100 Miles Of …:A Coast with no Equal
At One Hundred Miles, we are dedicated to celebrating the special places and people that make our coast unique. Our “100 Miles of …” series features the many local businesses, artists, educators, conservationists, and everyday citizens who work to make a difference for our coast in their own unique way.
Check back every month for new profiles. We hope you enjoy reading our coast’s stories as much as we do!
100 Miles of … COASTAL PERSPECTIVES
Michele Johnson grew up in a Navy family, so she spent most of her childhood in coastal areas. Before she had visited Sapelo Island in 2001, she had never stepped foot on a Georgia beach. Once she did, Georgia’s coast became her favorite coast.
She moved to Sapelo from Charlotte, N.C., in 2005, and immediately became immersed in the history and the natural environment. Life slowed down, and she started paying attention to things she’d never taken the time to notice, like the tide cycle and when certain wildflowers bloomed.
“To this day, whenever I feel overwhelmed or find myself in a creative slump, I stop and head to the beach. I look out over the ocean at Nanny Goat or on Cabretta, and imagine my ancestors’ torturous crossing of that great expanse, and all that they endured. Thinking about that journey humbles me and grounds me and inspires me to learn more about our history. The ocean all by itself has a way of putting my life in context. Its enormous breadth and wondrous depths remind me how small I am and how insignificant my problems are in relation to our Earth and the universe.”
Michele believes the ocean always has something new to teach. Living by the sea has allowed her to gain an appreciation and new coastal perspective. Michele is a mixed media artist who highlights our coast’s Gullah-Geechee history, people, and places. Check out her most recent works on our soon to launch 3rd Annual Holiday Market!
100 Miles of … SERVING THE COMMUNITY
As the founder and face behind Peacock Productions, a Brunswick volunteer organization that promotes local charities through entertaining events, Jane believes that bringing people together in the spirit of fun is the best way to engage the community around a cause. For the past two years, she’s acted as a OHM ambassador by connecting coastal communities with One Hundred Miles and our work to protect Georgia’s coast. As a benefit to One Hundred Miles, the Peacock Productions team will be hosting a Roaring Twenties Charity Ball on Saturday, October 7, 2017 from 7pm-11pm at Brunswick’s Old City Hall.
But the awareness does not stop with people who live locally,
“I’ve recognized the need to educate those who live locally, but it’s just as easy to strike up a conversation on the beach to ask where they’re visiting from and then turn them on to understanding that our coast is a treasure.”
100 Miles of … TEACHING IN NATURE’S CLASSROOM
One day, when Michelle Kelly was teaching a class on habitats to 3rd graders, she had her very own “Aha!” moment.
“I realized the truly unique and beautiful thing about the Georgia coast is that within a twenty minute drive, you can experience more habitats than anywhere else. You can visit an ocean, a beach, a salt marsh, a maritime forest, a river or creek, and a swamp within such a short distance.”
To Michelle, this diversity of habitats makes our coast unique. And once a rare species or vulnerable habitat is gone, it will never be the same again. That’s why she knows our coast is worth protecting. As an educator, she hopes to help the next generation understand the value of our coast and appreciate it in a way that will maintain its integrity.
Cumberland Island (the largest of Georgia’s 14 barrier islands) was the first place in coastal Georgia Michelle explored, visiting during spring break as a college student with the University of Vermont. The simplicity and beauty of the island inspired her to learn more and dig deeper into what she identifies as the “real world.”
“If you’ve ever had the chance to relax and watch a sunset on the coast, or paddle a slow tidal creek, or walk through a maritime forest, you will find that you will return to your everyday life feeling restored. Our society has become so fast paced that we are losing our minds. We need these real world nature experiences to balance us and restore our sense of being.”
Michelle’s outside experiences on our coast and beyond have solidified the importance of experiential learning as a philosophy in her naturalist classroom. “My goal is to not to cram facts and information, but to allow my students two experience the place – to taste the salt on the Spartina, smell the mud, feel the wind and salt air, listen to the marsh wrens, and just awe in its mystery.”
