Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Rivers to Reefs 2012
Mission Information
 

Wednesday: July 18, 2012
Log Day 3

Kerry Carter; Vickery Creek Middle School,
   Cumming, GA
Laura Hunter; Roswell High School, Roswell, GA
Jacqui Toner; Cherokee High Schooly, Canton, GA

Kerry Carter

While most people were drinking their morning coffee, enjoying their breakfast, and reading the paper, we had already arrived at the Ocmulgee River in Macon at the Spring Street Bridge. As newly trained Adopt-A-Stream volunteers, everyone eagerly found a spot in the river to practice the important data collecting techniques we can use in our own communities to help protect Georgia waters. Although not proficient yet, a sense of unity is developing in each team as we teach and remind each other how to run the many different tests. It is nice for a change to be on the other side of collaborative learning: in the role of student. As educators, we can so often get caught up in the delivery of curriculum and meeting standards that we forget that being a student, especially a 7th grader, is no easy task. Especially when asked to work cooperatively with peers.

Jeff Eller, Cindy Ward, Laura Hunter and Shannon Sanders running tests in the Ocmulgee in Macon

Jeff Eller, Cindy Ward, Laura Hunter and Shannon Sanders running tests in the Ocmulgee in Macon.
(Photo: Cathy Sakas)

As the morning unfolds, we head to our most challenging activity of the day: canoeing the Oconee River! But this isn't your ordinary canoe trip. We were at the headwaters of the Oconee just yesterday and today we will have lunch where this river joins the Ocmulgee to create the Altamaha River. Once again, teacher becomes student. As Cathy Sakas, Gray's Reef Education Coordinator, guides the group, we can see for ourselves how the soil of the riverbanks and river bottom is much more sandy and the river moves much more slowly than those above the Fall Line, evidence of the ocean which once covered so much of our state. For many of us, we are amateur paddlers. Yet, we help one another learn a new skill, something else we often ask of our students in our own classrooms. We beach our canoes at the tri-river, tri-county sandbar where the Oconee and Ocmulgee conjoin to form the Altamaha River to gather more data, eat lunch and discuss the effects of non-point source pollution that may have had its beginnings so far upstream. Our canoe experience continues down the Altamaha as we keep an eye out for wildlife and hope to keep the canoe upright

This opportunity gives me an entirely new perspective on water quality. Taking action in my community and classroom as an educator for safe water has far reaching effects all the way to Gray's Reef. By developing hands-on engaging activities that simulate Rivers to Reefs, students take ownership of the water in their back yard that flows through the watersheds of Georgia.

By the way, the day is not over yet. We are off to Darien to learn about the estuary and collect more data!

Melissa Niemi, Patty Matthews, Kathryn Paxton and Chandra Westafer enjoy a relaxing testing session on the tri-rivers sandbar at the confluence

Melissa Niemi, Patty Matthews, Kathryn Paxton and Chandra Westafer enjoy a relaxing testing session on the tri-rivers sandbar at the confluence.
(Photo: Cathy Sakas)

Laura Hunter

While it was quite difficult to get up in time to leave by 7am this morning after a late night learning water testing techniques, I now understand why we needed to leave so early. The focus of this day for me was to become more comfortable with the water quality testing techniques and to become immersed in the rivers that we had been learning about. Our morning started with a quick stop for water testing in the Ocmulgee River in Macon. It was different to carry out the tests when we were able to actually get down into the water. Since I have never done water testing before, it was nice to see that it is not as scary as it looks. By the end of this trip, I am confident that I will be comfortable enough with the testing to get a group of students out and using the techniques.

Our next stop was a canoe trip along the confluence of the Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Altamaha Rivers. We stopped for additional water testing, lunch and a quick swim. There is something about actually swimming in the water that made me start thinking about some of the issues we had been discussing upriver. I found myself thinking about what could have been dumped in the river in Atlanta that I was now swimming in far downriver. While observing all of the houses and talking to people down here, I also find myself questioning the "fairness" of how much what we do, in the metro Atlanta area, affects the river down here. It is a topic that I know needs to be brought to the attention of my students.

Kim Morris-Zarneke helps Joseph Denato cap off a  water sample in the Oconee where it conjoins the Ocmulgee to become the mighty Altamaha

Kim Morris-Zarneke helps Joseph Denato cap off a water sample in the Oconee where it conjoins the Ocmulgee to become the mighty Altamaha.
(Photo: Cathy Sakas)

The third stop of the day was a trip on a pontoon boat out into the estuary to observe the area where the salt water meets the freshwater. While I lost my hat on the boat trip, it was a good place to first observe the marsh and compare the salt water test results and the freshwater test results. On our pontoon boat my team collected and tested fresher water at the surface while the other team collected and tested salt water on the bottom. We were definitely at a place in the estuary where the heavier salt water from the ocean was interfacing with the lighter fresh water from the Altamaha. We were in the very productive estuary.

After a wonderful dinner overlooking the marsh, we returned to the hotel for a presentation from James Holland the former Altamaha Riverkeeper. Even though I am exhausted and slightly sunburned, it has been an amazing day and the chance to completely immerse myself in the rivers has greatly increased my appreciation for these rivers in my own backyard.

Jacqui Toner

Rob Herrin and Sharon Butler test the heavier salt water collected  from the bottom aboard the pontoon boat in the Altamaha Delta

Rob Herrin and Sharon Butler test the heavier salt water collected from the bottom aboard the pontoon boat in the Altamaha Delta.
(Photo: Cathy Sakas)

What an amazing day! What was most interesting to me about the day was the time our group spent traveling down the Altamaha River to the point where the river meets the sea in Darien, GA. The coastal marshes here are vast and full of life. The marsh serves many purposes. It's a habitat. It is "home" to many fish, shrimp, blue crabs, different species of birds and various plants. It is a place for tourists to visit, and serves as a place for crabbers, shrimpers to harvest and earn a living. Today, we met James Holland who has been a fisherman as far back as he can remember. Now retired, he earned a living as a crabber here for 23 years. Holland holds the Altamaha River and marsh near and dear to his heart. He can tell you the names of many of the flowering plants that grow here. He can tell you the history of this area. He is very concerned about the future of the marsh as he has seen the quantity and quality of species change over the past 30 years. His message to us today was that the marshes are changing because of what is happening upstream. There is less freshwater emptying at the mouth of the river and the water that is being carried downstream is warmer and does not contain as much dissolved oxygen as it has in the past. This is having an effect on the organisms that live here. Holland has witnessed a severe decline in the population of blue crab because of the quality of the water. You can't help but be drawn to this man and the message he is trying to get out to the public. Humans have to be aware of the impact they have on the land and waterways around them if we want to maintain biodiversity. This includes businesses and industries, of course. I think the time I spent listening to Holland speak so passionately about this is what I will remember most about this trip. It impacted me and now I feel it is my duty to carry his message with me to my classroom and share it with my students.

Stephanie Miles and Betty Bates work on their water sample while enjoying a dramatic sunset with an approaching storm on the Altamaha River Delta

Stephanie Miles and Betty Bates work on their water sample while enjoying a dramatic sunset with an approaching storm on the Altamaha River Delta.
(Photo: Cathy Sakas)

This week has been an amazing experience for me. I've met some extremely knowledgeable people. I've learned so much from our leaders and all of the other teachers here. I'm not native to Georgia. I've only lived here for seven years, but after the past few days, I feel I've lived here all my life. I'm now attached.


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