Day 1 Georgia Aquarium
The first day of the Rivers to Reef program marked the beginning of an impressive journey that transformed 15 teachers to full-fledged, data-
collecting scientists. The group began the week at Georgia Aquarium for a sleepover, where the staff treated us to an in-depth behind the scenes tour.
We were immersed in the science that it takes to care for such an impressive living collection. We slept next to the whale shark exhibit, woke up bright and early for the unique opportunity to watch the elaborate teamwork that takes to feed a whale shark its morning diet.
Day 2 Shoal Creek Park and High Falls State Park
Day 2 got off to a quick start at Shoal Creek Park where we learned what a watershed is, why they are important and our impact on them. We all continued down the watershed to High Falls State Park. This park was the perfect place to learn the proper way to take water samples and testing procedures to complete the Adopt a Stream Water Monitor Certification.
Day 3 Oconee and Altamaha Rivers
The group was up and out, bright and early. We sampled water already together as a group but the first stop of the day was a test of developed skills. The bus dropped us under a bridge in Macon.The challenge - take the samples from the river and test them in under 30 minutes. The newly certified teachers answered the challenge and successfully completed the process in 26 minutes.
Next, we jumped in canoes to paddle down the Oconee River. We were looking for the convergence where the Ocmulgee River meets the Oconee to create the Altamaha River. We continued down the Altamaha sampling the water and comparing the flora and fauna along the way.
That was just the beginning of our day. We finally made it to the ferry that took us to Sapelo Island. We spent the evening in Sapelo with Cornelia Walker Bailey, listening to stories of her unique experience growing up on Sapelo.
Although everyone was already exhausted, the group pushed on with hopes of observing nesting sea turtles. We walked the beach in the dark searching for bioluminescence and nesting sea turtles.
Day 4 Sapelo Island
Today was the day the most participants had some anxieties about- the marsh crawl. We started out the day by grabbing some water samples, after all, that is what we are monitoring through the watershed.
The group sighted dolphins in the creek, which encouraged us to get our water tests correct. We explored the plants around the marsh and how they had changed drastically from the rivers we had been on so far.
We spent the morning at the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve investigating dock fouling organisms. This is where the group would learn how to throw a cast net, sample the sediment from the bottom of a body of water, pull a plankton tow and investigate the organisms with microscopes.
Next it was time to get dirty, walking into the marsh was exhilarating. Along the way, the group used all senses to explore the plants and animals that call this place home. We tasted plants, listened to animal calls, observed crabs and snails, smelled the air and felt the sediment. As we ventured out,
we started sinking into the sediment and eventually had to crawl to keep from being submerged. It was a demanding goal to make it to the river. This challenge proved to be inspiring, it helped us learn that when something is difficult, if you persevere – you can accomplish anything!
Day 5 R/V Savannah and Gray’s Reef
Most people will never get the chance to go out to sea on a research vessel. That day’s R2R participants boarded the R/V Savannah and traveled out to Gray’s Reef. We stopped along the way to take water samples at different locations and depths, do a biodiversity study with a trawl, check out the microscopic life with a plankton tow and observe the reef 18 meters down with an underwater camera. This was the last day of water testing and it feels like we have some pros.
Day 6- R/V Sea Dawg and Skidaway
The final day the R2R participants departed the large research vessel to board the smaller R/V Sea Dawg and travel out the Wilmington River to trawl one last time. We found a stingray, sea whips, sponges, squid, crabs and a variety of bony fish. We recorded the data from the catch and talked about the biodiversity found in these waters.
We wrapped up the workshop by focusing on the connections from land to sea, the connections of what we and our students do that impact the ecosystems close and far, and what we can do in our classrooms to help the students see the importance of connections as well.