Clean water heroes from across the state were recognized for their extraordinary work to protect Georgia’s water during the Georgia Water Coalition’s 20th Anniversary & Clean 13 Celebration on May 22, 2022 at Fall Line Station in Macon. The event, with 125 in attendance celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the Georgia Water Coalition and featured an awards ceremony. Read the report and learn about the awardees at https://www.gawater.org/clean-13.
The celebration honored: Athens-Clarke County, Blue Bird Bus Corporation, City of Savannah, City of South Fulton, Georgia Audubon and Southern Conservation Trust, Madison County Clean Power Commission, Mitchell County 4-H, Hanwha QCELLS North America, Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown, Patagonia, Rep. Andy Welch and Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, White Oak Pastures and Jim Wright.
The work celebrated includes:
Athens-Clarke County has embraced clean energy by adopting a goal of making its entire community powered 100 percent by renewable energy sources by 2050. To do this, the city-county commission adopted an innovative funding mechanism to generate the cash needed to reach the goal. Now, solar arrays are popping up on fire station roofs and low-income neighborhoods are getting water and energy efficiency assistance.
Blue Bird Bus Corporation (Peach County)
In Ft. Valley, the Blue Bird Bus Corporation has become the country’s leading manufacturer of electric school buses and expects that by 2030 nearly 100 percent of its sales will be for electric and alternative fuel buses. By eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, this trend will lead to cleaner air for today’s school children and a more livable world for future generations.
City of Savannah (Chatham County)
In Savannah where visitors are often seen strolling the streets of the entertainment and historic districts with drinks in hand, the city partnered with local restaurants and bars in on a pilot project to replace plastic to-go cups with infinitely-recyclable, Georgia-made aluminum cups. The pilot was so successful that additional restaurants are buying in and consumers are clamoring for the cups, taking them home as souvenirs rather than tossing them in trash cans or recycling bins.
City of South Fulton (Fulton County)
In the City of South Fulton nestled along the Chattahoochee River, city leaders this year voted to make their municipality the first in Georgia to implement regulations prohibiting private businesses from using plastic bags. Other communities are watching and now following their lead.
Georgia Audubon and Southern Conservation Trust (Fayette County)
Near Fayetteville, Georgia Audubon and the Southern Conservation Trust are working at the micro-level, showing how little changes add up to big impacts. The two groups are partnering at Sams Lake Bird Sanctuary to eliminate invasive aquatic and terrestrial plants and restore native plants. The project is a lesson in the interconnectivity of our natural systems. The native plants produce more insects that benefit the 138 bird species that live in or annually visit the 56-acre sanctuary of wetlands and wildlife.
Madison County Clean Power Coalition (Madison and Franklin counties)
In rural Northeast Georgia residents rallied together to fight pollution from two local biomass-to-energy plants. When residents discovered the facilities were chipping and burning creosote-soaked railroad ties, they took action. Within a year, this small group of determined activists had secured state legislation banning the use of creosote-soaked wood at power generation facilities and held the polluting entities accountable.
Mitchell County 4-H (Camilla/Mitchell County)
In partnership with the Stripling Irrigation Research Park in Camilla, Mitchell County 4-H sponsors an annual 4-H20 camp to teach youth about the importance of the state’s water resources. Since 2008, hundreds of children have participated, and now “graduates” of 4-H20 Camp are becoming science and water management leaders.
Hanwha QCELLS North America (Whitfield County)
In 2019, Dalton became home to the largest manufacturer of solar panels in the Western Hemisphere with the opening of Hanwha QCELLS facility which annually produces enough panels to generate 1.7 gigawatts (GW) of electricity. QCELLS chose the location, in part, because of the need to be close to the growing solar market in Georgia and the Southeast.
Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown (Chatham County)
Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has become an advocate for Georgia’s coastal waters and through a NOAA partnership with Savannah State University, Georgia’s first public university for African Americans, is working to diversify NOAA’s workforce. During the past 20 years, Hoskins-Brown’s work has made the historically black university one of the nation’s top producers of marine science graduates—some of whom are now working for NOAA studying how climate change is impacting fisheries and coastal communities.
Patagonia (Fulton County)
When it comes to supporting environmental advocacy and water protection efforts in Georgia, perhaps there is no business as committed to change as Patagonia. The iconic brand’s retail store in Atlanta funds local environmental organizations, donates products to these groups and provides employee volunteers for multiple causes. Since 1996, the store has invested $1.3 million in local environmental organizations.
