One Hundred Miles 100:Coastal Stewards
Honoring those who devote their professional lives to protecting and preserving the environmental, cultural, and historic resources of our Georgia coast
Phyllis Bowen’s long history of conservation in Georgia has left its mark on the coast we love. For more than two decades, Phyllis advanced conservation efforts through her role as Executive Director of the Sapelo Foundation. By funding organizations like the Center for a Sustainable Coast, Glynn Environmental Coalition, various RiverKeeper programs, and as one of One Hundred Miles’ founding donors, Phyllis’ influence has touched projects from St. Marys to Savannah. She has been a leading advocate within her hometown of Odum, Georgia in Wayne County. Most recently she worked with a core group of citizens to block a proposal to build a mine. Phyllis was also the founder and visionary behind the Georgia Water Coalition, a collaborative group of more than 230 organizations working to protect our state’s water resources. As she prepares to embark on her well-deserved retirement, Phyllis will surely continue to make a difference in ways big and small.
John “Crawfish” Crawford knows the ins and outs of Georgia’s coast better than anyone. As an educator, naturalist, and research vessel captain with the University of Georgia’s Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island (not to mention the most appropriately-named honoree on this list), he’s had a hand in nonprofit organizations ranging from Wilderness Southeast to the Caretta Research Project. Crawfish grew up exploring the woods and marshes of Savannah’s Eastside and developed a lifelong passion for the area. Today he shares his passion for our natural resources with his students in the field as they look through the microscope to inspect plankton, dissect fish, and wade into the ocean to observe horseshoe crab behavior. As at home in front of a classroom of sixth graders as he is presenting to a symposium of scientists, Crawfish is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about all things coastal Georgia. All those who love our coast and hope for our future know we’re lucky to have him on our side.
At the intersection between wildlife and natural security, Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield proves that protecting our natural resources and advancing military interests isn’t an “either/or” proposition. By finding the common ground between the two, Fort Stewart and its partners (including the Georgia/Alabama Land Trust, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and Georgia Department of Natural Resources) have protected 21,000 acres that simultaneously secure its operations and serve as important wildlife habitat. This buffer features a variety of longleaf pine habitat, healthy populations of Eastern Indigo snakes and gopher tortoises, the largest population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in Georgia (and fifth largest in the Southeast), and provides habitat for several other endangered species. Fort Stewart has the largest prescribed burning program in North America and an active groundcover restoration program. Fish and Wildlife Branch Chief Tim Beaty has been a tireless ally for promoting longleaf pine reintroduction to the coast and has helped to pioneer important techniques and methods – conservation strategies that can be replicated across the state and country.
When loggerhead sea turtles reached record nesting numbers in 2015 and 2016, the milestones were a testament to decades of tireless efforts by the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative. Coordinated by biologist Mark Dodd at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the group is a collaborative network comprised of nearly 200 volunteers, researchers, and other “turtle folk” who patrol every mile of Georgia’s 14 barrier island beaches during the summer nesting season. Through sweltering heat and pouring-down rain, its members work early mornings and late nights from May until October to help Mark and sea turtle technician Ashley Raybould monitor loggerhead nesting and respond to strandings. Partners include Georgia DNR (Ossabaw and Sapelo Islands), the Caretta Foundation (LCI), Caretta Research Project (Wassaw), Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia Southern University (SCI), Jekyll Island Authority/Georgia Sea Turtle Center, St. Catherines Island Foundation, St. Simons Island Sea Turtle Project, Sea Island Company, The Lodge at Little St. Simons Island, Tybee Island Marine Science Center, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Savannah Coastal Refuges (Blackbeard). Their dedication is why Georgia’s sea turtles – and all of us who love them – owe the cooperative a debt of gratitude.
What’s home to loggerhead sea turtles, migrating right whales, more than 200 fish species, and some of the most incredible underwater sights off our coast? Why, that’s Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, of course! One of the largest near-shore live-bottom reefs off the southeastern United States, Grays Reef was designated as a sanctuary on January 16, 1981. Today it remains the only protected natural reef area on the continental shelf off the Georgia coast and is a crucial and pristine marine habitat. It is formed of complex rocky ledges that support invertebrates and provide feeding grounds for fish. Attached to the rock, bryozoans, tunicates (“sea squirts”), sponges, barnacles, and hard-tubed worms form a dense carpet of living creatures. The primary mission of the sanctuary is to balance the reef’s conservation with commercial, recreational, cultural, scientific, and educational uses that are compatible with resource protection. To share the reef’s majesty with conservationists around the globe, its staff host and conduct cutting-edge research and education programs.
