Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Rivers to Reefs 2013
Mission Information
 

WORKSHOP INTRODUCTION

Behind the Scenes at the Georgia Aquarium

Behind the scenes at the Georgia Aquarium
(Photo: Amy Rath, GRNMS)

The Rivers to Reefs Educators' Workshop is an immersion experience for teachers in the seventh largest watershed on the eastern seaboard; one that directly influences Gray's Reef. The workshop focuses on teaching educators about the Altamaha River Watershed, how we impact it and how it influences Gray's Reef and other offshore habitats. Staff from Gray's Reef with partners from Georgia Aquarium, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and Gordon College empowers each participant with background information, tools, activities and materials and all-important first-hand field experiences. This summer's workshop is the 10th Rivers to Reefs Educators' Workshop.

Collecting water samples on the Ocmulgee River

Collecting water samples on the Ocmulgee River
(Photo: Amy Rath, GRNMS)

The jam-packed workshop begins in Atlanta with a visit to the Georgia Aquarium's Learning Loop where the technology behind keeping sea creatures in the world's largest aquarium healthy and happy is revealed. Huge whale sharks along with manta rays and sawfish glide by gigantic acrylic viewing areas with only a few inches separating air breathers from ocean dwellers.

After an introductory orientation at the Aquarium, the 16 teachers begin their field experience in Shoal Creek in DeKalb County in ankle deep water where they take their first water samples. At each stop along the watershed, they conduct water quality tests for pH, nitrogen, phosphorous, salinity and dissolved oxygen. They record air and water temperatures and note the general appearance of the area as well as the weather conditions. These factors help them determine if the water in any particular area is healthy or not. Throughout the course of the week-long workshop they repeat these tests that result in a profile of the entire watershed from beginning to end, from Atlanta all the way to Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, from Rivers to Reefs.

Kayaking the Altamaha River

Kayaking the Altamaha River
(Photo: Amy Rath, GRNMS)

Other highlights are the canoe trip down the Ocmulgee River to where it conjoins the Oconee to form the Altamaha River. At high water the convergence is exciting and thrilling as the two rivers collide head-on creating high profile ripples to form the mighty Altamaha river. Other on-water experiences include a boat ride in the Altamaha River where saltwater meets freshwater and where there is an abundance of shorebirds and alligators.

Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve staff give us an overview of their reserach projects and the island's general state of health and lead us in collecting and investigating dock fouling organisms.

Exploring the marsh on Sapelo Island

Exploring the marsh on Sapelo Island
(Photo: Abbigail Rigdon, GRNMS)

On Sapelo Island we explore natural and cultural resources through its people and its habitats with a marsh crawl as the highlight of the day. Most who live in coastal Georgia drive past the marsh every day but never really experience it. We make sure our teachers know it intimately. We investigate the grass, snails, mud, sand, crabs and mussels and even eat some of the succulent marsh plants. More importantly, we learn that marsh mud is made of clay and silt and we find that saltmarsh grass will hold you up, but only up to a certain point!

On Sapelo we study the connection of Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve (SINERR) to Gray's Reef, both part of the federal agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Both of these programs are charged with protecting resources, one a barrier island and the other an ocean habitat, that are integrally linked. We take time to thoroughly investigate the ecology of the beach communities, maritime forests and the expansive marsh.

Teams wrap up their day with water quality tests before calling it a night.

Teams wrap up their day with water quality tests before calling it a night.
(Photo: Amy Rath, GRNMS)

At the end of each day, we recap the experiences of that day to help our teachers plan how they will incorporate all they learn into their classrooms. The teachers share their ideas and, most importantly, their "aha" moments. Evaluations help the leaders know how to reach the goal of turning out watershed-literate ocean stewards. Professional Learning Units or PLUs are awarded to those completing the requirements of the workshop. Each day journals are used to record ideas, thoughts, questions and reflections on what our teachers are doing, learning and experiencing and to help them plan for next year's classroom lessons. Each teacher brings their experiences back to their students knowing that their personal interpretations of the experiences may be the closest their students get to a marsh, a wetland, an island, or the ocean. Our teachers become stewards of our watershed and ocean and they are eager to share.

Rivers to Reefs - Class of 2013, aboard the RV Savannah

Rivers to Reefs - Class of 2013, aboard the RV Savannah
(Photo: Todd Recicar, GRNMS)

The workshop ends with an all day cruise aboard the RV Savannah, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography's research vessel, to Gray's Reef. While on location Gray's Reef divers, along with the ship's crew, deploy the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) so participants see the reef in real time without getting wet. Seeing the reef for the very first and for most the only time with its brightly colored fish, swaying soft corals, barrel shaped sponges and odd looking sea spiders and crabs is a true awakening. Knowing that water in Shoal Creek makes its way along the 270 miles of watershed to end up at Gray's Reef sinks in. Workshop participants have learned that every one of us impacts a watershed and our watersheds impact our ocean. They understand that by taking care of our watershed we take care of our ocean, Gray's Reef and for the long term we take care of our planet and ultimately ourselves.

Are you interested in how the Rivers-to-Reefs Educators Workshop could improve your understanding of our influence on watersheds and the subsequent impacts to our water resources? Allow us to share this example of an 11 year old student, Jaiden Rath, who joined her mother, Amy Rath, Communications and Outreach Coordinator for Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, for just the first day of the 2013 Rivers-to-Reefs Teacher Workshop in Atlanta, Georgia. In a behind-the-scenes tour of the Georgia Aquarium, she discovered a project called "River Words," which encouraged students to create an artistic piece inspired by their own thoughts and experiences with rivers. The following morning, while quietly observing a gear-up session on watersheds with the teacher group, Jaiden composed this very expressive poem: The River of Life, Jaiden Rath.

The Rivers to Reefs Educators Workshop 2013 is funded by the Morgen's West Foundation secured through Georgia Aquarium. Ship time aboard the R/V Savannah is provided by the US National Science Foundation in association with the project "Fecal pellets of doliolids and copepods: Two different microworlds? OCE 1031263" awarded by the Biological Oceanography program to G.A. Paffenhöfer, M.E. Frischer and Jay Brandes at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.


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