Rep. Andy Welch and Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (Henry County and Floyd County)
Rep. Andy Welch (R-Locust Grove) and Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) took up the cause championed by the late Rep. Jay Powell of Camilla and during the 2020 General Assembly session successfully secured legislation that restores funding for the state’s environmental trust funds. The legislation initiated a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot that was overwhelmingly supported by voters. During the 2021 legislation session, measures were adopted that will ensure that fees collected for environmental cleanups will be used for that purpose.
White Oak Pastures (Early County)
Will Harris and his team at White Oak Pasture’s regenerative land management practices are proving their ability to sequester as much carbon as is produced by the livestock raised on the farm. The beef raised on the farm in Southwest Georgia’s Bluffton community has a carbon footprint 111 percent lower than conventionally raised beef. The businesses’ farming practices are protecting local creeks and improving the land.
Jim Wright (Lee County)
In Southwest Georgia’s Lee County, code enforcement officer Jim Wright has become known for his work to clean Kinchafoonee and Muckalee creeks and make them accessible for residents and visitors for boating and fishing. Leading community cleanups, Boy Scout projects and development of public access points along the creeks, the Lee County employee and his community have transformed these waterways.
Together, the efforts of these “Clean 13” are adding up to cleaner rivers, stronger communities and a more resilient and sustainable future for Georgia.
The Georgia Water Coalition publishes this list not only to recognize these positive efforts on behalf of Georgia’s water but also as a call to action for our state’s leaders and citizens to review these success stories, borrow from them and emulate them.
Sponsors of the event included: Stack & Associates, Stripling Inc., Advanced Metal Components, Anonymous, Altamaha Riverkeeper, Southern Environmental Law Center, Little Saint Simons Island, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Storm Water Systems, Georgia Aquarium, Rev. Sam Rogers, Georgia River Network, Environment Georgia, R2T, Tally Sweat, Fire Systems, Flint Riverkeeper, Terracon, Holly & Brian Markwalter, Graham Law Firm, American Rivers, Fish Dock Restaurant, R. Howard Dobbs Jr. Foundation, Sapelo Foundation and the Turner Foundation.
The Georgia Water Coalition is a consortium of more than 285 conservation and environmental organizations, hunting and fishing groups, businesses, and faith-based organizations that have been working to protect Georgia’s water since 2002. Collectively, these organizations represent thousands of Georgians.
By Kim Savides, Georgia Audubon/UGA Sea Grant Fellow
Migration along the coast is picking up, and so is Georgia Audubon’s work along the coast. In the last month, the number of shorebirds and warblers have swelled along the beaches, marshes, and maritime forests of coastal Georgia. Though many of these birds are visitors stopping by to use abundant food resources in the state, some will be staying to call Georgia home during the summer breeding season. And many of these species—migrants and breeders alike—are of conservation concern, presenting opportunities for bird biologists across organizations to form partnerships to better understand population levels and threats to birds.
This year Georgia Audubon is partnering with Manomet and other organizations up and down the Atlantic Coast to monitor shorebirds and potential disturbances through the Atlantic Flyway Disturbance Project. Humans and shorebirds alike love to flock around Georgia’s beaches. Though beach recreation may seem ecologically benign to many beachgoers, human activities around resting or breeding shorebirds can have impacts on their condition and breeding success throughout the year. To help understand the effects of human disturbances on the Georgia coast, we are surveying points spread out across Jekyll Island. At each point we look for and count focal shorebird species like the Wilson’s Plover, American Oystercatcher, and Red Knot, as well as the number of potential disturbances present like the number of people, dogs, boats, or other vehicles. We also take a three-minute behavioral observation of each focal species to determine if the bird is resting, foraging, or being alert to natural or human disturbances. While Jekyll has lower levels of recreation that many other beaches along the Atlantic coast, we still see human disturbance to shorebirds during every survey, including biking or running through roosting flocks, dogs off leash or on beaches closed to pets, and even low-flying planes and powered parasails flying over. By comparing data from sites like Jekyll with islands with higher levels of recreation, like Tybee Island, where our colleagues from Manomet are conducting the same surveys, we can begin to get a clearer view of how shorebirds respond to human recreation along the coast. And by collecting data as part of a larger, flyway-scale project, Georgia’s data will go towards helping biologists throughout the Atlantic Flyway research and manage human impacts to shorebirds.