Michelle Kelly is a Naturalist and Educator at Oatland Island Wildlife Center in Savannah, Georgia. She lives along the Bull River just west of Fort Pulaski, which is currently her favorite mile on our coast.
100 Miles of … PROTECTING AN ANCIENT SPECIES
Ashley Raybould has dedicated most of her professional career to protecting one of Georgia’s most treasured seasonal visitors: the sea turtle. Through her work, she’s recognized the clear connection between the health of a species and the health of our coast,
“One of the reasons I find fulfillment working with the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative is that sea turtles are a species that utilize every aspect of the oceanic habitat over the course of their lives. Protecting sea turtle habitat ensures a healthy dune system for the eggs, a healthy gulf stream for the hatchlings and young turtles, a healthy benthic feeding ground for juveniles, and a healthy near shore habitat for nesting females.”
The life cycle of a female loggerhead sea turtle tugs at every inch of our coastline, making longterm protections for this species all the more critical. Work as a sea turtle technician can be isolating, especially when you’re helping keep watch over Georgia’s most remote barrier islands. So when you have the chance to make that connection with a resident or visitor to our coast, the reward is great. Ashley strongest message is to encourage people to get outside and engage with the natural world as much as you can. There is always something to learn: “Seeking more knowledge about the natural world is an important part of a fulfilling life,” she says.
When asked about her favorite memory on Georgia’s coast, she had the perfect sea turtle story, “Coming across a 300-pound ancient reptile laying eggs while the sun is still beneath the horizon has got to be my favorite part of the job. A particularly memorable morning was when I had the privilege of talking to Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter about the loggerhead nest that I was re-locating to a safer location and about their childhood experiences with nesting turtles on the beaches of the Georgia coast years and years ago.”
Ashley Raybould is a Wildlife and Sea Turtle Technician with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and helps to manage the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative. On any given day in the summer, you’ll find Ashley surveying one of our 14 barrier islands for nests, conducting a sea turtle necropsy, and educating community members about these incredible animals. What a reason to wake up in the morning!
100 Miles of … OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN
According to Russ Regnery, there are a multitude of reasons why our coast is worth protecting. For one, it’s an increasingly fragile and narrow interface between our ocean and our mainland. When this habitat is disturbed, many plants and animals, like nesting sea turtles, do not have the option to abandon this part of their critical habitat. Protecting this stretch of land is something Russ believes we should all take personally.
“The Georgia coast in particular is ‘our coast’ and we are blessed with several relatively unspoiled barrier islands, large marshes, and maritime forests,” he says. “For those of us who visit or live here, we have the ecological and cultural well being of this coastline as our willing responsibility.”
There is so much to learn and experience along ‘our coast.’ Finding opportunities can be an exciting, fun, and a lifelong learning process. As a passionate nesting patrol volunteer on Little Cumberland Island, sea turtles are a great example to Russ of where a new appreciation for the environment can spark. Perhaps this is because some of our most memorable human experiences happen on the shore – witnessing a beautiful sunrise or Russ’ favorite mile, an undisturbed beach that disappears out of sight over the horizon. These experiences are a natural entry point to appreciate other ‘fellow citizens’ of our coast.
However charismatic sea turtles may be, to Russ, they are just the beginning. “The opportunities for learning and experiencing don’t need to stop with endangered or cute animals either. The coast is full of interesting and dynamic geologic processes happening in front of our eyes,” he says. “Georgia’s coast is ‘ground zero’ for appreciating the predicted impacts of raising sea levels and so much more.”
One of Russ’ most memorable learning moments along our coast was when he and a friend were walking near a gator hold in the interior of Ossabaw Island, “on an early, very chilly, perfectly quiet February morning. Suddenly we were startled by exhalation ‘woof’, or low frequency boom, emanating from an invisible bull alligator whose deeply recessed den I had inadvertently walked above. Note to self: the roofs of alligator dens do collapse; give gator holes a wider berth, even in winter!”
Take it from Russ, continue to get outside and learn something new – you never know what you might stumble upon.
