine Debris Division and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative, located within the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia. A primary goal of SEA-MDI is to use innovative technologies and unique expertise to add culturally relevant outreach tools and information to the current NOAA Marine Debris Division. Marine Debris Tracker is the first product of this initiative, and was developed with the goal of spreading awareness of marine debris, as well as to serve as a simple tool for marine debris data collection. Find out more about the Marine Debris Initiative at www.marinedebris.engr.uga.edu.