Mike Harris held many roles with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources through the years and now serves as the At-Risk Species Coordinator at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Southeast region. Mike advocated for the creation of the Nongame Conservation Section devoted to conserving the more than 95 percent of native Georgia wildlife species that are not legally fished or hunted, as well as rare plants and the habitats crucial for the conservation of these species. He served as the Chief of DNR’s nongame conservation efforts since the formation of the Nongame Conservation Section in 1998 and assisted with right whale, sea turtle, and seabird conservation. In his current position, Mike remains committed to protecting our coast by working with public and private partners to proactively conserve as many at-risk species as possible over the next decade, including the gopher tortoise, Georgia aster, and the red knot.
Christi Lambert, Director of Marine and Freshwater Conservation at The Nature Conservancy, works with landowners, communities, water managers, agencies, and industries to protect the health of Georgia’s rivers. Among her many achievements over the past two decades, Christi has played an integral role in the protection of more than 125,000 acres of coastal and riverine lands through acquisitions and easements. Perhaps most significant have been the investments made in land conservation along the banks of the mighty Altamaha River. The Altamaha supports the largest concentration of rare species of any river in the state, and with Christi’s help, TNC has protected more than 100,000 acres of ecologically important lands within its watershed. Her impactful reach also extends throughout the nonprofit conservation community: she was instrumental in founding such organizations as the Altamaha Riverkeeper, McIntosh Sustainable Environment and Economic Development Initiative, and the Altamaha River Cooperative.
It’s hard to imagine Georgia’s coast without the one-woman conservation powerhouse known as Susan Shipman. For 30 years, Susan served the public through leadership roles at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. She first joined DNR as part of the newly-formed Coastal Resource Division in 1979; working her way up the ranks, she became chief of fisheries in 1984 and CRD director in 2002. She spent her career administering conservation policy, refereeing disputes between fishermen, developers, and environmentalists, and helping lawmakers hammer out natural resource management issues. Susan still serves as an active member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. She is also past chair of the St. Simons Land Trust Board of Directors, where she was instrumental in protecting Cannon’s Point Preserve, a 600-acre wilderness reserve on St. Simons Island. Best of all for those who love our coast, Susan remains a strong voice for issues ranging from the protection of our salt marsh to the disposal of toxic coal ash.
Many small conservation steps add up to a BIG impact for our coastal environment. In Georgia, those strategies are outlined in an important tool known as the State Wildlife Action Plan. Since 2005, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has convened more than 100 stakeholders and partners to create the SWAP, a statewide plan to conserve populations of native wildlife species and the habitats they rely on. The collaborative efforts surrounding the SWAP have resulted in better habitat conservation planning, increased public and private funding for these efforts, essential environmental education for thousands of Georgia youth and adults, and the permanent protection, restoration, and management of hundreds of thousands of acres in coastal Georgia and across the state. The SWAP (and the conservation managers that work to execute it) are essential tools to ensuring our state’s most beloved species – from loggerhead sea turtles to gopher tortoises and longleaf pine – thrive for generations to come.
Brad Winn is the Director of Shorebird Habitat Management at the internationally-renowned Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. Since joining Manomet in February 2011, Winn’s work has focused on training state and federal land managers and biologists in the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts on shorebird habitat conservation. Prior to Manomet, he worked for 17 years as a Program Manager for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division in its Coastal Georgia headquarters. Brad’s research on birds and the Atlantic Flyway was instrumental in highlighting threats to shorebirds. His research raised international attention to declining shorebird species populations and the importance of management that prioritizes habitat protection. Meanwhile, his infectious appreciation of coastal Georgia’s shorebirds has helped to secure a great number of investments in habitat conservation. Although he currently lives in Massachusetts, Brad’s heart remains deeply rooted in the beaches and marshes of Georgia’s coast.