100 Miles of … SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD
The Wyld Dock Bar focuses on sustainable and seasonal ingredients. Their restaurant with a purpose business model is one of many reasons why they were the perfect fit for our annual Spartini Cocktails for our Coast challenge, which celebrates the salt marsh as our signature landscape and the small business community with a direct interest in protecting it.
“Working here at The Wyld we look out onto the marsh everyday. We are extremely lucky to do what we do and we want to help preserve our coast as long as we can. Not only are we located directly on the herb river, but we trap our own crabs right off our dock. We buy only local oysters and clams. The fish that we serve here on a regular basis – flounder, sheepshead, trout – all live in these waters, so it is extremely important for us to try to be conscience of how we treat our coastline.”
If we can bring our community together over a Spartini (or two) and make the connection between the resiliency of our coast and the health of our communities, we’ve made a step in the right direction. Building on the cycle of supporting our local restaurants and small business community while giving back to the coast is a win-win for everybody.
100 Miles of … CITIZEN INVOLVEMENT
Julie Martin understands the bigger picture of why we must protect our coastline, “Its voice is only heard in the quiet sounds of water advancing or retreating along the shore or tidal creek and in the beautiful sounds of the birds and creatures that inhabit our coast habitats. The delicate balance of this precious ecosystem must be protected and properly managed as it fulfills a much larger role in keeping our health and wellbeing in good order.”
We all know the Georgia coast is fun and enjoyed by many – near and far – but it is more than a list of outdoor activities that we need to check off. It’s a resilient, fragile and well worth protecting. To her, “The next generation and each one after that needs to be educated and given a voice to effect the proper measures of control to safeguard harm to our coastal environment.”
As an elected official, it is vital for Julie to hear from her local constituents when decisions are being made both locally and at the state level. Community members must take an active role in local politics no matter their beliefs. It’s all too simple, yet often ignored as a priority. How can we work together to protect our coast if we are unaware of all the issues or might not know the best way to get involved?
Julie’s answer is an easy formula for community success: “Both sides of a issue should be heard through the process. There is no enemy, only bad decisions made. Community members should get in the habit of going online to check the agenda of an upcoming City or County Commission meeting and being informed on the issues being decided upon. Sign up to receive your local or regional legislator’s newsletter and stay ahead of the issues. Then communicate with those in positions of leadership!” Like Julie, we believe that in order to make effective change on our coast, we must be involved in every step of the process.
100 Miles of … REAL WORLD EXPERIENCES
Debra Power believes in the importance of first-hand educational experiences. A gifted Science Lab instructor at Gould Elementary School in Garden City, Debbie teaches lessons that not only educate students but inspire interest in the coastline. She organizes a variety of field trips so that her students can better understand the animals and habitats outside the classroom. For the past two years, she’s brought a small group of her students to Capitol Conservation Day in Atlanta,
“It’s a busy, extremely rewarding day for everybody on the bus, as well as the representatives they meet with. We cover as much ground as we can when we get there.”
There she’s helped the young advocates navigate both the halls of the state capitol, and 1:1 conversations with legislators on issues ranging from the marsh buffer to offshore drilling and aquifer storage. These are experiences these students will likely never forget, and thanks to their dedicated teacher Debbie Powers, the lessons learned will help them continue to make their voice heard for our coast for years to come.
As a dedicated naturalist, Debra believes Georgia’s coast is worth protecting for reasons beyond the walls of the capitol, “The intrinsic beauty of our coastal estuaries and barrier islands are important not only aesthetically, but for all living organisms that rely on its ecological health and diversity.” To her, it’s important to recognize the human element as a large part of our natural ecosystems.
Some of her most memorable moments along the coast have involved her participation as a volunteer with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island. Debra has had many opportunities to lead interpretive turtle walks to individuals, families, and groups as well as patrol 14k of beach with the staff. Nothing beats a real world experience, “The joy and happiness expressed by guests encountering a mother Loggerhead turtle nesting on a moonlit beach for the first time in their lives, leaves an indelible impression of how nature adapts to the presence and impact of human beings.” We couldn’t agree more.