Since the 1970s, staff at UGA’s Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island have worked diligently to help others develop an understanding of and appreciation for Georgia’s coastal environments. They do this by providing resources and unique opportunities to show students, teachers and the general public first-hand how they can not only enjoy the coast but help preserve it as well.
“You are not born being a steward of the Georgia coast. You have to take it as your own,” said Anne Lindsay, MECA director and public service associate. “I think the most important thing we’re doing here is providing those opportunities for people to make the coast their own, whether or not they choose to live here. People love the coast, but we need to love it in a way that will allow it to maintain itself in a healthy state.”
This year, MECA, the education branch of the Marine Extension Service—is celebrating 40 years of service to Georgia’s coast. MECA will commemorate the milestone at the Skidaway Marine Science Day on Oct. 20 with free aquarium tours, laboratory demonstrations, reptile programs and more.
MECA’s education facilities feature a 10,000-gallon teaching aquarium, nature trails, outdoor field sites, numerous laboratories, classrooms, a museum, gallery, residence halls and full-service cafeteria allowing staff to teach in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings. Programs range in length from one hour to several days.
Lindsay hopes these programs help people see that Georgia’s coast is much more than a vacation hot spot and that everything people do affects nature. She also believes that it’s never too early or too late to start learning.
“Whether they are infants in the Mommy and Me Program, students participating in one of our many educational field trips or retirees who simply want to help out, we have something for everyone,” said Lindsay. “Our facility is unique because we can work with everybody in the state, not just a particular age group, but a range of people of all ages and interest levels.”
MECA’s education programs are offered year-round Mondays through Saturdays and cover a variety of topics from fish painting classes to maritime forest hikes to hands-on labs. These programs are open to both school groups and the general public. MECA also offers weeklong summer camps for children ages 2 to 15 throughout June and July.
“We want people to come out and get involved in the Georgia coast,” said Lindsay. “Many come from the Atlanta area, so they’re living 200 miles or so from the ocean, and others live in urban environments and simply don’t have the chance to just go outside. So we are able to take advantage of that natural curiosity and enthusiasm for the natural world and get people—especially students—into the region to see their coastal backyard.”
In addition to student and public programs, MECA supports what teachers around Georgia are doing in the classroom by providing them with additional hands-on activities.
“The goal is to fill a niche for teachers to help augment what they’re doing in the classroom with once-in-a-lifetime field experiences for students,” said Lindsay. “All activities are correlated to what the teachers are doing in the classroom.
“My biggest hope is that people get connected to the natural world,” she also said. “We want them to go home with more questions than they came with. If they learn something about marine debris, don’t let that experience be the end. Let that be the beginning.”