Also on Jekyll Island this spring and summer, Georgia Audubon is continuing our partnership with the Jekyll Island Authority to monitor nesting Wilson’s Plovers. Wilson’s Plovers are bold but sneaky shorebirds which breed from long the Gulf Coast to southern Florida and up though southern Delaware. Throughout much of its breeding range, the species is considered of conservation concern, including in Georgia where it is part of the State Wildlife Action Plan. Tracking how many plovers are breeding and the success of the nesting season is of great value to managers and researchers. But to get this data we have to find nests and monitor them closely throughout the breeding season, which can be very tricky. Wilson’s Plovers lay eggs in shallow depressions, called “scrapes”, dug in dune habitat along the shore. Finding these cryptic nests takes keen attention to behavioral cues, tracks in the sand, and a lot of luck! Males will dig multiple scrapes before wind and rain erase them or a female selects one as a nest. After the female lays three eggs and the pair incubates for about a month, the chicks will hatch and quickly join their parents and forage on their own before officially fledging in another month. But between fresh scrape and fledging, many hazards exist, including storms, ghost crabs, raccoons, loose pets, crows, and recreating humans just to name a few. While most of these threats are naturally occurring, it is important for biologists to monitor nests and ascertain why some nests fail. By monitoring nests, we can determine why certain nests are unsuccessful and propose management strategies if unnatural levels of nest failure occur. At the time of writing, we are in the very beginning of nesting season, and have found over 20 scrapes between a dozen pairs of Wilson’s Plovers within the monitoring area on Jekyll Island. As more plovers pair up and establish territories, we will be busy looking for scrapes and nests, and hope to watch many of them successfully fledge chicks as the season continues.
Looking ahead to later this spring and summer, we are excited to continue efforts with Georgia and South Carolina DNRs to monitor and track migrating Red Knots, as well as starting up a new partnership with University of Georgia professor Dr. Clark Rushing to research the breeding biology of two species along the coast—the Painted Bunting and Chuck-will’s-widow. These projects are aimed at filling gaps in our knowledge of how these species interact with and use Georgia’s coastal resources. We are excited to work with our array of partner organizations to better understand the conservation issues of birds and look forward to these projects and more to come along the Georgia coast.
By Doug Walker Augusta-Aiken Audubon Society
With a mission to educate the public about birds, other wildlife, and habitat, and to provide opportunities for our community to appreciate the natural world, the Augusta-Aiken Audubon Society focuses on birds and wildlife in the central Savannah River area, around Augusta, Georgia, and Aiken, South Carolina.
Native Wildlife Garden for East Aiken School for the Arts
In 2016, the Augusta-Aiken Audubon Society provided funding for a STEAM program (that’s STEM with an additional “A” for Arts) offered through the Ruth Patrick Science Center at the University of South Carolina Aiken. The beneficiary was the East Aiken School for the Arts, a local Title IX magnet school where 95 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches. The curriculum consisted primarily of field trips with the hope of introducing the students to nature and the outdoors. When the project was complete, the chapter felt that kids still needed a place where they could get outside so they could continue to learn about and appreciate nature. By installing a native plant garden at the school, they were able to create a place where students could spend time in nature and continue their learning.
The school provided an unused weedy courtyard and gave us free rein to transform it. With assistance and funding from the Aiken Master Gardeners Club, the chapter set to preparing the soil, eliminating weeds, and ensuring the garden would be very low maintenance. The school principal personally donated plastic sheeting for solarization, a means of natural weed killing, as well as some pavers, and the Silver Bluff Audubon Center in Jackson, SC, gave us carte blanche in gathering native plants and shrubs from their sanctuary for transplanting in the garden. In addition, a local Boy Scout Troop provided labor, digging trenches for a drip irrigation system and spreading pine bark mulch to keep the weeds down. Local businesses provided substantial discounts on supplies and provided a venue for fundraising to complete the project.
Fast forward to 2022, and the garden is now thriving, complete with a pollinator garden, sections of native grasses and ferns, and numerous bird-friendly shrubs planted around the edges. There are two water features, a bluebird house, bird feeders, a tree frog tube, various rock and wood piles, and a mason bee house. The only non-native vegetation are two crepe myrtles, which were planted years ago as memorial trees. Regular visitors include green and squirrel tree frogs, southern toads, an occasional anole and many species of voracious birds.
The Chapter started this project in support of Audubon’s Bird Friendly Communities initiative, and it has indeed turned out to be a bi-state community effort. When we were working in the garden one afternoon, a special education teacher approached and expressed her appreciation. She said her students love to visit the space, and one little girl has fallen in love with the beautyberry and just sits there and gazes at it. Maybe we have a future botanist in training!
Georgia Audubon is building places where birds and people thrive.